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Understanding How To Finance Your Art

How To Finance Your Art. It’s All Greek To Me.

Happy December, Creative Financiers! My first holiday gift to you this season is a very special guest post (first time at Creative Finance!) from my colleague and friend Ethan Steimel. Ethan has launched a phenomenal podcast this year called “Artistic Finance” (streaming everywhere you find podcasts), and our mission statements couldn’t be closer aligned. I hope you’ll go check out his treasure chest of interviews with a variety of folks working in the arts across many disciplines – including a new episode with yours truly released today. Ethan is here to chat about understanding how to finance your art, let’s dive in.

how to finance your art
Ethan Steimel from Artistic Finance!

Most of us go to work in the theatre for love of the art, and we’re all familiar with the stereotypical starving artist, but we also have to eat, pay rent, and save for the future.  Successful artists, who have been in the field a long time, pay attention to their finances and live better lives as a result.

On my podcast, Artistic Finance, I interview up and coming, experienced, and successful theatre artists. We discuss how they earn a living and how they are setting themselves up for financially secure futures. Their experience and advice can help us make better financial decisions. 


The musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum, set in ancient Rome, follows the enslaved Pseudolus as he attempts to earn his freedom by helping his young master, Hero, woo the lovely Philia who lives next door. If Pseudolus had money, he could simply purchase his freedom. But instead he must play matchmaker, and wackiness ensues.

The old man Erronius has money and freedom. He may do as he pleases–which for him is searching for his two children, stolen in infancy by pirates! (Don’t worry, they turn up okay.) Erronius is able to use his resources on the peak of  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs while Pseudolus is stuck trying to climb from the bottom. Just like Psuedolus, we need money so that we can be F. R. E. E. … FREE!

how to finance your art

Love, I Hear

Working in theatre isn’t the way to an easy million. The wages are often low. We are subject to the whims of the producer, director, designers, crew, and actors. And that is when we are working! The instability of knowing what the next job will be is another constant pressure of the theatre rat race. The quest on understanding how to finance your art continues.

And yet, millions of us willingly work in the entertainment field. We continue to do so during a worldwide pandemic that shut down Broadway for nearly two years. Let’s return to the forum to see if we can make sense of this. Hero falls in love with Philia from afar. When they finally have a moment alone, Hero tries to explain the irrationality of his feelings to Philia. He wonders if it is love.

Just like Hero, we are trying to understand an irrational thing: artists pursuing art over money. A fortunate few will achieve financial independence and never have to work again. But for every Jerry Herman, David Merrick, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, there are thousands that have a passion to be storytellers but do not achieve huge success.


In order to understand these impossible conundrums, I began asking artists about their personal finances. The topic is taboo and many have been unwilling to discuss it publicly. But those who have opened up provide us with needed insight to help us understand how we can work in the theatre we love and still achieve financial security.

For those artists who have agreed to be interviewed, I am grateful. They helped me understand that the magic surrounding money only exists when we do not understand it. Once we zero (Mostel) in, we discover it is basic math and anyone can understand it. Now you’re on the path to understanding how to finance your art.

The artists I’ve interviewed range from financially successful (which I define as having a net worth over $250,000) to successful with accolades (they have received Tonys, Drama Desks, Emmys, and Grammys) to successful at balancing the artistic life (those who live on their own and pay their bills). After so many interviews, certain patterns have emerged. Every guest has stressed the importance of tracking expenses, avoiding debt, and investing as early as possible.

Know What You Have and Where It Goes

Theatre folx may not get big paychecks. But the smart ones make the most of what they get by  keeping track of what comes in and how they spend it.

In Episode 12 of the podcast, I talked with the Tony Award winning choreographer Sergio Trujillo. He stressed that, “…you always have to be incredibly disciplined not only with your craft, and your time, but also your finances… one of the reasons we’re okay [during the COVID shutdown], is because we’ve been able to plan, and we’ve been very conservative. We’re not cheap, but we’re living our lives appropriately.”

The early career lighting designer Sammy Ross, who moved from LA to NYC joined us on Episode 17.2. She explained the importance of tracking her income and expenses and staying on top of money coming in. 

“As a freelancer we have ten 1099s and eight W2s and it’s so much to figure out. . . .  [S]ometimes a payment is late and you need to know what’s going on. You need to be your best detective. You’re the one who cares the most about your finances . . .  Money is a tool and if you’re not using your tool wisely… then you’re missing out on an opportunity. . . . I know at all times how much money I’m spending and where my money is going.”

Broadway set designer Wilson Chin in Episode 7 shared how he meticulously tracked his expenses when he moved to New York City.

“I sat down and figured out my monthly finances. My rent, all my bills, and added that all up. . . . I gave myself a weekly spending budget. . . . At the end of the week, I can tell if I’ve saved anything, if I’ve overspent, and then it carries over to the next week. . . . [F]or ten years I inputted every single thing that I bought. It kept me on track. If you do that, you never have to worry about money because you know exactly how much money you have. You know exactly where on track you are.”

