What We Do

Artists U is a grassroots, artist-run platform for changing the working conditions of artists.
Make art. Don’t starve.
We want to change the conversations artists have in our heads, with each other, and with the world.
We push artists to build lives that are balanced, productive, and sustainable.
We are skills-based, not need-based: we work to empower artists to create their lives and their art.
We don’t give advice. We don’t do things for you.
Everything we do is artist-to-artist and free for all participants.
We started in Philadelphia and now we work in Baltimore and South Carolina too (and sometimes in other places).
We have two tools: group meetings and one-on-one planning sessions.

We offer those tools in three different programs:

Core Program

12 artists are nominated and selected for a year-long program. Artist meet eight times as a group to look at specific topics: artist statement, grant writing, communications, etc. Each artist also meets monthly one-on-one with an artist facilitator to do her/his own planning work. Artists leave with: a two-year personal strategic plan; a new artist statement; a financial plan including annual income goals and hour, day, and week rates; and an administrative plan including schedule and resources.

Intro Course: Building a Sustainable Life as an Artist

Open enrollment. Three 2-hour workshops spread over three weeks. We look at: strategic planning, artist statement, and time and money management.

Planning Mondays

Free one-on-one planning sessions with an artist facilitator. You bring in an issue, the facilitator asks you a lot of questions. Our goal: turn challenges and dreams in to to-do lists.

A little background:

I started Artists U in Philadelphia in 2006 because I was tired of seeing brilliant artists leading punishing lives, perpetually exhausted, broke, and discouraged.

The artists I saw were astonishingly competent and hard-working, but at every level of success, they struggled. Usually alone. It diminished their artistic practice and their impact on the world. Over time, many stopped making art.

And I was suspect of “professional development” for artists. I had attended many workshops over the years led by arts professionals, not artists, who showed little comprehension of the complicated struggles artists face.

I wanted something simpler, something grassroots. I wanted a barn-raising, artists coming together to take responsibility for our situation and changing our conditions.

I took a workshop from the Creative Capital Foundation, and there I heard something I knew to be true: we artists have the tools and skills we need to build sustainable lives.

I became a Creative Capital artist leader and traveled the country doing intensive weekend workshops. I wanted this work in my own community. And I wanted it to be long-term (more than a weekend) and local (led by artists from the community). I had this Big Thought: if we work with enough artists in Philadelphia, over time, we can shift the conversations in this community. I was thinking about “emergence” and “tipping points,” the ways ideas become infectious and take over:

Artists need to build lives that are balanced, productive, and sustainable.

Could we make this idea infectious? Could we tip our community of artists?

With Janera Solomon and Jenifer Childs, I started the Artists Core Program in 2006. We chose 12 Philadelphia artists for the first year. We met as a group once a month to look at big issues, and each artist met with an artist facilitator once or twice a month to do their own planning work.

We were funded by Leveraging Investments in Creativity, a Ford Foundation program in partnership with local funders. LINC introduced me to a lot of other folks doing this work around the country. We got together at conferences and exchanged ideas. And Janera, Jennifer and I met each month and talked about how to empower our artists.

We expanded our offerings to include Planning Mondays, free one-on-one planning sessions, and the Artists U Intro Course, three sessions introducing the fundamentals of Artists U, including: planning, artist statement, time, and money.

And we expanded to other places. In Baltimore, we started an Artists U program from the ground up. And in South Carolina, we partnered with the South Carolina Arts Council to train artist leaders and offer programming around the state. In all three communities, our goal is to train and empower local artist leaders to do this work in their own communities.

We are a movement, not a corporation.

—Andrew Simonet