The Austin Chronicle

The Cost of Art: A Series

By Robert Faires, January 24, 2014, Arts

You know what it costs you to see a play or a chamber music concert or an exhibit at a museum. You know what you have to pay to acquire a painting or print. The prices are made plain to you. What you may not know, however, unless you're an artist – and sometimes not even then – is what it costs to mount that play or concert, to produce that painting or print: materials for creation, be they brushes, bowstrings, clay, costume fabric, or lighting gels; renting a venue in which to stage the performance or hang the art; supplementary costs, from insurance to advertising to paper towels and toilet paper if you run the venue; and, of course, compensation, if any, for the artists themselves.

The myriad expenses involved in creating and bringing art to the public don't get a lot of play outside of studios, galleries, theatres, and production meetings. But if you want to understand why there might not be as many galleries or theatres in town as there were five years ago or why artists are increasingly talking about having to leave this creative capital, it helps to know the economics of their situation, the challenges they've traditionally faced in a city that may love its artists but, let's face it, has never lavished them with the kind of financial compensation that makes it easy for them to sustain themselves, and how much worse those challenges have gotten as the city has prospered and become less affordable.

"The Cost of Art" is a series of articles that will attempt to explore those hidden expenses faced by our classical musicians, theatre artists, dancers, choreographers, and visual artists, in the context not only of the ongoing work they do but also of a rapidly changing city that is leaving many of them behind even as it trades in on their contributions to its desirability as a destination. Look for additional features in the coming months.

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