Artists have always been innovators. While there are certainly established paths for making a living as an artist, more often that not, artists have to work hard to cobble together a solid income. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many artists are making money during quarantine by getting creative.
In particular, many artists are pushing the boundaries of the online digital platform as a means of earning money while stuck at home during shelter-in-place orders. It is fascinating to see the direction art is taking right now, particularly where it intersects with small business and commerce. We could all learn by watching how artists are making money during quarantine.
Here are five key approaches I’ve seen so far:
Patreon is one of the key platforms that artists use to earn money directly from their fan base. It’s been popular for several years now. I have an account, and although I only earn a little bit from it each month, it really helps my bottom line. I’ve noticed that more and more artists are taking advantage of Patreon as a means of making money during quarantine.
Of course, Patreon isn’t the only way that people drum up financial support from the people who know and love them. Some artists have turned to Go Fund Me or Kickstarter. The difference between the two is that supporters on Patreon commit to continued, ongoing monthly support whereas the other platforms are one-off means of generating a sum of money.
2. Online Performance Art
The means of making money during quarantine that I’m most fascinated by is the growing art of performing online for pay. Many of us have been more active on our screens lately, participating in meetings and celebrations via Zoom, House Party, Facebook Live, and Facetime. While we used these tools in the past, use exploded now that people are stuck at home. The way that artists are innovating in this digital space is fascinating to watch.
Increasingly, performers who can’t do their work in person are figuring out ways of making money during quarantine by performing online for ticket sales and/or tips. I’ve personally bought tickets to several online events and “attended” others that were offered free. For example, I recently went to a multi-room performance art event hosted by Vau de Vire Society, a group that puts on circus, burlesque, steampunk-inspired interactive performance art events in San Francisco. They took their skills online, and I was happy to pay for a ticket to check out the performances.
I also just watched a digital symposium hosted by SOMArts in which a number of different performers spoke about how they are taking their work online. For example, The Stud (a bar and artist collective in San Francisco that typically hosts in-person nightlife events) has begun hosting digital performance art through Twitch. Digital Drag also uses Twitch to create curated “live” streaming drag shows. Attendees pay for tickets, the performers get paid, and it’s also possible to tip any of the performers through their Venmo, Zelle, and other direct-pay accounts.
Seeing a performance on a screen is different from seeing one in person. Performing via screen is certainly different than performing for a live audience. But different doesn’t mean one is better and the other worse. Artists are innovating in very creative ways, making use of the digital space and the tools available for it to do new things that they couldn’t do on stage with their art. It’s not just a way of making money during quarantine; it’s a way to push creative boundaries that might extend into new forms of art in the future, even when COVID restrictions are completely lifted.
3. Hustling Up New Work
Working artists are good at the hustle. In other words, they are driven to create and in order to make enough money to create, they also work hard. Artists continue to do that today. Sometimes it’s in the same way as before, sometimes it’s in new ways. Some of the ways that artists I know are hustling up new work online include:
- Opening up new online stores and/or refreshing stock in existing online stores
- Refreshing blog content and working on getting ad revenue from their artist websites
- Refreshing their resumes and coming up with new material to showcase on their websites as they look for new online freelance art opportunities
- Freelance writing about their experiences as artists trying to make money during quarantine
- Developing classes (or applying for existing work as art teachers) to teach others their skills
- Self-publishing art and writing materials
4. Artist Grants/ Emergency Funding
Despite the fact that artists are innovating and hustling, many do find themselves without enough income right now. Luckily there are a lot of artist grants and emergency funding sources that people can apply for. Low-income artists, artists facing immediate emergencies, and artists in minority groups often get first priority. However, many of these grants are open to any working artist in need.
A few examples of some of the emergency grants and COVID-era funds for artists include:
- Safety Net Fund for supporting artists in the San Francisco Bay Area
- Artist Relief, funded by a coalition of grant makers
- FCA Emergency Grants for experimental artists
- Entertainment Assistance Program for actors
- Craft Emergency Relief Fund for artists infected with COVID-19
5. Street Art and Mural-Making
While many of the ways that artists are making money during quarantine do take place in the digital sphere, I wanted to emphasize that there are still other options. For example, I live on a busy street in San Francisco. All of the retail stores have been boarded up for about two months since the shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Graffiti / street art cover many of those storefronts. While that doesn’t pay the artist’s bills, they do include their Instagram handles on the art images so that they can generate a following online which can translate to money down the line.
Moreover, some stores hired independent artists to professional paint the boarded-up windows. I particularly love seeing these pieces. They are big and bold. They add beauty to the street. More than anything, they are a nice collaboration between small businesses, local artists, and the community. Plus people pay the artists to do the work, which they can do while maintaining proper social distancing protocols. It’s a win-win way that artists are making money during quarantine.
What do you see as the most innovative ways for artists to make money during quarantine?