UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Jessica Jones created the series "Artists Are...," which is made up of monthly discussions hosted at The Carrack in Durham. This month, the theme is "Artists Are... Taxpayers."
Staff writer Hannah Lee talked with Jones about how the series aims to empower artists economically and personally.
The Daily Tar Heel: So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Jessica Jones: So I am an artist and a [Certified Public Accountant]. I have a background in the arts, but I do accounting professionally, and I focus on financial literacy and economic empowerment for artists and for working creatives. So that’s a thing I’ve been doing for a couple years now. I had a firm for a period doing accounting and tax preparation for artist-run businesses, but now I’m trying to focus more on the education and the writing aspect of it — trying to reach a broader audience more than doing one-on-one.
DTH: What motivated you to start all this?
JJ: Being an artist, I was given second-to-no literacy training or professional development. You know, I got an art degree (at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2007) and coming out of school I just had that sort of experience that I think most students have, especially when I graduated, there were just no real resources in place to help you figure out how you were actually going to have a career. You were trained on the craft, but then it was just like, "Good luck!”
DTH: How did you decide to put on this series?
JJ: Laura, the director [and founder of The Carrack], and I have been talking for a while now on how to provide more resources — it’s a tough area because it’s not just a lack of information. In many ways, it's a lack of conversation and a lack of cultural acknowledgement of the challenges of being a working artist. We’re looking for a way to start to approach those issues, to listen to people and learn more about how they work dealing with them — just to give a little bit of light to this issue and make people realize they’re not alone in struggling with things like financial literacy, health care, mental health care or housing, all these issues that we deal with as human beings.
DTH: So you said you’ve been talking about this series with Laura. Did this idea come out of conversation, or was it more like a random moment where the idea suddenly came to you?
JJ: It really came from articulating value. Are you familiar with articulating value?
DTH: I am not.
JJ: I’ve been involved with an organization called Culture Mill, which is located in Saxapahaw, and they’re doing really amazing work [on] these topics — so artists, economic issues, fair wages, that sort of thing. And they did a series called, “Articulating Value in the Arts,” which has been an ongoing series of conversations which then resulted in a symposium where a number of people spoke, and then there were panel discussions. I was one of the speakers, and so I think the idea that a conversation series could be really helpful really came from that.
DTH: Why are you choosing to speak about economic issues this month? Because I saw that you have different conversations for every month.
JJ: Well, it’s that time of the year. I may be more aware of it than others because it’s my industry, but you know, everybody has just gotten their W-2s and their 1099s. The year has sort of ended, and all the paperwork has started to go out and maybe they’ve started to think about needing to prepare their tax returns. And you know, the new year is also a bit of a time of creating new budgets and everyone promises to spend less money in January, and then they’re blowing it in January. Now, they’re trying to figure out and deal with the idea of financial planning. So I think it’s just a timely subject and also just to get it started because this is just our second conversation.
DTH: Do you feel like you take away something from these discussions as well?
JJ: Oh, absolutely. It’s part of the reason I was interested in doing it, because it’s cathartic to lead it just as much as to participate in it, to hear other people voicing these concerns and just sharing about their experience. And it’s personally interesting to me because I’m interested in learning more about how we can overcome people’s barriers to success and barriers to resources. So having the opportunity to hear people talk honestly about what’s most challenging for them is a great resource to try and help for future planning.
DTH: Is there anything else like you’d like to add about this event?
JJ: The most important thing I would say is this is not a series of lectures on the answers to these issues. This is a series of opportunities for us to listen.
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