It took me a while to realize that I have a skill with meditating, narrating, or “marketing” projects. I think I learned a lot of this from Rich Watts and Louise Ma, with their talent for design and documentation in and, see chapter 3. First, I knew that Artists Report Back should be a video and a written report, as it would spread more easily this way. To get press for our projects, such as Artists Report Back, I emailed over 20 people who were leading cultural organizers, and also over 20 journalists who had written about or in the past. I wrote emails like this to press contacts:

Subject: lead: new national report on art student debt BFAMFAPhD


A friend tells me that you might be interested in this report a group of volunteers has been working on for the past year, on student debt and arts education, and the impact of expensive art degrees and future work prospects.

BFAMFAPhD is about to release a written report, animated video, and interactive site about the lives of working artists and arts graduates nationally. This coincides with our work in Crossing Brooklyn, now on view at the Brooklyn Museum.

If you are interested in our work, please see the media below, and do not hesitate to contact us for more information. We ask that you do not share this media until 2pm this afternoon, when we are ready for web traffic.

Watch Artists Report Back, Animated:

Read Artists Report Back,here and attached: Interact with national data:


Loan officers insist that art students can afford art school tuition, repaying student loans over time by working in the arts. This is not our experience. We decided that it was time to make our own report. Connecting our lived experiences to national trends, we wanted to know: What is the impact of rent, debt, and precarity on working artists and arts graduates nationally?


Artists Report Backuses data about artists’ demographics, occupations, educational attainment, field of degree, and earnings as recorded by The Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) to make statements about the current conditions and contradictions of working artists and arts graduates.


In the United States, 40 percent of working artists do not have a bachelor’s degree in any field. Only 10 percent of arts graduates are working artists. Though arts graduates may acquire additional opportunities and skills from attending art school, arts graduates are likely to graduate with significant student loan debt, which makes working as an artist difficult, if not impossible. Given the discrepancy between working artists and arts graduates, as well as the rising cost of tuition at art schools, the report ends with recommendations for policy makers, administrators, and educators.

See the written and animated report for more findings, including findings about the occupations that arts graduates work, the degrees that working artists hold (if any), and the predominance of white, non-Hispanic and male working artists.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.

I've also attached the image that goes with our key finding: “Out of 2 million arts graduates nationally, only 10 percent, or 200,000 people, make their primary earnings as working artists.”

Caroline, Blair, Susan, Julian, and Vicky


The story spread quickly. I am good at thinking on my feet, and, in my twenties, I would often prioritize meeting new people in the arts rather than developing and supporting deep friendships. This led to a wide network of contacts, which was helpful for projects, but often made me the primary contact and gave less attention to other collective members. Susan and I began to work on my tendency to jump forward, and to celebrate when it was helpful, in the following way:

To understand our collaborative dynamics, we engage in the process of “Threeing.” Threeing is a method for group work that was developed by the video-artist Paul Ryan between 1971 and the end of his life, in 2013. Threeing is “a voluntary practice in which three people take turns playing three different roles: initiator, respondent, and mediator.” By practicing Threeing in groups of five, three, or two with members of BFAMFAPhD, we are able to experience the positions of Firstness (the initiator), Secondness (the respondent), and Thirdness (the mediator). We also use the vocabulary from Threeing to understand and describe our collaborative dynamic with one another, even when we are working as a group of two. Threeing has become such a common part of our vocabulary that we have a spreadsheet that lists every task that has to be accomplished for our group to function, using the roles: firstness, secondness, and thirdness.

Recently, we were emailed by a person who offered us an exciting opportunity. We knew that if both of us spoke with this person at the same time, the conversation could wander. Caroline is very good at thinking on the spot, and asked Susan if she could take the first calls, to determine the scope of the opportunity, alone. Susan said yes, “be in firstness,” and Caroline was able to move the project forward and loop in Susan once the opportunity had been solidified. No big decisions were made without Susan’s consent.

formation and maintenance of groups could be a site of investigation in and of itself.

While working on Artists Report Back in 2014, I realized that I had been in collectives for over seven years, and that the formation and maintenance of groups could be a site of investigation in and of itself. I felt that I could do this work — learning about how to collaborate — for life, and enjoy it. I also knew that I wanted to keep making objects, and thinking about what objects can do to support group process. With these interests, The Study Center for Group Work, see chapter 2, was born.

Last updated