Building a Resilient Career as an Artist

Many artists take classes to develop their artistic and creative skills in preparation for starting a studio business. But rarely do they think about building a business that is resilient and sustainable through challenges and difficulties that can arise.




CERF+ (Craft Emergency Relief Fund + Artists’ Emergency Resources) is an organization that has studied the vulnerability of artists’ businesses, and offers information and resources for entrepreneurs under the category of “career protection.” Their sobering report “Sustaining Careers: A Story of the Status of U.S. Craft Artists” reveals that many artists simply don’t understand or consider the risks they face in business.

A key question in building a resilient business is “What can you not afford to lose?”

CERF+ Executive Director Cornelia Carey and Director of Programs Craig Nutt emphasize the ways that artists can build resilient careers and protect their careers from setbacks – large and small.

CERF+ Ten Ways (with one to grow on) To Build a Resilient Career

1. Create a business plan and develop a strategy for generating enough income to support yourself, your family, and achieve your artistic goals.

2. Assess your risks (from the mundane to the large scale) and make a plan on how to avoid or lessen the impact of each.

3. Do a simple inventory of your art-related assets (including your artwork) to see what you have at risk (it is probably more than you think!) If it is more than you can afford to lose, get a couple of quotes for business insurance (it may cost less than you think). Make a backup copy of your inventory and save to a Safe Off-site Location (SOL). Remember:

  • Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance does not cover property or liability for things that have anything to do with business.
  • You cannot afford to go without liability insurance. That puts everything you and your family has at risk.
  • It may be more economical to purchase a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) that combines business property and liability.
  • CERF+’s Business Insurance Guidebook for Artists has the information you need to make good decisions on business insurance and is available to download for free.

4. Safeguard the documentation of your work, your data, and critical documents

  • Back up your computer and be sure at least one copy is in a Safe Off-site Location (SOL) 50-100 miles from your studio or in a trusted secure location in the cloud. Be sure that your backups have all the files you need and actually work.
  • Make copies of critical documents including process notes and store copies in an SOL or digitize and store with your backups.

5. Start saving to create a “rainy day” fund that could cover your home and studio expenses for a least 3 months if your income were disrupted for any reason. A reserve of 6 months or more would be a worthwhile goal. This fund should be apart from retirement savings in an account where you can access the funds without penalty if you need them.

6. Purchase health insurance and be sure you contribute enough money to a health savings account (if you have a high-deductible plan) or to your rainy day fund, to cover your deductibles for a year. The Affordable Care Act has made health coverage available to self-employed artists, and most will qualify for insurance subsidies. Consider purchasing disability insurance.

7. Make studio safety a priority.

  • Know how to use and wear appropriate protective gear.
  • Know about the short term and long term hazards of the materials you use. Many commonly used materials can cause serious and even fatal consequences years after exposure.
  • Follow good daily practices. For example: Do not eat where you work. Do not perform potentially dangerous operations when you are tired and/or alone. Keep your studio clean and free from fire hazards. Dispose of flammable materials safely.

8. Know what to do in an emergency:

  • Have an evacuation plan
  • Know where to get help
  • Know where to find recovery resources and information
  • Think about what you would do if…
  • Browse the Studio Protector: The Artist’s Guide to Emergencies (, view Artist-to-Artist videos, and familiarize yourself with the resource.

9. Make use of contracts to protect yourself (and your clients and galleries). Even a simple letter of understanding can outline expectations and responsibilities and can avoid costly misunderstandings. Remember, contract terms are negotiable – you do not have to accept every term of a contract, and you may have to bend a little, too. The ideal contract protects both parties. Most clients will see a contract as confidence inspiring. If they do not, you may need to ask yourself why they would not want the terms of an agreement spelled out.

10. Consider how you could use the skills you have gained as an artist to augment your income after an emergency, in a poor economy, or if you are not able to generate enough income through your art. Teaching is a common option, but there may be many other options for coping with an episodic income, and some may even enrich your life as an artist.

11. Review your insurance policies, inventory, plans, and procedures annually and update as needed.



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