Kimberly Camp, Stage Coach Mary, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 40” x 60” (Mary Fields (1832-1914) aka Stagecoach Mary was the first African American mail carrier in the United States)

While Congress scrambled to find ways to keep our country afloat, I looked to the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for their leadership in ensuring the individual visual artist was not forgotten during this crisis. I expected to find that one-pager that simply, justifiably spoke to the need to ensure that we survive in some equal measure with other artists in other mediums and genres. After all, visual artists occupy a completely different space. We share, as do all artists, in the compulsion to create. It’s as much a part of the artist as is breathing and eating. Artists will tell you it’s what we have to do because it’s who we are.

Visual artists are unique in that there is nothing about this pandemic that keeps us from our work. Uninterrupted long stretches of studio time are a blessing of epic proportions. Our access to the market, however, has been decimated. It’s likely to be the last to recover. Our financial model is unique. Our economy is based on so many variables that someone much smarter than me would have to try and cast some type of financial relief that makes sense for our survival. Our contracts for exhibitions don’t come with an IRS form 1099. Our commissions for work don’t generate a W2. We are self-employed entrepreneurs who gamble every day that our market and our creative outburst coincide to generate income. Surely, someone in art policy would make the case that we need access to some form of income in order to survive a pandemic.

In a March 19, 2019 article entitled “A New Study Says the Arts Contribute More to the US Economy than Agriculture. Here Are Five Other Takeaways from the Report,[1]” Artnet market editor Eileen Kensella cites results of a 2015 study by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts that “…the arts contribute $763.6 billion to the US economy—4.2 percent of the GDP—more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing.” None of it would be possible without artists. Visual artists fare worse than others because our financial model is so unpredictable. It’s why our ability to sustain ourselves is so fragile.

Volume equals income. A theater company knows how to predict their budget based on the number of seats, the average audience turnout for the particular time of year, and the number of performances. The writer can document how much they are paid from their contracts with journals or publishers and the number of reprints that will be distributed. How can visual artists explain to people who are writing the relief packages what our loss is? How would a layperson even understand what our loss looks like?

Kimberly Camp, Poodle, 2019, paper clay, sheepskin, cotton, and glass beads, 19″ high

Even hairdressers are in a better place to predict damage. Their appointment books and receipts document their earnings. And, while visual artists have previous years’ of good and not so good streams of revenue, that money often comes from sources that cannot be viewed as regular or usual – residencies, exhibitions, craft expositions, gallery sales and direct sales to collectors from studio tours and other opportunities.

As sources for relief during the COVID-19 pandemic are cobbled together, some states working with local philanthropies are creating dedicated support for individual visual artists. There is a fund for experimental artists who have had a performance cancelled because of the virus. The Anonymous was a Woman grant offered support for women artists over 40. The Artist Relief fund only asks that an artist demonstrate that others have validated their work through residencies, exhibitions, etc. Listings of available sources in other states are numerous and make resources in New Jersey look paltry in comparison. That being said, resources for individual visual artists in the state are unremarkable.

[1] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/nea-arts-economic-study-1484587

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Kimberly Camp works with museums and visual arts organizations as a curator and management consultant in the areas of organizational development, strategic planning, succession planning, and governance. She is president of Galerie Marie, with over 200 international artists. She was CEO for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, President and CEO of the Barnes Foundation, President of the Charles Wright Museum, and director of the Smithsonian’s Experimental Gallery. Camp has more than 50 years’ experience as a painter, then doll maker. Her work has been shown in over 100 exhibitions here and abroad. An accomplished artist, Camp has received two NEA Fellowships and the Kellogg National Leadership Program Fellowship. Camp was born and raised in Camden, NJ.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect that of the South Jersey Cultural Alliance (SJCA) or any employee thereof. SJCA makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness,  or validity of the author’s statements and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. SJCA reserves the right to delete, edit, or alter in any manner it sees fit content that it, in its sole discretion, deems to be obscene, offensive, defamatory, threatening, in violation of trademark, copyright or other laws, or is otherwise unacceptable.