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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell students support themselves through creative work

While Grinnell College is known for its academic opportunities in the arts, it is also home to several students pursuing art as work. Through the media of visual art, music and creative writing, student artists at the College use their artistic passions to financially support themselves. 

“90 percent of my income goes to tuition for work study, so I’ve been using my Etsy as a way to get food money … because right now I’m not getting enough to sustain myself every week,” said Sofia Carr, ’22, who sells embroidery commissions. 

However, Carr has found that assigning monetary value to her creative work can be difficult. She explained that although her work should get close to $30 when adding in the cost of materials, she doesn’t think anyone would spend that much money on an non-established artist. 

“I understand the labor that goes into [my work], but people just don’t want to buy art from an amateur embroiderer for $30,” Carr said.

Cassidy Christiansen, ’20, a visual artist who works with a variety of media, commended the opportunities available for working artists through the College, such as the Bachelor of Arts Exhibition (BAX). 

“You can submit art, and half of Faulconer Gallery is all student work. It’s like the best of the best. There are cash prizes for categories, and then [art] is also for sale, and professors and the school buy a lot of artists’ work.” said Christensen.  

Still, they find conflict can arise in mixing their personal passion with the need to support themselves.

“I have a hard time dealing with the monetary aspect of buying artwork. If I could, I would just give away all of my art for free, and that’s what I do most of the time … I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can do that,” they explained.

In the realm of music, singer and bassist Victoria Park ’21, described having similar experiences: “The creative product itself is mostly for me and I try to focus on just making the best thing that I can … that’s the most important part as opposed to being like ‘What is going to be a song that sells?’” 

Park, who publishes under the name Pictoria Vark, also elaborated on music’s role as a form of labor.

“I do consider my bass-playing to be skilled work, and something I’ve worked hard to be compensated for. I think that’s really important for musicians to stand for.”

Ian Donaldson ’20, member of the Washington D.C.-based band “Cool Baby,” detailed some of the difficulties of using music to support himself financially.

“You won’t get any money from streams … so you ask, ‘How can we monetize this?’ You make money from selling merch and doing shows. You pretty much need another job,” said Donaldson. 

“It’s hard to monetize music because it’s like a public good. On the radio, for instance, anyone can tune in, so it’s just so hard to attach value to something that’s immaterial. How do you value art? That’s why all of the monetization comes from shows.”

Steven Duong ’19, who has had poetry published by journals such as Salt Hill and Pacifica Literary Review, emphasized the significance of exposure in creative writing. 

“Once I had a body of work, I started submitting to journals, figuring out how to market [my] work and find publication,” said Duong. “Selling your work is not only a way to make money, but also a way to show it to other people and get it to a place or platform where it can be seen by others and hopefully inspire others.”

Victoria Park ’21 performs under the name Pictoria Vark. She has worked throughout her career to be compensated for her bass-playing.


Sofia Carr ’22 supports herself by selling embroidery commissions on Etsy, although she feels that she has to undersell her work. Ian Donaldson ’20’s band Cool Baby streams their music on Spotify but makes money through branding.


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