“You may not get paid, but it’s great exposure.”
How many times have you heard that? Every time you “volunteer” to work with certain organizations?
In the small state of Arkansas, there are many ways that I could potentially get exposure:
- Education groups. Schools, libraries, reading associations, librarian associations, teacher associations, day cares, non-profit education groups; conferences for any or all of these.
- Community groups. Clubs who need speakers, literary festivals, youth activities groups, senior citizen groups.
- Professional groups. Writing groups, publishing groups. Conferences for any and all of these.
Besides the HUGE task of keeping up with all the possible groups, who is currently president, who is currently chairing what committee, etc, there’s the question of my involvement. Do I get paid or not?
Yesterday, I attended the ArtLinks conference from the Arkansas Arts Council and was struck by the work of the Creative Economic Action Group (CEAG) of Fayetteville, Arkansas. They work to help creative people of all ilk find a way to live and work in the community in such a ways that they make a living. They have no budget, they just work to help people find ways to accomplish creative goals. For example, the city is now festooned with a Pigshibition of painted fiberglass pigs (The Razorback pig is the mascot of the University of Arkansas, which has its main campus in Fayetteville), much like Chicago has been decorated by Bulls.
Sonia Davis Gutierrez, head of the CEAG, spoke the need to change attitudes. Once, local organizations asked artists to donate works of art that could be auctioned off in a fund-raiser. But the CEAG says that helps the organizations but it only gives the artist EXPOSURE. Tax write offs are limited to the cost of materials. Instead, CEAG talks to groups about asking donors to buy a work from an artist and donate it to the organization, either for display, or for a fundraising auction. Or, perhaps, they can sponsor a writer’s presentation with a modest honorarium. Then, the donor gets a tax write-off, the artists gets paid and the organization benefits. It’s a win-win-win.
The promise of exposure is always a two-edge sword for writers and artists. Sure, we need the general public to know we exist, to know what our work is like, and where they can buy our works. But we also have to pay our bills. Yes, the electric company still expects to be paid!
The tricky thing is to find those win-win situations. You can’t visit every classroom free, speak at every conference free, and so on. It might be possible, IF you could sell enough books to make it worth while. But that’s tricky for many reasons, not the least of which is the hassle of carrying books everywhere.
When Sonia spoke about artists “dying of exposure,” it really struck a chord for me. What are some ways that you turn these requests into a win-win? How can we change attitudes so that artists–especially authors–can make a living at telling stories?