The Hustle—Economic Sustainability in the Arts Education Field (Part 2)

Posted by Ms. Erika Atkins, Heleya de Barros, Scott Austin, Jun 13, 2018 0 comments

As we uncovered in our previous post, creating a sustainable living from a long-term arts education career can be difficult whether you’re a teaching artist, public school art teacher, or arts education administrator. However, we believe there is great work and inspiring advocacy being done around pay equity in our field that we want to share to inspire the new generation of arts education leaders to continue to invest in the future of our field.

What’s Next?


Investment in the arts is an investment in our economy and education system. While the United States has cut back the money it invests in culture and education, other countries have not—and it shows. Many countries that have out-invested us are also outperforming us in education. There is also more government support for artists and cultural institutions in countries like Finland and the United Kingdom. This not only allows artists to continue to work on their craft, but is a visible confirmation to young people that the arts are a culturally appreciated and acceptable career.


It has been long discussed that foundations have unrealistic expectations of nonprofits. An environment has been created where organizations try to meet expectations by reducing administrative support, cutting back on salaries and wages, and combining programming jobs with administrative work so that positions can at least be partially funded.

This is not an easy order, but schools and organizations can and should advocate for themselves and make sure funders know how important administrative costs are to sustaining our organizations. Things will not change if we continue to go along with the norm. Even more, we should highlight those foundations that allow nonprofits to grow capacity and support their staffs and teaching artists. One such funder, Youth Inc, has awarded the BridgeFund Grant since 2008. It grants small youth development organizations funding specifically to invest in positions that promote capacity growth, such as fundraising and administrative support.

Schools and Organizations

Schools and nonprofit organizations can also make choices that will help them prioritize pay and become more self-sufficient. A growing trend is for organizations to find ways to monetize what they do best by offering consulting services. If teachers, PTAs, and school administrators can monetize a teaching artist’s time and programming, they can use crowdsourcing tools like as a possible way to invest in a specific project.

The after-school theater education organization Opening Act has a very active individual donor base. They were able to leverage the commitment of their community into the successful #POWEROF10 campaign—crowdsourcing through having stakeholders in their community fundraise within their own networks. Opening Act has been able to institute yearly raises for their teaching artists and staff. Many successful arts education programs also offer consulting services to other organizations wishing to do similar work.

Leaders in the field must stop accepting the culture of scarcity that has become our norm in the arts and education field. It is our job to stand up and ask for compensation for our time and expertise, finding value in our work and articulating it. Otherwise, when the young people we work with say they want to go into a career in the arts, we won’t have any other response than, “What’s your back-up?”

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