How to Create a Budget for Your Artistic Project
We know that artists are not always budgetarily-inclined. Some try to avoid the whole process and others protest that budgeting inhibits the creative process. But failing to set a budget can lead to your project falling short of the masterpiece you're capable of.
A budget can serve as a guide to help you design a quality project. Conversely, it can also help you avoid overspending on impulse.
At Fractured Atlas, we understand that not every artist considers themselves a money or numbers person. But we also understand that artists need to consider the operational parts of the creative process. Artists need to pay rent on studios, compensate collaborators, purchase materials, and incur other expenses in order to realize your vision.
Here, we’re sharing a step-by-step guide to creating a budget. We’ll cover how to start thinking about the resources you need to realize your project, how to research different costs, how to refine and edit your budget, creating multiple budget options, and the difference between internal and external budgets.
This guide can help you create an accurate budget for your unique artistic project.
Why Do Artists Need a Budget?
For artists, budgets are more than just the amount of money that is available for, required for, or assigned to a particular purpose. It's a story that reflects the ultimate cost of the finished project if it were designed with the materials and techniques the artist and collaborators feel it would need for the best results.
An artistic budget is a changing document that reflects the most current view of your needs and accomplishments within a project.
There are a variety of reasons your budget may change over time. You might receive a grant that gives you access to more funds, you might decide to stage your project in a less expensive city, or your creative vision might change over time. Luckily, your budget is a living document that can adapt as your circumstances change.
As your budget evolves over time, it works as a guideline for your spending. It can also serve as a way to keep your priorities in check. Where are you spending the most? Where are you spending the least? Does your current spending match your initial plans?
Creating Your Budget: A Step-by-Step Guide
Creating the budget you need can seem like an insurmountable task that might even stop you from beginning a project at all. But when you have a process to follow, the task isn't as daunting to face. This step-by-step guide will help you create an adaptable budget for any artistic project, no matter the scope or size.
1. Start With Resources Instead of Costs
Begin with a list of resources you think you need to complete the project. Avoid worrying about the funds you think you can secure at this point. Instead, concentrate on acquiring the quality you need.
Your initial list should be exhaustive and include things you think you can get for free. During the research process, don't try to negotiate. Instead, get the most informed pricing estimates possible.
When you are in research mode, you’re trying to get a lay of the land to see what exists already, not trying to negotiate a deal. If you do end up negotiating prices, you will do it after you’ve conducted enough research to know how much you should be paying for a particular resource.
Keep track of where those prices came from so you can return to them when you're ready to make purchases.
List every resource you can imagine, including:
- Venues: This may include rehearsal space, performance space, storage, fabrication space, display space, or even administrative or office space. Not sure what kind of space is right for you? Here are some things to consider when renting a studio space.
- Technology: This may include apps, programs, remotes, microphones, integrated software, cameras, and computers.
- Staff and Contractors: Everyone that contributes to your project in any way should be listed including vendors, consultants, developers, fabricators, performers, and crew.
- Equipment: This may vary widely depending on your project and often includes lights, dollies, cameras, tools for assembly purposes, musical equipment, and uniforms.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Each artistic project is unique and will have a variety of different factors making up the finished project. As you become more experienced with compiling budgets, creating a resource list will be an automatic part of the process.
2. Research, Shop, and Compare
As you tackle your resource list, it's essential to compare costs and quality for a practical choice. You don't want to concentrate on price only for the lowest or highest version.
For example, if you need a camera to document a dance performance, you wouldn’t want to just look at the cameras used to make the biggest blockbusters or confine yourself to shooting on your phone. You’d want to consider the cameras in between. Research the range of costs for the resource then select a price in the "high middle." This approach will help you reach the most likely amount the item will cost as opposed to the cheapest or most expensive.
Aiming high gives you the opportunity to make purchases under budget instead of planning low and ending up overspending.
Keep track of where those prices came from so you don't have to start over when purchasing.
3. Refine and Edit
When you reach the final dollar amount for every resource you’ve already identified (from single purchases like equipment, to recurring expenses like rent), the number will likely be higher than expected. Don't panic. It's part of the process, and now you can make adjustments.
