Art:Work is a series of interviews, coordinated by Zoë Cohen, that explores the financial realities in a career as a visual artist in Philadelphia. This series was on hiatus for the past year, while Zoë, who is a parent of two young children, was working a full-time job in addition to maintaining her studio practice.
More on this project can be found here.
Miriam Singer and I knew of each other for years, but hadn’t yet met in person until very recently at the University City Arts League’s Gala, where I was working as Program Manager, and she had donated a piece for the live art auction. According to her bio, Miriam “uses a combination of printmaking and drawing media to create her unique works on paper and designs for public art projects”. She is a member of Space 1026 and recently created a mural at Elixr Coffee.
Zoe Cohen: I know you have a lot of types of work that you do to make a living. What does that look like right now?
Miriam Singer: About fifty percent of my income is from working as an office assistant and printmaking assistant to another artist, Gina Michaels, which I currently do two days a week. Twenty-five percent or so is from commissions and art sales. This includes mural commissions with The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, as well as private commissions, print sales, and gallery sales. Then another twenty-five percent comes from teaching etching and screenprint evening classes at Fleisher Art Memorial for adults, and other one-time teaching opportunities and workshops. I’ve been a teaching artist, adjunct, muralist, printmaking technician, artist’s assistant, social worker, and library circulation assistant, and I have also worked in the food service industry.
ZC: You’ve been teaching for a few years. Where have you been teaching? Do you feel secure in your position?
MS: I am currently a printmaking instructor at Fleisher Art Memorial. I have been teaching Etching since 2013, and Screenprinting since last winter. Previously, I taught as an adjunct at Drexel University in Screen Printing, I have also taught at other places; community nonprofits, high school charter schools, continuing education programs.
I do not feel secure in my positions. Each session, students may or may not enroll in my classes. Whether or not the class runs is dependent on students signing up and paying. However, my hope is that if I make the classes stimulating, students will stay interested and they will continue to enroll. Generally I have had returning students in my classes.
ZC: Do you have health insurance?
MS: I am enrolled with my family in health insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace. This situation is better for us with The Affordable Care Act than it was previously. The same insurance was twice as much for us before. I was paying much more in health insurance before I had my son Raleigh, as a self employed person knowing that there was a possibility of getting pregnant.
ZC: Do you feel financially secure?
MS: I feel secure at the moment mainly because my income is coming from various sources and it has been for some time. Working as an Artist’s Assistant two days a week creates a secure base income that I can build on with teaching, art sales, and commissions. I am lucky that Gina is supportive and flexible with my hours, so I can take off work to focus on a commission or a weeklong intensive workshop if needed. It was scary when I was only working with commissions and part-time teaching. I do need a part-time paycheck that I can count on. It makes me a more relaxed person. Being more relaxed financially keeps me focused on making artwork.
ZC: You got a BA from Brandeis and an MFA from Massachusetts College of Art. What do you feel you got out of your experience in higher education?
MS: I love my education more than I can explain. I doubled majored in Sociology and Studio Art at Brandeis. I enjoyed having a diverse curriculum in my undergraduate program. It has informed my approach to working collaboratively with communities and other artists. At MassArt my education consisted mostly of critiques and studio visits from faculty and visiting artists. Some visiting artists were down to earth and I valued their feedback, while with some artists I wondered how and why they were even invited! These visits helped me develop my approach to looking and responding to my own and other artists’ work. It was an exciting community to be part of, and I have continued to seek out this kind of community since moving to Philadelphia in 2004.
ZC: You have a studio at Space 1026 – do you live close by?
MS: I live in Northern Liberties with my husband Roland, and our two-and-a-half year-old son Raleigh. We live in a one floor apartment in the building above my husband’s store, RELoad Bags. We are lucky to live near the el and have a big back parking lot where we have a sandbox and toys for Raleigh to play with. Space 1026 is a 10 minute bike ride or 15 minute train ride from my apartment. We all have small studios, but we use our communal spaces like our screenprinting area to spread out and work when we need to. We have a computers with Photoshop, a printer, scanner, a large format printer, screen printing equipment, late-night ramen close by, and more…
ZC: How is being a member of Space 1026 going for you these days? Is it hard to keep up with this and your own work?
MS: It can be hard to keep up with right now. Luckily I can help out with things on my own time and chose what to be involved with or not. I may use the mother “too busy” card a lot, but I try to stay involved. I plan to curate one show a year. Last year I organized a show with Jesse Olanday, Maze Generation, a solo show of work by Ryan Beck. This year I collaborated with Ryan Beck and Conrad Benner on an open call group show with 32 artists, Philadelphia 2076, which is up through June 25th.
ZC: How often do you get to your studio?
MS: It varies… if I have an immediate project deadline or show, I may be there every night for a week. If nothing is due soon I’m usually there at least twice a week. I always have one day a week as my designated studio day. But I am going to be adding an extra day when my son begins a new preschool. This past year I took off work and put my son in extra daycare so I could get to my studio more. Roland is very supportive and thankfully my mother-in-law comes down from North Jersey to help us with childcare. Fifteen hours a week is a good average, but I also make work outside of my studio and at home during nap time, on the train to and from work, and at night. I get the most done at night, either at my studio or at my apartment.
ZC: You’ve been showing around a lot recently. Do you show regularly with a gallery? What do you have coming up?
MS: I was showing with LG Tripp Gallery before the gallery closed last year. I had two solo shows there, one in 2010 and one in 2014. I am in a three person show with two of my friends Ryan Beck and Jason Andrew Turner at James Oliver Gallery this coming September. I try to space things out, but I also want to go for opportunities that I may have declined during the past two years after Raleigh was born. For example, the mural that is currently up at Elixr cafe. I feel like doing more now that we can count on Raleigh sleeping through the night. Small group shows are another way I show my work with more frequency. I love participating in group shows.
ZC: What are your near-term and/or long-term goals for your work?
MS: My near- term goal is to make more artwork every day. As far as a long-term goal, I do best when I collaborate with my friends – I want to keep that in mind as I work.
ZC: Is there anything you’d do differently in your art career if you could?
MS: I have continually approached my career with a lot of doubt. It took me till I was a senior in undergrad to admit I wanted to focus on fine art, and even then I had a hard time feeling sure or committed. Probably when I started my MFA I knew it was real, but I was worried. I wish I hadn’t spent as much time worrying about how to have a career, and spent more time just making stuff.
ZC: What’s something you’ve figured out on your own that you wish someone had told you?
MS: When I was getting my MFA I believed I would be teaching full-time at this point. Full-time teaching work is just not available for everyone in our competitive field. Some people do get those jobs, and I’m glad for those who do. While a full-time teaching job would be better in the long run, I have accepted that sometimes you have to take other kinds of work – and that sometimes other jobs can actually work better with a studio practice, for the time being.