What art teachers are paid

Many teachers won’t talk about how much they get paid. They don’t want to risk future gigs by revealing the financial side of events. After all, many teachers make more at a four-day event than their students earn in six months.

Some event organizers won’t talk about money, either. They prefer to keep their profit margins a secret.

I got tired of teaching at events that put profits and politics ahead of students’ interests, so I have no hesitation about sharing this “insider” information with you.

Don’t teach just for the money. Your first priority should be your students. But, if you want to earn a living–or supplement your income–with art classes, here’s how to begin and how much you can earn.

Start teaching locally

If you haven’t already read it, start with my article, How to start teaching art.

New teachers should ask the shop (or whatever the venue) what their usual rate is for a new teacher.

Shops usually pay less than events do. In 2004, shops paid me $10 – 30/student for a half-day class. For ten students, that’d be $100 – 300 for three hours’ work. But, when I started, I was often paid a flat fee, like $30 for a two-hour class.

(For $30 per class, total, I taught locally… usually within a two-hour drive of my home.)

Today, it’d cost more to drive that same distance. But, keep in mind that your students are driving, too. Some of them will pay more in gas than the cost of the actual class. Keep your class prices as low as you can.

National art festivals, shows and events

At national events, organizers often tells you up-front what they’re paying (usually between $50 and $150 per student, per day, for full-day classes). In some cases, they ask you to set the rate; then, they add on their administrative charges.

Remember, the biggest single expense for many events is not paying the teachers, but renting the hotel rooms that we teach in.

Hotels give events a price break if a certain number of guest/sleeping rooms are rented by conference goers. However, event organizers can’t count on that when setting student prices.

So, don’t gasp for air when you see your fees doubled or an even higher price that the students pay, so that the organizer can afford hotel classrooms.

    Church centers, camps, hostels, and conference centers are usually vastly less expensive for organizers… though a bit more rustic for students.But, organizers can price their events at 1/3 the price of hotel-based events, and still make a reasonable profit.

    Everyone wins when events are priced within the budget of the average art enthusiast. