In Case of Emergency, Document and Inventory Your Creative Practice
In an unpredictable world, artists need to get in the regular habit of inventorying and documenting your work. That way, if an emergency hits, you’re better prepared to get relief.
In a world that feels increasingly risky and apocalyptic, artists and creatives can face major losses. Pandemics like COVID-19 are shuttering studios and forcing shows to cancel, wildfires and hurricanes can destroy studios full of work, force evacuations, and more. There are forms of relief like grants or insurance claims available to help artists bounce back after calamity, but in order to access that relief, you have to demonstrate exactly what you’ve lost.
That’s why artists and creatives need to inventory and document your work. Fractured Atlas encourages artists to prepare in case of emergency by keeping track of what you physically have, as well as any contracts or planned income.
Why Artists Should Document and Inventory Work
As an artist, you should be in the regular practice of documenting and inventorying your work because it's important to know what you have! If you don’t know how many prints you have of a photo, you might sell what you don’t actually have or print more than you can reasonably sell. If you don’t save all of your upcoming contracts, you might accidentally double-book yourself or find that your month is looking a lot lighter on work than you expect. Being able to quickly see what materials you have, which pieces you have on-hand, and what jobs you have lined up is a general good business admin practice, but it also matters in case of emergency.
In case of emergency, you need to be able to demonstrate loss in order to get help.
We recognize that it’s impossible to truly calculate the loss that artists are experiencing during a catastrophe like COVID-19. Fractured Atlas’s staff are artists and creatives ourselves, so we understand the pain. We can’t go to our studios, and some of them are at risk of shutting down for good because of financial strains. We can’t hold events, either. And, with an atmosphere of uncertainty and worry, our creative juices have certainly taken a hit. The emotional and creative losses we’re all feeling in this crisis can’t be quantified or presented in front of an insurance adjuster or a grant committee. But we can still show other quantitative losses.
As an artist facing a catastrophe or emergency, you have to make your losses legible to people who might not understand art at all, who don’t know your work, and who are hearing from other people in similar positions.
For more about insurance for artists, check out Studio Protector from CERF+.
Inventory Your Art
As an artist, you should take regular stock of your work. How many paintings, ceramic pieces, needlepoints, or digital editions of your work do you have on hand?
There are obvious business reasons to have a regularly updated inventory. It can help you figure out the pace at which you produce work (so you can plan any commissions) and make sure that you have enough in stock to meet demand, but not so much that you run out of space for new work, plus enough supplies.
You should also keep track of your materials. How many external hard drives do you have, how many cameras and rolls of film? How many tubes of paint or bolts of fabric?
Take photos and keep lists of what you have, and make it a point to update those lists and photos regularly.
It’s always useful for artists to know what you have on hand. But in case of an emergency, it is crucial.
For example, if a wildfire destroys your studio and you need to make a claim to your insurance company that you lost $1500 worth of work and $2100 worth of equipment, you’ll have to show what you had there and how much it would have been worth.
If you don’t know exactly what you had, it’s much harder to ask for what you need.
Pro tip: Make sure that you have a backup for your inventory. For example, if you keep a spreadsheet or photos of your studio on your computer, upload them to the cloud and store them on an external hard drive for safekeeping.
Document Any Losses In a Crisis
After an emergency, you’ll have to demonstrate to the best of your abilities how much was destroyed and what the value was. This piece is challenging if you don’t already have an inventory and don’t remember what you charged for certain pieces or what you paid for equipment or supplies.
As soon as you’re able to, try to collect evidence of what you have lost in the event of a crisis. Take photos or videos as evidence of what you’ve lost - or even proof that you can’t re-enter your studio space.
If there was physical damage, take plenty of pictures of the damage, even if it’s not damage to your own goods. If there are any news clippings about the disaster that are particularly relevant to your studio space or your creative work, download and save them.
We know lots of artists are also freelancers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of us have lost our freelance gigs and had our contracts canceled. Save every correspondence about a cancelled gig (including emails and screenshots of text messages), messaging about mandated shutdowns, and any other information that demonstrates lost jobs and lost income.
Our colleagues at Howlround put together a panel in late March 2020 called “Financial Strategies for Freelance in a Time of Crisis” where panelist Amy Smith recommended that artists put together profit and loss statements for the past year and current year. She shared a sample profit and loss statement and has a template on her website.
Prepare For the Unknown By Regularly Updating Your Inventory and Documentation
The last thing you want to do when you’re recovering from trauma—physical, emotional, environmental—is handle logistics and paperwork. It’s exhausting work to catalogue loss when you’re still reeling from it.
That’s why we encourage you to get into a practice of regularly documenting what you have and what you have coming. That way, when the future happens in whatever unpredictable way it will, you’ll be better equipped to apply for grants or talk with your insurance provider about relief options.
We know how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic is for artists. We want you to be able to build whatever comes next with as many resources, as much collective power, and as much compassion for yourself as possible. That’s why we’ve compiled emergency relief resources and resources for POC artists.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content 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.