Artists paint picture of a hectic schedule

Work: Many suburban artists are cobbling together a living by working numerous jobs. Their busy lives allow them little time to work on the art itself.

January 07, 2000|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Weekdays are crazy for suburban artist Joan Bevelaqua, who can spend more time behind the wheel than in front of a canvas.

On a typical Wednesday, she will teach a morning art class in Ellicott City, squeeze in a few solitary hours at her cramped Oella painting studio, make calls about an art show in Columbia, hang pictures in a gallery where she is curator and attend a night class toward a master's degree in fine arts at Towson University.

By the time she returns to her Columbia home, she'll have put nearly 110 miles on her 12-year-old car, worked three jobs and run herself ragged for 16 hours. And the rest of the workweek isn't much better.

"Most artists have really hectic, scary lives," acknowledges Bevelaqua, who will make less than $5,000 over four months. "Being able to support yourself takes a lot of creativity and cunning. You've got to be able to piece together an existence and wear a lot of hats at once. It's really, really tiring."

Her story hits close to home for many area artists.

Suburban growth has spawned cultural growth and with it, opportunities for artists have emerged -- but at a heavy price.

For those who want to make a living in the arts (and not wait tables to pay the rent), the road to success can be long. Jobs and markets for art are far-flung and often not lucrative -- and artists often find they have precious little time to work on art.

"Well no, no one told me that I would have to cobble together a life out of my frenzied schedule," says Jim Adkins, laughing. He taught art in Howard County public schools for 17 years and spent 10 years as an adjunct professor at Villa Julie College in Stevenson and Howard Community College, where he heads the visual arts department.

"If you're looking for easy wealth, perhaps working in the arts isn't the career for you. You can probably pay your bills by teaching or whatever other job you can get that gives you free time to create, but you won't end up with much money -- or time, for that matter," Adkins adds.

Although Adkins has a full-time job in the arts, he'll be the first to admit that he spends less time in his studio. Although he puts in 60-hour weeks, painting is relegated to weekends and the hours after work.

"Bills will get paid by teaching or whatever other job you can get that gives you free time to do your art," he says. "If you love art and feel a need to do it, you find a way to make a living doing what you love."

Susan Stockman, 34, a jewelry designer and sculptor who lives with her artist husband in St. Michaels, says artists become good at "living creatively."

When Stockman decided at age 21 that she was going to be an artist, she made one rule: take on art-related jobs.

She's had to break her rule more than once to put food on the table. Over the years, Stockman has been a nude model for an art school, a bartender, an estate caretaker and a book reader to the blind.

`No separation'

Living by a pure artistic code sometimes means having a broad interpretation of what jobs are desirable.

"You start to realize that there's no separation between your art and your life," Stockman says. "You might be catering a party and you'll be having a great time arranging the vegetables on a tray and getting into the colors and textures of the food. You realize it can be great fun."

Like Bevelaqua and Adkins, Stockman has a teaching job at a number of area colleges and schools, including the Columbia Art Center.

"Sometimes I think, `What am I doing driving to Columbia?!' " says Stockman, who makes the hour-and-40-minute commute from the Eastern Shore once a week. "But my friends are there. That's an important part of the artistic life that's often forgotten: It's a connector of people and of people to themselves."

Competition for academic jobs is intense. And teaching can be logistically cumbersome and financially challenging.

"Jobs in the arts are just so hard to come by, so when you do get one, you tend to stay there," says Coleen West, executive director of Howard County's Center for the Arts, who gave up her dream of being a painter to get a master's degree in arts administration.

"Most artists are highly skilled, so getting a job in your field is actually preferable to something like waitressing. At least you're doing what you've been trained to do," she adds.

As the growth of the suburbs has increased so, too, has the number of jobs. And if artists want to connect the dots, they learn to live with life on the road.

`Pressures of juggling'

West says she's heard of artists who drive hundreds of miles a day to teach classes, work in their studio, get to day jobs and back home. This can go on for years -- or until artists can support themselves from sales of their work or a better-paying job comes along.

"The pressures of juggling all the jobs and grading papers and traveling and finding time to actually create something are really intense," she adds. "There are those who are really, really dedicated and make time in their studio to paint or whatever they do.

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