The Side Hustle – how it can make your arts life more sustainable

Kat Pui and Jess Wong- photo by Kath Melbourne

The side hustle. It’s the ‘other thing’, the thing that sometimes pays your bills when work in the arts is slow. The thing that can sometimes finance the very activities that grant bodies are funding less of, particularly as budgets and success rates become smaller. Sometimes the side hustle is the thing that provides most of your income when you’re building your professional life in the arts or when funding is suddenly cut.

When your income is primarily generated from your arts practise, the side hustle can be a great way to fund risk taking and development without the constraints or unpredictability of grant funding.

It’s the ‘I don’t know what it is yet’ and ‘I have to go through a process that might fail before I know what it is’ that often scares some government departments and grant panels. But it’s at the very heart of innovation and art making. It’s the kind of activity that makes your work vital, that keeps you inspired and gives you an opportunity to play without the restrictions of a prescribed outcome. I’m completely of the belief that grant makers should invest in this kind of activity, but I’m a pragmatist too, and there is something so very empowering about making it happen no matter what.

The side hustle, if done right, can give you the freedom to self fund and give yourself the time to undertake development, play and testing and still make sure the bills are paid, cashflow is healthy and there’s food in your belly.

Sometimes you’ll see the side hustle in organisations too, and it’s often used to great effect to be able to provide cashflow freedom to projects outside of funding cycles, or to fund its nebulous first stage explorations. It only works though if you don’t lose sight of it being a support act to the main game. Something that allows you to continue with the main game, has money built in for the costs it takes to manage and provides enough dollars to self fund core activity or time if you need it. Each organisation will have different assets to harness and different opportunities to access.

Some organisational side hustles I’ve come across:

  • Hosting corporate events- team building, celebratory or strategic
  • Renting out unused space/costumes/set/lighting/projectors to other theatre and dance companies
  • Hosting film/TV/photographic crews to shoot- some are super keen to find non identifiable spaces with parking that haven’t been overused!
  • Running Pilates and yoga classes
  • Air bnb
  • Selling greeting cards and children’s soft toys
  • Even renting out their space to a church without a church

You can find individual artists and producers with side hustles as diverse as driving an Uber to the more structured hustle of part time work in related roles such as Academic Lecturer and Front of House Attendant. It’s best if the side hustle is something you like doing, or at the very least isn’t painful!

My side hustle is renting out my Winnebago to travellers to Tasmania. When the Winnebago is out on the road I use that time for my development, speculative writing and testing time. I know that the hound and I will both be fed and I have the freedom to prioritise development time and not feel financially pressured to say yes to all the work I’m approached about.

I’ve seen independent artists and producers make side hustles work in industry related jobs and those completely outside of it. I once knew a poet who worked part time in the same very dry Public Service job for over 30 years because it demanded nothing of him emotionally, and he could channel all that mental and emotional space into his writing. I’ve also seen side hustles that become so demanding that they take over (sometimes for good, sometimes not) and the main game fades away. Each person’s practise is unique, as are their lives. There’s not a one size fits all approach to the side hustle.

Some independent artist hustles I’ve come across:

  • Childminding for other artists working on projects on set/site
  • Share economy hustles- Airbnb, Uber/Eats, Airtasker
  • Selling home grown flowers and produce
  • Pilates/yoga/ healthy life instructor
  • Creating and selling adult colouring books
  • Making and selling wedding and baby shower cake decorations
  • Instagram influencer
  • Horse agistment
  • Side jobs in hospitality, modelling, academia, tech, labouring, teaching people to ride, dog walking, admin, novelty telegram delivery, voice over…. an almost endless list of flexible jobs and bosses which don’t mind you taking off time when you need to attend to the main game.

Over these next few months I’m bringing together thinking, case studies and practical exercises for a workshop that looks at both artistic and financial sustainability in a 360 degree kind of way. The kind of way that isn’t all about learning to write a kick ass grant application (though it will include this) or writing a killer bio (though it will include this too) but a way that embraces each individual’s and organisation’s main game and their obstacles. Taking into consideration what’s going to work for them to have a financially and artistically viable and sustainable professional life in the arts. It’s bound to include a conversation or two about the side hustle!

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a story to share, whether it be an interesting side hustle or an out of the ordinary lifestyle that supports your practise. Ping me a message in the comments below or email me: kathmelbourne@gmail.com

I’d love to hear from you ☺️

For more information about me check out my LinkedIn profile.

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