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In periods of economic downturn, every occupation has its unique challenges, but artists may feel these pressures particularly acutely. Despite the common notion that art is a luxury, not a necessity, and hence, artists might face an uphill battle during recessions, this is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, recessions can present unique opportunities for artists who can adapt and innovate.

While a recession can initially seem daunting, it’s important to remember that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum—it’s a reflection of the world around us, and its cultural value often transcends monetary value. During a recession, artists can employ a variety of strategies to continue creating their art, whilst also securing a stable income. This article explores those strategies, offering insights for artists seeking to remain resilient during economically challenging times.

1. Diversifying Income Streams

As the adage goes, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This advice is particularly pertinent for artists during a recession, where traditional income streams such as gallery sales or commissions might be less reliable.

Art Licensing

Art licensing involves leasing the rights to use your art on products like T-shirts, greeting cards, or home décor items. This can be a great way to create a passive income stream that continues to generate revenue even when sales are slow. Companies like Society6 and Redbubble can help artists easily venture into art licensing.

Teaching Art

Another approach is teaching art, either through private lessons, community college classes, or online platforms. Websites such as Skillshare and Udemy have made it easier than ever for artists to share their skills and earn an income.

Selling Art Supplies

Selling art supplies can be another way to diversify income. Artists can create their own art supply lines or partner with manufacturers to sell products.

2. Building an Online Presence

The internet offers numerous opportunities for artists to connect with their audience, sell their work, and build their brand. During a recession, the online market can be a boon for artists.

E-commerce Websites

Websites like Etsy, eBay, and Artfinder offer platforms for artists to sell their work directly to consumers. Artists should consider selling prints or smaller, more affordable pieces to appeal to a wider audience during a recession.

Social Media

Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have become a powerful tool for artists to showcase their work, engage with their audience, and even make sales. These platforms also offer artists the chance to collaborate with brands for sponsorships or advertising.

Patreon and Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding platforms like Patreon allow artists to receive financial support directly from their fans. This can be a more stable source of income during a recession, as it relies on numerous small contributions rather than a few large sales.

3. Applying for Grants and Residencies

Grants and residencies are valuable resources that artists can leverage, especially during a recession. They not only provide financial support, but also present opportunities for growth and development in an artist’s career.

Applying for Grants

Numerous organizations, both governmental and private, offer grants to artists. These grants can fund a specific project or provide support for an artist’s general practice. When applying for grants: Do thorough research to identify grants that you are eligible for and align with your artistic vision. Pay attention to the requirements and guidelines of each grant, tailoring your application to meet these. A compelling proposal that effectively communicates your idea is essential. This might include a project description, artist statement, budget, and visual aids. Remember that applying for grants is a competitive process, and rejection is common. Persistence and perseverance are crucial.

Artist Residencies

Artist residencies provide artists with a dedicated space and time to focus on their work, often within a supportive and stimulating community. They can also provide stipends, housing, studio space, and exhibition opportunities. When considering residencies: As with grants, do your research to find residencies that align with your practice and goals. Applications will likely require a proposal, portfolio, and sometimes letters of recommendation. Ensure these are well-prepared. Some residencies might have specific themes or projects that they support. Make sure your artistic vision fits with these. Residencies can be an excellent networking opportunity, as you may be living and working with other artists and professionals in the art world.

Online Funding Platforms

Alongside traditional grants and residencies, online platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe offer another avenue to secure funding. Crowdfunding can be an effective way to raise money for a particular project, with the added benefit of raising awareness and building a supportive community around your work. Regardless of the specific path pursued, it’s essential to remember that securing funding often involves a competitive process, and rejection is part of the journey. Artists should stay persistent, continue to refine their proposals, and keep searching for the right opportunities.

Comparison Table of Income Generating Methods for Artists

Here is a table to summarise and compare the aforementioned methods:

Art LicensingPotential for passive income, large marketCompetition, loss of control over artwork
Teaching ArtSteady income, opportunity to share knowledgeTime-consuming, may require certification
Selling Art SuppliesSupplemental income, potential for creativityMay require investment, inventory management
E-commerce WebsitesAccess to global market, creative controlCompetition, commission fees
Social MediaFree, wide reach, potential for collaborationsTime-consuming, requires regular engagement
Patreon and CrowdfundingCommunity support, predictable incomeRequires ongoing content creation, platform fees
Grants and ResidenciesFinancial support, opportunity for growthCompetition, may be location or project-specific

4. Active Community Engagement

An active artist does not simply produce art in isolation. They engage with their local communities, as well as online ones, to foster connections, gather insights, gain exposure, and potentially create opportunities for financial gain.


Artists should not underestimate the power of networking. It provides opportunities to meet gallery owners, curators, and other artists, opening doors to collaborations, exhibitions, and sales. Both online platforms like LinkedIn and local art events can be fruitful networking arenas.

Art Shows and Festivals

Participating in art shows and festivals can be an excellent way to increase visibility and generate sales. It may require an initial investment, but can pay dividends in the form of exposure, new contacts, and direct sales.

Community Projects

Contributing to community projects not only strengthens an artist’s local connections but can also serve as a form of indirect marketing. Artists may be commissioned for public works or even find patrons amongst those they collaborate with in community projects.

5. Collaborate with Other Artists

Collaboration can lead to new creative avenues, expanded audiences, and shared resources, all of which can help artists maintain their income during a recession.

Joint Exhibitions

By joining forces with other artists for an exhibition, artists can share the logistical and financial burdens while enjoying the benefits of a larger, diversified audience.

Collaborative Projects

Collaborating on a project can lead to novel, exciting work that could capture the public’s attention. This could range from public art installations to an online art series.

Art Collectives

Art collectives provide a platform for artists to pool resources, share knowledge, and collaborate on larger projects. They can also offer emotional support, which can be crucial during tough economic times.

6. Leverage the Benefits of Digital Art

The digital age has opened up new avenues for artists to create, display, and sell their work. During a recession, these can provide cost-effective and innovative ways to generate income.

Digital Art and Print-on-Demand

Digital art can be sold countless times, creating an endless revenue stream. Artists can offer their digital works as print-on-demand products, reducing the need for inventory and overhead costs.


Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have created a new market for digital art, where artists can sell their work for potentially large sums. It’s a volatile market, but it can be a lucrative one for artists who understand it.

Virtual Galleries

Virtual galleries and exhibitions have become increasingly popular, especially with the constraints of physical events during tough economic or pandemic periods. They provide a global platform for artists to showcase and sell their work.


Artists have an array of strategies at their disposal to navigate and succeed during a recession. Through diversification, collaboration, and leveraging the digital age, artists can not only sustain their practices but can also strengthen their connections and increase their resilience for future challenges.

In conclusion, although a recession presents a challenging economic environment, artists who adapt to the circumstances can continue to thrive. By diversifying income streams, building an online presence, and applying for grants and residencies, artists can navigate the stormy waters of recession and come out stronger on the other side.

Luke Hickman

Luke Hickman is a printmaker and artist with over 15 years of experience. He studied at Norwich University, graduating with a BA (Hons) Fine Art, and has worked in both the commercial printing and digital marketing industries for over 7 years. Luke's work revolves around the idea of creating art that can illustrate a story with topics covering war, politics and history.

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