June 12, 2012

Diary of a Crazy Artist: Advice for the Poor & Unknown

Frequently broke eco-hippie ancestor Walt Whitman (between 1860 and 1865) by Mathew Brady. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Almost every artist, writer, and poet I know is broke. But how is that possible? While a handful are doing OK, the vast majority are drowning in student loan debt, and the world just seems indifferent. Unlike people who went to school for other things, they are constantly told that getting their degree was a waste of time and they can never expect to make a living with their work. Worse yet, after absorbing all their student loan money, art schools aren’t helping place graduates in jobs.

But unlike the automotive industry, the financial industry, the banking industry, the energy industry, etc., nobody is going to bail students out. Neither students nor artists have strong lobbyists in Washington, and there is no powerful voice advocating for the arts on a national level. So if you happen to be an artist, writer, or poet in America, the message is clear: you are on your own.

While our government is spending American tax dollars bribing officials in Afghanistan (that’s just how they do things there) and on the $2.3 billion predator drone program, there is no political will to fund jobs for artists. Instead of seeing art as a vital part of community-building and something that fosters innovative thinking, it is labeled as elite and liberal. But then, these days so is health care, the unions, women’s reproductive rights, and Social Security.

But hey, talk is cheap, and what people in the arts really need is good information. As someone who has been there and knows how hard it is to find good leads on art jobs, I decided to make a list of resources that may be useful for those of you looking for a next step.

One more thing: beware of unpaid internships. If you are not getting some kind of direct benefit from it, more than likely you are being used. Same with volunteering. If you are volunteering someplace and they don’t appreciate you or value your time, then just walk away. Why? Because when you start valuing your time, others will, too.


CREATIVECIRCLE. Creativecircle is temp staffing agency, but for people with creative skills, like graphic designers, presentation specialists, copywriters, proofreaders, etc.

CREATIVEGROUP. Creativegroup is similar to Creativecircle and is also worth a look.

INDEED. Indeed is a great resource for creative jobs of all kinds, and is also national.


ARTADIA.ORG. Offers grants of  $3,000–$15,000, a New York residency, and many other resources.

JOAN MITCHELL FOUNDATION. They offer several artist grants, including one specifically for promising MFA students about to graduate.

POLLOCK–KRASNER FOUNDATION. Their mission is to aid those individuals who have worked as artists over a significant period of time and yet are still broke. The foundation’s criteria for grants are recognizable artistic merit and financial need.

CREATIVE CAPITAL. Creative Capital is the only national grant-making and artist service organization for individual artists with an open application process. The selection process includes three steps: inquiry, application, and panel review. They also have an art writer’s grant and may even support some crazy project you have. SFAI faculty member Meredith Tromble recently won a writer’s grant and does a great blog called Art & Shadows.

NEW YORK FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS. A cornerstone of art resources for both New York and the rest of the country. Always worth checking, as many, many new listings come up every week.

ARTIST OF COLOR? WOODSTOCK A-I-R  is a workspace residency program designed to support artists of color working in the photographic arts who reside in the United States with access to time, facilities, financial, critical, and technical support.

SKOWHEGAN. Important artist residency program in Maine for people in various places in their career. Many well-known artists teach the summer classes.

BEMIS CENTER FOR THE ARTS (Nebraska) *TIME: three months of uninterrupted, self-directed work time.
*SPACE: the Bemis Center is housed in two urban warehouses totaling 110,000 square feet. Each artist is provided with a generously sized live/work studio with a private bathroom and 24-hour access to facilities including a wood shop, installation spaces, and a large sculpture fabrication facility.
*SUPPORT: $750 monthly stipend. *Note that you can buy a decent house for $100,000 in Omaha, Nebraska, so that $750 goes a lot farther than it would if you were in San Francisco.

HEADLANDS CENTER FOR THE ARTS. The Headlands offers a lot of opportunities for artists and writers. Being accepted also means you will be among the best-fed artists in the country. They have a legendary kitchen that produces mouthwatering meals for those lucky enough to be there. Opportunities include: Artist-in-Residence program, the Tournesol Award, graduate fellowships, and more. Be aware that many people are rejected once, twice, or three times before getting the residency, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time you apply.


THE MACDOWELL COLONY “is the nation’s leading artist colony. The Colony nurtures the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination. We are pleased to offer stipends to artists in all artistic disciplines so that they may take advantage of a residency at the Colony. Funding is also available to help reimburse artists for travel to and from the Colony. Financial aid forms are mailed upon acceptance, and aid is awarded based on need.” Open to artists and writers.

BREADLOAF WRITER’S CONFERENCE. Meet other writers, work on projects, network, and take amazing workshops.

YALE YOUNGER POETS COMPETITION. If selected, Yale publishes a book of your work and sends you around on tour to read in all kinds of places. It’s an amazing award and puts your work before a national audience.

THE VERY HONEST MCSWEENEY’S SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES PAGE. McSweeney’s publishes a lot of stuff. They say up front they might get back to you in 10 minutes, a week, or never. Maybe they would like your work, but nobody will ever know unless you send them something. Here are their web submission guidelines and Quarterly Concern guidelines.

ANDREWS FOREST WRITERS’ RESIDENCY. The H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest offers one-week residencies to poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in March, April, and May in the Oregon Cascades, 40 miles east of Eugene, Oregon. The residency is open to writers whose work “reflects a keen awareness of the natural world.” Residents are provided with an apartment (which includes kitchen facilities), access to the forest research site, and a $250 stipend.

WALT WHITMAN AWARD. Administered by the Academy of American Poets, the award provides winners with a $5,000 prize and a residency in Vermont. They also publish your book in an edition of 500. Sounds pretty good.

POETS & WRITERS is a great resource and has current listings throughout the year for writers and poets. Most are not scams.

WALLACE STEGNER FELLOWSHIP. At Stanford University. These fellowships include a living stipend of $26,000 per year. In addition, fellows’ tuition and health insurance are paid for by the Creative Writing Program. One of the best writing programs out there.


OPENCULTURE is a clearinghouse full of free learning resources — online college classes from Yale, MIT, etc.; language courses; free ebooks; free podcasts, lectures, and music. Weren’t you going to study French or Spanish at some point?

PROJECT GUTENBERG offers over 40,000 copyright-free books — all online in a variety of formats.

THE INTERNET ARCHIVE has literally millions of songs, books, films, and the raw material artists can use to make art with.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS has a lot of their collection online. This includes Mathew Brady’s dagurreotype studio collection, and a vast amount of cultural artifacts that will hopefully never appear on the Antiques Roadshow.

Comments (2)

Leave a comment

Please tell us what you think. We really love conversation, and we’re happy to entertain dissenting opinions. Just no name-calling, personal attacks, slurs, threats, spam, and the like, please. Those ones we reserve the right to remove.

Sign Up

Join our newsletter for infrequent updates on new posts and Open Space events.
  • Required, will not be published

Dear Visitor,
We regret to inform you that Open Space is no longer active. It was retired at the end of 2021. We sincerely appreciate your support and engagement over the years.

For your reference, we encourage you to read past entries or search the site.

To stay informed about future ventures or updates, please follow us at

Thank you for being a part of our journey!