Perhaps the most important part of the editing process is to let go of the guilt. Your work is valuable and deserves to be properly resourced. Don't cut corners to save a few dollars.
Give the project (and yourself) the respect it deserves by doing it the way it needs to be done. Numbers don't have feelings. Even the most outrageously priced items don't feel guilty for costing too much. Make adjustments as the project requires it.
4. Don’t Go Too Cheap
Cheap items might be inexpensive at the register, but they can cost you in the long run. Low-cost items can be poorly made and typically cost you more time and money in the form of increased labor. They also can be unreliable and don't come with the warranty provided with higher quality items that cost a little more.
Be thoughtful about ways you can save that don't lead to overworking you or your team. Time is as valuable as money especially if you're not compensating your team financially for their labor. Obviously, you should always be considerate of the time spent on any project, and to reimburse your team for labor whenever possible.
Mindful purchases can save people time and labor, helping your team avoid burnout. Cheap supplies can lead to exhaustion, skipped steps, and poor work, undermining the final product.
5. Create Multiple Budgets
When refining your budget, it helps to create multiple versions. As you shop, compose these three budgets that will help you find a variety of ways to determine what you'll actually spend.
- Full Budget: This is the high-cost budget that shows the price of every resource without any discounts or deals. It will likely be more expensive than what you ultimately plan to spend.
- Austerity Budget: On the opposite side of the spectrum is the budget that shows the absolute least you could spend on each item to reach the finished product.
- Actual Budget: Your actual budget is likely to be closest to the final version. This highlights the bargains you know you have access to, the items you want to splurge on, and the places you can skimp to save money.
Working (Internal) Budgets and Official (External) Budgets
Once you have finished a rough draft of the final version of each of your budgets, they should fall into two categories: working budgets for internal use and official budgets for external use.
Budgets are not just for internal use by you and the team who is helping you bring that project to life. When you seek help from institutions as part of a grant application or partnership proposal, you'll be required to submit a version of your budget for an external audience - one who is not actually participating in the project, but has a vested interest in how much money is needed and where it will be spent.
You'll likely have to adjust the budget to account for the funds you hope to receive or raise as a result of the application.
While your external budgets will be dictated by the most updated version of your working (internal) budget, each one you use will be slightly different if you're seeking help from multiple organizations. It's okay to have tweaked versions of your official (external) budget, but it's vital to keep track of every external budget you create and the institution you submitted it to.
Your internal budget is the budget you've created and will update as you start turning your creative vision into reality. It’s a living document. It's your working budget that reflects purchases as you make them and signed contracts as funds become available.
While your internal budget is the most accurate representation of your actual budget, it remains internal because outside sources don't need to be updated every time you make a purchase or secure additional funding.
Your working budget provides you with the accurate tracking you need to create a final report of funds received for your donors or grantmakers.
As an Artist, You Need a Budget
Budgeting is a vital tool to help you understand the size and scope of your project, and to bring it into being. It can help you define your priorities and decide how to distribute your resources. Your budget helps you see the value of each resource you need and avoid overspending to reach the ultimate final product.
Your time is precious, and the most valuable resource you can give yourself for staying on budget. Take the time you need to research the best deals to put yourself on a path to success.
If you're in a time crunch, you're more likely to make impulse buys and overspend. Keep in mind that your budget is adjustable, and ever changing. Becoming locked into a number or a line item can interfere with your ability to pivot as needed to reach your final goal.
Learning to budget can breathe new life into the way you create any artistic project. You'll find new opportunities and a variety of ways to take your craft to the next level.
We know that it's not always easy to find the funding you need for any type of artistic project. Learning more about how to budget your funds and resources can help. Fractured Atlas works with artists and arts organizations of all sizes, working in all mediums, to help them bring their projects into reality. We understand the challenges of creating budgets and the need to make a big impact with limited funds. We also know that for the artists and arts organizations who are able to successfully budget, their projects thrive.
We know it's not always easy for artists to talk about money, but in order to thrive we need to be open about how finances fit into the picture.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Content Specialist at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.