In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that artists are 3.6 times as likely as other workers to be self-employed. Many of the artists you know and love are, of course, artists, but they’re also accountants, marketing managers, administrative experts, distribution and logistics specialists, and more. 

For those who build their livelihoods on creating, their craft is equally tied to their clientele. Finding a new gig, appearing in a new exhibition, or teaching a new class can mean the difference between having a kitchen full of groceries or paying a bill.

And for artists of diverse backgrounds — in an industry that is documented as being 82 percent white, according to a 2019 report from Americans for the Arts — acquiring new business can be even tougher.

A diverse collection of colored pencils in different colors and sizes
Illustration by Johnathan Huang for the Goodnewspaper

People of Craft is a digital directory of creatives of color that showcases their craft in design, advertising, tech, illustration, lettering, art, and more. It was co-created by artists Timothy Goodman and Amélie Lamont.

“It’s time to redefine what a creative looks like,” The People of Craft website reads. Folks can browse the site for creators based on their medium or speciality, as well as their location. 

However, diverse creators are still experiencing a barrier to getting hired: tokenism

Many of us are privy to the “rainbow washing” of corporations and organizations during Pride Month each year, as companies redesign their logos to include a rainbow gradient, and even more disconcerting, many have ties to anti-LGBTQ+ political funding or lobby groups. Even still, some great organizations will hire queer artist for Pride-related projects — and can miss the mark.

Carra Sykes, a queer art director and illustrator, said that it’s all about developing a genuine relationship with the artist.

“If you find an artist talented and they are LGBTQ+, don’t just hire them for the Pride project, there are tons of other opportunities to be given to continue a relationship with an artist,” Sykes said.

“They have so much to offer beyond just their identity. I love making queer art and being hired to make art that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. Stand out as an ally and do something year-round.”

Pride is not the only occasion when clients seek diverse creators. Illustrator and graphic artist Danielle Coke said that she has had to change her entire approach to projects for holidays like Black History Month or Juneteenth.

“For many Black artists and creators, it can feel exciting to be contacted by a big brand or organization for a gig, but it often can come across as last-minute, and I’ve had a few brands push for rushed timelines and unrealistic expectations around these holidays,” she said.

“It can be very stressful and causes many of us to feel not only undervalued as artists and creators the rest of the year, but also treated as tokens.” 

So, how can agencies and partners better support diverse artists? 

Hire diverse voices year-round

Events like Pride and Black History Month are supposed to be a time to reexamine and reshape how these communities are treated. Take this time to make a long-term plan for hiring and retaining diverse creative partners. Develop a budget to expand and empower these folks at every possible avenue. 

“Creators from historically excluded communities are worthy of inclusion, support, and belonging year-round,” Coke said. “These holidays aren’t opportunities to hire from these groups every once in a while — they’re reminders of why we uplift and support these groups throughout the year.” 

Be thoughtful and intentional about how you approach projects

Lots of artists enjoy working on projects that highlight their identities, but the trouble is how the project is approached.

Creators need lead time, resources, equitable pay, and ongoing support to complete projects, and rushed deadlines can create a high-stress project that no longer emboldens the creator that has been hired. 

“I do wish clients and brands would prioritize giving artists more space to create, rather than needing the artwork in a few weeks,” Sykes said.

“Be open about your budget and open to adjusting the project scope. It’ll hopefully create a better project experience for you and the artist.”

For every diverse creator you hire, make space for further empowerment 

So you’ve hired a diverse creator and developed a considerate project scope — hooray! The best thing you can do now is to further empower them.

Recommend them for future opportunities, center their experience and expertise in the creative process, create an internal directory of their recommended colleagues, encourage others in your industry to prioritize diverse hiring practices, and ensure that you can support the growth of this artist financially, professionally, and socially. 

Can you donate to a culturally significant organization of the artist’s choice? How about setting up a retainer contract? Can you provide trauma-informed support and benefits?

Hiring someone is only step one in unraveling a system long-built on the labor of historically marginalized people.

A version of this article was originally published in The Art Edition of the Goodnewspaper.

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