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.
More on this project can be found here.
Anthony Bowers makes paintings, drawings, prints, and installations. We first met through our union, United Academics of Philadelphia, which is a union dedicated to making higher education sustainable for the 15,000 adjunct professors teaching in Philadelphia-area colleges. Anthony was also a participant in a panel discussion, along with Anna Neighbor, that I moderated for Moore College of Art’s TGMR Radio station.
Where do you show your work? What projects are you involved with?
I mostly show my work at artist run galleries and at residency related art spaces. I would love to be in at least 6 shows a year. I am currently the Director of FJORD Gallery, an artist run space in the Crane Arts building and I am member of the United Academics of Philadelphia adjuncts’ union.
What are your main sources of income?
Half of my income comes from part-time work as a studio technician and fabricator at a museum, the other half come from adjunct teaching. I’m an adjunct lecturer at Drexel University. I have been teaching drawing, digital design foundations, and screen printing there for two and a half years. My position is entirely contingent, I have no job security.
Do you share finances with a partner?
My spouse and I combine our incomes. We used to keep half our income for ourselves and half together in a joint account but we merged it all when I went back to school and that has worked pretty well since. Kim is a internal analyst for QVC in West Chester, she definitely brings home more bacon than I do. I also get health insurance though Kim’s work.
Do you have savings? Do you feel financially secure?
We have some savings, we feel lucky not to be hand-to-mouth, but always wish we could save more to be really secure. Our retirement is not as well funded as it should be.
What kind of living situation do you have? Where do you make your work?
Kim and I recently purchased a house in Port Richmond. I have a studio outside my home in the Loom building of Port Richmond, it is a space that I share with other artists.
How often do you get to your studio?
Ideally I am in my studio 15 hours a week at minimum, I have two weekday mornings and Saturdays blocked out for studio time.
What are some of the most influential experiences, relationships, or opportunities that have influenced your career as an artist?
I love school. My most formative and growth producing experiences have all been in academia and I feel so lucky to have been exposed to so many amazing artists, peers, friends, and mentors in my education. My time in formal education has been formative, but to sustain growth you have to build community. I rely heavily on my friends, my spouse, my coworkers, my studio-mates and my gallery-mates for inspiration, feedback, and direction. Residencies have also been really productive for me, not just as a time for producing work, but as a way to connect with interesting, intelligent people and build community.
What degrees do you have?
I have an undergraduate bachelors degree in painting (BFA) and a certificate in business management. I also have an MFA, which has helped me do what I want but not necessarily helped me make more money or support myself. I am still paying back significant loans from my education.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
I have heard many wonderful and introspective answers to this question – mine however is rather work-a-day. Success for me as an artist simply means being able to keep making work and doing what I love. If I am doing too many other things to support my studio and those extras come at the exclusion of the studio – that means I’m not successful. Or if I’m in a position where I feel that I have to make work that I don’t love making, then I have to reevaluate my decisions. It’s a simple definition but it helps guide my practice and my life.
Is there anything you’d do differently in terms of your career or your finances if you could?
I went to grad school after five years in a sales corporate position, and in hindsight I wish that I had been applying for grad schools during that whole period. Five years was the perfect break because I was mentally and artistically hungry for school when I went back, but instead of applying to school each year I did a ton of applications in the fifth year all at once. Applying to school forced me to conceptualize my practice differently and speak about it with confidence – that takes practice and I got better at it each time I do it. If I had spent the time and money to do applications every year, I think I would have saved myself a lot in student loans in the long run. As you become a stronger applicant, scholarships can open up and each review panel is made up of individuals who may or may not like you no matter what – so I think increasing the number of applications you submit can increase your chances of getting a better scholarship and loan package.
What’s something you’ve figured out on your own that you wish someone had told you?
You make your community. Go figure out what you want it to be.