These artists pay attention to their finances. They teach us the importance of knowing our income versus expenses. The expenses must always be less than than the incomve in order to set aside money for emergencies, recreation, and retirement. 

how to finance your art

Avoiding Credit Card Debt

Every single interviewee has warned about credit card debt. Many guests have gone out of their way to stress the importance of how dangerous credit cards can be.

Tony Award winning actor Chuck Cooper in Episode 2 got so fed up that he stopped using credit cards. He laughed about it light-heartedly (he loves to laugh) but was serious.

“I stopped using credit cards. I just adopted the, if I don’t pay you, you can wait. And if you can’t wait, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll pay you when I can.”

Our Episode 24 guest was theatre and film director Kevin T Morales. He had massive student loan debt from NYU and pointed out that using credit cards is borrowing money. And borrowing money costs money.

“I don’t believe in credit cards. Which has made life very difficult for me, having horrible credit. But they’re scams. . . .  I’m against someone [saying] here’s some money. Buy something, and then we’re going to charge you for using our money.”

Blue Man Group musician Geoff Gersh in Episode 22 agreed credit cards are an easy way into debt. 

“Don’t use credit cards. To live off of, to fall back on. If you can avoid getting yourself into even the most minute amount of debt, do it. If you need this piece of gear for a specific gig that might help generate money, maybe that’s an exception. But stay away from credit cards.”

Lighting designer and professor emeritus Kathy A. Perkins in Episode 8 was open to using credit cards, but suggested not owning more than two. And if you are going to use credit cards, make sure they provide bonus points, airline miles, or a perk that can benefit you. 

“I was one of these people that would have ten or twelve charge cards. . . . I never thought about the interest. . . . Oh, it’s ten dollars due this month, I’ll just pay the ten dollars, I’ll just pay the minimum. . . . [N]ever pay [just] the minimum on a charge card because you’ll never pay it off.

All you need are two cards… and you want to get a card that will give you something back.’

This wariness about credit cards makes sense. Freelancers who do not have steady paychecks should use them with care. They have no idea the timing or amount of the next paycheck. A credit card can put someone into debt quickly and easily.

The credit card isn’t bad. The debt is.

how to finance your art

Pay Yourself First And Save Early

Save early, save for a rainy day, and save for retirement. The sooner you start, the more time your money has to grow. 

New York Times bestselling author and Emmy Award winning writer Jill Twiss in Episode 3 was one of the first guests to mention the importance of compound interest and saving early.

“Save something early… If you can’t save any money, you can’t save any money. But if you can save money and put it in index funds, the stock market over a few decades goes up a lot. . . . If you understand compounding interest, you suddenly become really excited and thrilled about how much free money you get just by investing when you’re twenty three instead of when you’re forty six.”

Tony Award winning lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski was our first guest on the podcast in Episode 1. He stressed the importance of paying yourself, even if it is not a lot.

“Pay yourself. However little. It’s good for your head too… it’s good for your brain to  once a month, write yourself a check.”

Episode 14 guest, Tony nominated sound designer Cricket S Myers, is based in LA. She uses technology to make paying herself easy and automatic. Create systems for yourself and you’re well on your way to understanding how to finance your art.

“[I use an app] that will pull money out of your bank account and stick it in a savings account that isn’t easily accessible… It pulls out in small amounts so you don’t feel them coming out. Since I downloaded the app, I’ve saved $50,000. 

…In the six years I’ve had the app, that’s a lot of money that I’ve been able to set aside and then pull out when I needed it. If you had told me that I could afford to pull $10,000 out every year I would have told you I was crazy. ”

how to finance your art

Comedy Tonight, Tragedy Tomorrow?

Forum opens and closes with the cast offering a comedy tonight and a tragedy tomorrow. In our financial lives, we do not want either. We want steady, reliable, and boring. Leave the drama onstage and out of our finances. Take the time to learn how to finance your art.

Theatre does not provide a clear, steady, or easy path to financial security. But it is possible to work in theatre and earn a living. The trick is balancing artistic fulfillment with income. Whatever the scale of income, you can make the most of it by tracking income and expenses, avoiding debt, and investing for your future.

Let us end with this encouragement from Broadway stage manager Cody Renard Richard who spoke with me on Episode 25.

“Don’t be discouraged by the jobs that are offered to you when you’re starting out. …After Cirque Du Soleil, I did two jobs in New York City where they paid me fifty dollars and a metro card…

Don’t let money discourage you from your journey… Stay the course and keep fighting for what you want because you can make a living doing this.”

Curtain Call

Thank you to Broadway Joe for the invitation to write this post, Understanding How To Finance Your Art. Check out his interview on Artistic Finance

To hear the conversations with the artists, please subscribe to the podcast. Each Monday we release a new interview.

Listen and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Youtube, or

If you find the work valuable, please support us on Patreon.

If there is an artist you would like to hear interviewed on the podcast, please suggest them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or by email.

Special thanks to Sara Crasson at Flavors of Magic for proofreading this post and to the artists who contributed their stories.

Thank you Ethan for your time in learning about how to finance your art! I hope everyone out there enjoyed this insightful look into a number of different personal finance topics. Be sure to check out Ethan’s work over at Artistic Finance- and drop a comment below if you have any thoughts on today’s post!

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