A Starving Artist’s Secret to Survival

When I signed up for a PR/Marketing & Studio Art degree, I knew that I’d either become a master marketer or a starving artist. Which is all the more reason why I should get behind the Occupy Wall Street protests, but I just can’t. You see, when the housing market collapsed my company went down with it, I was left stuck in Pensacola, Fla. with no home, no job, and no hope of starting over. So I did what any self-respecting artist would do… I sold everything and went on tour.

I traveled mostly around the South East. Altanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington D.C., Pensacola twice and then finally I ended up in the Destin area of Florida. I was in my late 20’s with a degree and a skill-set and I would sell my talents to whoever would pay for them. If I wasn’t taking pictures of performing artists and rock bands I was working one-on-one with small business owners developing cost effective marketing strategies or orchestrating elaborate art parties as fundraisers for non-profits.

The biggest obstacle was my network. It’s true that it’s not what you know it’s who you know. After leaving seven years of networking in Pensacola, I found myself starting over again in Destin. Things were going great at first. The tourism market was the strongest it had been in years and I was living on the beach managing a seafood market in the morning and working as a food artist at night for a trendy restaurant, all the while shooting anyone I could with a camera in my free time…and then came the oil spill.

Fast forward through three months of “WTF do I do now?” I managed to work out a deal with the COO of a franchise based in the D.C. area. In exchange for watching the house, taking care of the cats, helping her pack, and some admin/office work I could stay rent-free for six months until she relocated to Colorado. I had six months to start over….again.

One year later, after spending the first six months barely surviving on $10/hour (through a staffing agency), I secured a full-time position as the Creative Director and Executive Assistant to a prominent D.C. psychotherapist and lecturer. Come December, my boss will retire to Florida and I’ll be looking for another similar position. My resume is exquisite, my references are mind-blowing, yet I’m confident that it will still take months to find a perfect match. In the meantime, instead of collecting unemployment, you’ll find me hustlin’ somewhere; selling art, doing photoshoots, writing for various D.C. papers and mags and organizing more art parties.

Whatever happened to that entrepreneurial character that America used to be so proud of? In the panhandle of Florida—where the rednecks and the private money meet on the shores of paradise—there are hundreds of independently owned businesses. I should also add that the commercial rent on the seafood market I used to manage is less than the rent for my studio in Mt. Pleasant.

Taking into account that prices in D.C. are much higher than Florida and that the majority of people who seem to own any of the shops that we visit on a daily basis (coffee shops, dry cleaning, grocery, gas, food/restaurant) are all immigrants, I’m left confused on a level I can’t really even put into words. Explain to me how an immigrant couple can immigrate to the United States, open and operate a business (often unable to communicate efficiently in English), have enough money to feed themselves and their families, and yet there are thousands of home-grown Americans losing their homes, their savings, and their minds?

I understand that not everyone can just create a business out of scratch and make it be successful, but many of us could. And in doing so, we could hire those who can’t do it all on their own. I understand the OWS argument. But if you want them to stop trashing your money, then stop giving it to them! Vote better. Raise your voices in opposition to fraud. But if you’re upset that you can’t “find” a job, then maybe you should take a page from the book of Starving Artists and find better way to create your own income rather than waiting for someone else to give it to you.

Deklan is a writer and photographer living in D.C. by way of the BP oil spill.

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Thu, 24 Jul 2014 19:01:56 -0400

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