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Why We Write

As part of our dance economic series, we asked our writers to turn their attention from the stage and reflect on themselves. Stories about how dancers and choreographers navigate the financial struggles of being an artist are important to share—but they are also fairly common. How do the dance writers behind the reviews, previews, and interviews make it work? Why do they do what they do in an uncertain financial climate? Here are selected responses to Part II of our survey. You can read Part I here. Each writer’s full survey will be posted at our Carnival Fundraiser this Thursday, September 11. ―SeattleDances Editors


SeattleDances: What else do you do? How do you stay financially viable?


Kathryn Hightower: I teach dance, work in a clinical office, tutor, and take notes for students with disability accommodations, as I work through graduate school at Bastyr University. I have never really been “financially viable.” Working as an artist, or even as a teaching artist, is the stereotypical struggle everyone said it would be. Most artists, like I did for years, work many jobs and sometimes get paid for their art.


Mariko Nagashima: I work at a local dance studio as an instructor and in the restaurant industry. I also perform as a freelance dancer with various companies, though that doesn’t generate enough income to live on. Teaching dance is another way for me to share my knowledge and love of dance, and the service industry allows for a flexible schedule that enables me to pursue other interests, like SeattleDances. It’s interesting to think what the arts community and the art being made would look like if making money and creating art weren’t two separate pursuits. If artists didn’t have to have day/night jobs and could fully pursue their craft, I think the work produced would look entirely different.


Philippa Myler: I am a professional dancer, dancing for others and choreographing my own work, as well as a dance teacher and an academic tutor. In order to stay “financially viable” I work 7 days a week and live in affordable housing.


SD: How do you view the economic situation of dance writing?


Anna Waller: Well. Dance writing—and all arts writing—gets hit from two angles: the arts and publishing. It’s no secret that the economic situation for dance artists is completely and utterly lackluster. Dancers rarely get paid what they’re worth, if they get paid at all. At the same time, publishing has had to reckon with the internet. Everything that used to be in newspapers and magazines is now available on the internet. For free. How utopian! The internet allows for free and instantaneous transfer of information all over the world. Anyone can find their niche. In many ways, that means there is potential for more writing, more voices, more ideas, more exchange. Yet it’s difficult to be content with this situation if you are a writer who has no way of drawing income from your work—no subscription sales at the small, independent magazine you work for, no way to sell a physical version of that blog entry you wrote. I love the internet. I hate the internet.


Gabrielle Nomura: Honestly, not great. One of the reasons I wanted to transition from journalism to PR is for better pay, more opportunity and more work/life balance (so crucial if you are both a stereotypical career woman as well as a performer). I can’t comment on academic writing, a field which some of my SeattleDances colleagues are experts at; but, speaking from a journalism background, making a living as a dance writer is a difficult path; the arts are typically the first of “the fat” to get trimmed with budget cuts. Now, as someone who works with, rather than for, the press, I can anecdotally say that there’s been less funding for arts reporting and criticism in dance, opera, music, theater, everything. I see that in the amount of takers I get with press comps, for example. At Seattle Opera, I get to know many of writers, editors and critics, some of whom are experts in music, others who write about art of all kinds. I hear about the struggle of arts writing often. I’ve also noticed a rise in people simply blogging for fun and because, while they can’t support themselves on it, it’s their passion. This is what I do for SeattleDances, for example.


Imana Gunawan: Considering I’m still in college, I have yet to experience firsthand the economic situation of dance writing. However, from what I’ve gathered from professionals who have worked in the field, it’s not a realistic way to make a living, especially in Seattle. Either you would have to have stable and paid writing positions in established institutions, or you could freelance, although in Seattle, the freelance market is pretty slim given the limited amount of news outlets and their limited budgets. Either way, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that you would need more than one job to support yourself and be able to pursue dance as well.


SD: What changes do you want to see in the arts/arts writing world?


Ciara McCormack: Unless you are writing for a newspaper as a regular arts critic, being a dance writer is not on most “real job” radars, and thus is not on most economic scales. We are a part of the dance world that artists depend greatly on—never underestimate the power of the press.


Kaitlin McCarthy: I would love to see writing that connected the work under discussion to the greater context of the scene or of our culture. Work isn’t made in a vacuum. I love writing that talks about the implication of the art. Also I occasionally run across a written response to art that is an art piece itself. It’s a different kind of dialogue and one that is very exciting. I would love to see more writing that crosses art genres. It seems like theater, music, visual art, dance, film,writing, etc. all have a lot in common, but I don’t see much writing making those connections. Because arts education can be so insular, I think it’s hard for art writers to feel competent in multiple genres, or even know what’s out there.


Anna: I want to see more government funding and a public education system that does not view the arts as either something “extra” or something available only to a certain class. I want to see an arts journalism world that figures out how its writers can make a living in the absence of physical print culture.


Mariko: I’d love to see society value the arts more, and in turn prioritize supporting the arts financially. Some of this starts with artists valuing their own work more, and requiring proper compensation, but a lot of it simply has to do with people valuing the arts and realizing the importance of them in our society. I’d also love to see more federal and institutional support of the arts, but this would also necessitate a larger societal shift toward arts appreciation via monetization.


SD: Any ideas on how to make this happen?


Charlotte Hart: The incorporation of arts education in primary and secondary education that encourages this process.


Miranda Chantelois: Dance writing! What better way is there to get more people seeing an eclectic range of shows, than by expressing their value via the two most accessible means of communication: published, written word, and social media.


Kaitlin: I would love to see an online forum that pulls together writing from all kinds of art and puts it in one place. I think we collectively could work more to build a community that crosses over more. I imagine that this kind of work is not helped by the fact that artists must have multiple jobs to support themselves. It doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for artists to do all they are capable of.


Philippa: Teach artists to call themselves professional and then insist upon the compensation they require and deserve. Raise awareness of what goes into making art. Unionize!

Anna: Do it anyway; hope I don’t burn out. That’s not terribly sustainable. Art needs articulate ambassadors who can make the case for why art is necessary in society (i.e., deserving of public and private money). And again, education. If art exists in schools—all schools—it becomes something that new generations will keep demanding and making space for. You know how all the kids in the past generation or so played soccer? You know how everybody has gone nuts over the past two world cups and suddenly soccer seems like a thing in the US? Those kids are now the adults driving an American interest in soccer. If art had the same strong cultural support during childhood, those kids are more likely to grow up and become the new generation of dance audiences.