As the parent of a young artist, you’ve invested time, money and energy into your teen’s artistic career. You’ve paid for lessons, attended competitions and lavished your child with praise.
But have you prepared your performing or visual arts student for financial success, besides advising on a Plan B?
If you want to help your teen build a strong financial future that supports a career in the arts, follow these four tips.
● Help your child undestand the financial realities of any chosen field.
Any teen who aspires to become a professional artist must understand the financial nuts and bolts of how professionals in that field make a living.
How many years do they typically work? What is the average annual income? What percentage of professionals in the field work full time? Do they supplement their income with a day job?
Researching this information with your child will be preparation for the financial realities of professionals in that field.
“The reality is that most people are making like $20,000 a year as an artist. It’s rare for artists to make a middle-class income,” says Amy Smith, who teaches tax preparation workshops for artists and is the founder of Headlong and the Headlong Performance Institute, a Philadelphia-based performance training center for dance and theater artists.
Miata Edoga, the president and founder of Abundance Bound, a financial education company for actors, artists and creative entrepreneurs, echoes Smith’s assessment. Less than 15 percent of union members in SAG-AFTRA qualify for insurance in any given year, she said.
A small paycheck, however, isn’t automatic doom for artists, according to Edoga.
The actor-entrepreneur believes that knowing the numbers helps artists create a winning game plan in a topsy-turvy industry. “We chose a roller-coaster career,” says Edoga. “We have to know that’s what we chose.”
● Teach your child how to manage money now.
If you want your teen to experience financial security in the future, then you should teach financial management skills now.
Edoga says that kids should be developing financial systems in high school or earlier. “Can you imagine kids being 17 and us giving them the keys to the car with no practice?
“We don’t do that; we make them practice. With money, we forget to make them practice.”
Los Angeles actress Malika Williams wishes she had practiced money management in high school, before the stakes were high. Although Williams has experienced success as an actor, including spots in national commercials and a recurring co-star role on “The Fosters,” she’s struggled to stay afloat financially.
She believes that learning about money management sooner would’ve helped. “In my family, we just didn’t talk about money out loud. It was very veiled.”
Not talking about money coupled with not making enough money as an actor left Williams in a precarious situation for several years until she realized that she needed a long-term financial plan.
In 2017, she enrolled in financial literacy classes at The Actors Fund, a national nonprofit that helps with the challenges of life in the arts, such as housing, healthcare and career planning. There she learned the message Edoga teaches her clients: Financial education gives you the freedom and the balance to actually pursue your career from a place of power.
● Help your child cultivate additional skills to use in the marketplace.
Developing other talents and interests enables multiple streams of income and provides additional arenas where your child can grow professionally.
Edoga advises parents to help their kids research other paths. “The more that we can encourage kids to explore other income-producing avenues, the less beholden they will be to waiting tables.”
Smith adds that it’s important for artists to find a day job that provides benefits besides just giving them a paycheck and flexibility, especially when planning for long-term financial success. She encourages artists to explore other paths that will generate revenue and a sense of accomplishment.
“There are jobs that feed your personal mission or creative soul a little better than others. It’s helpful to understand what you really care about as a person and an artist, so that you can seek out a day job that checks those boxes for you.”
● Teach your child entrepreneurship.
While some professional artists make a living from their art plus a day job, many artists have embraced entrepreneurship and call themselves “artist-preneurs.”
These artist-preneurs are building businesses around their art and in fields unrelated to the arts.
"I want parents (of artists) to help their children understand that they are entrepreneurs,” says Edoga. “That’s the choice that they are making—to be an entrepreneur.”
Williams opted into entrepreneurship following a string of unsatisfying jobs that left her telling herself, “The perfect job doesn’t exist. I need to create the perfect job.”
After assessing her skills, interests and experience, Williams recognized that her work experience equipped her to empower people, while a decade of theater training qualified her to teach others how to exude confidence in front of crowds.
In 2017, Williams established The Center for Women’s Voice, a coaching and consulting business to help women improve their communication skills. It’s the “perfect job” for Williams, her opportunity to create a legacy outside of acting.
Smith believes that artists are inherently gifted to establish businesses. “One of our strengths is being inventive and creative,” she says, noting that there are myriad ways for artists to marry artistic and financial success.
“The idea of there being a model, one way to do it, has kind of disappeared.”
Successful artists – whether they are artist-preneurs or artists with fulfilling day jobs – have found ways to excel inside and outside of the arts. These artists are happier and richer because of it, and their parents are, too.