Self-Employment in the Arts

There’s a reason why the term “starving artist” exists. Simply put, making your living as a self-employed artist is difficult, but for people with passion, persistence and a dose of realism, it is possible.

To begin with, you’ll need a plan. On one hand you’ll need to ensure that you can live within your means and have enough money to keep both you and your business going. Read our “Living Frugally” section for some tips. You’ll also need a business plan. The Waterloo Region Assets program here at The Working Centre, or other small business supports can help.

It may be difficult to go fully into a self-employed arts career. Consider portfolio employment – where your income comes from several different sources. Perhaps you have a part-time job, sell your art, and do some performances, all to make a living. The plan you create will dictate what is possible, and your plan may include a gradual push towards full self-employment.

Networking will also be key to your success. There are many talented and creative people in the community, and your connections with these people will help to get you exposure, build your profile, help you to develop opportunities, and increase your income. You’ll also likely research grants – a number of grants exist to help artists of all stripes. Knowing what’s available and working hard to receive them will go a long way towards your goal of self-employment.

Finally, find a mentor. You aren’t the first artist to become self-employed. Connect with others in the community who have done so also. What worked for them and what didn’t? What advice do they have for you? A mentor will help to keep you on track, help with your confidence, and will be a person you can bounce ideas off of.


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