Published August 31, 2022
How to Support Artists
As you develop your interests in contemporary art, you’ll quickly learn about the variety of challenges artists face. To succeed as a professional artist, you need to have talent - but you also need incredible endurance. As in many creative industries, the early years involve facing a barrage of rejections and uncertainty.
We recognize the difficulty of this career stage and created Testudo to make this period easier for emerging artists. Especially in America, where funding for the arts is desperately low, we believe that it is critical to celebrate artists for their commitment to pursuing their practice. Here are some of our favorite ways to support artists - both direct and indirect.
In the United States, funding for art is incredibly reliant on private donations. While the National Endowment for the Arts provides some federal funding for the arts, its $167m budget pales in comparison to the cultural funding in other countries. In 2021, Britain spent over $1b on its national cultural agency for a population that is 20% of the United States. As government funding for arts in the US is always limited, an important way to support art as individuals is to donate money to organizations that advocate for the arts.
The first area to start with donations is major museums. As noted in our Getting Started Guide, the large art institutes across the country all have robust membership programs. Many of these programs have relatively low financial barriers to entry. For example, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for two adults requires two $30 day tickets ($60 total). However, the lowest membership level costs just $110 for one member - this price includes unlimited access for the member and their guest. In this scenario, if you want to see the museum twice a year, becoming a member is more economical. You’ll find a similar scenario across many institutions. In addition to the cost savings, memberships often include a variety of other benefits, like access to events, etc.
Another benefit of donating to large institutions is the opportunity to contribute support to the incredible archives for art being made today. Many museums can only keep 1-5% of their entire collections on view, but this low statistic doesn’t simply suggest that museums are trying to hide art from the public. More realistically, this speaks to the vast archive of artwork museums preserve. Museums are especially well-equipped to provide proper care for artwork, which requires significant resources and specialization. These institutions are vital to preserve our art history.
In many nonprofit sectors, smaller organizations urgently need more funding and support. The art world is no exception. To make a larger impact, start by donating to smaller organizations with more specific missions. As these smaller groups focus on more targeted goals, you can have a better sense of your donation’s impact. If you're looking to support artists in this way, research arts nonprofits in your community that align with your interests. As an example of a cause important to us in New York, Allies in Arts, provides support to women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA2S artists through grants, exhibitions, screenings, and partnerships. Helping these smaller organizations grow and flourish is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor.
Promote Art You Love
People sometimes have the misconception that collecting is the only way to support an artist directly. While purchasing an artist’s work is always beneficial, there are a number of additional ways to show support. One of our favorites is to spread the word about their work. We all have friends, family, and colleagues who trust us and take our recommendations seriously.
As you discover artists whose work and story inspire you, don’t be afraid to become a champion of their work. We love talking to friends about artists and artwork that we think they would appreciate. This word-of-mouth strategy takes almost no effort at all but can be essential to helping artists early in their career. Don’t keep these artists a secret, share it!
We also love supporting artists by staying updated on their career progression. Utilize their social media accounts and their newsletters to see their latest works and get alerts when they have exciting updates regarding new shows, collaborations, and more. Following an artist’s progress is enriching - not only will you often see images of their works in process of being made, but this also allows you to witness how their work changes over time.
If an artist is showing work at a gallery, museum, or exhibition space near you, make time to visit. We’ve always found it compelling to see an artist’s work in person. When we see the work in a physical space, we will take a quick photo of the work and post an Instagram story with the artist tagged.
Although that is in some ways a tiny gesture, it can serve two purposes. First, we acknowledge the artist’s work and document my experience. Second, we share the work with our personal network and provide the opportunity to learn more about the artist. This small gesture can be really helpful to artists, especially early on in their career.
Of course, buying artwork from an artist offers direct financial support. Perhaps more importantly, collecting creates buy-in for you to continue following an artist’s career and encourages you to act as their champion.
Every night when we arrive home, we are reminded of the artists we love. We admire their work, and when we host friends, we talk about the artists whose work we are lucky enough to steward. Owning works by artists creates a meaningful connection as a collector that is unlike anything else.
This meaningful connection motivated us to start Testudo. We work directly with our artists to showcase their work - through our videos, images, and text. We create an experience where you can learn more about their practice and what inspires them to create. When you find an artist whose work resonates, we make it seamless to purchase their work to enjoy in your home.
We created our model to support artists financially. Artists do not pay any money to join Testudo and we charge no monthly fees to feature their work. When their artwork sells, they receive 90% of the list price - a much higher percentage than the traditional gallery model provides. We do this so that our incentives are aligned: we only make money when our artists make money. We also give 90% so that we can create an art market where more artists can make their living from their artistic practice.
Supporting artists takes many forms. You can donate to organizations that support the arts and artists, or you can take more direct action like purchasing their artwork or seeing their exhibitions. However you choose to support, you can be well-assured that helping artists and advancing the arts is always worthwhile and rewarding.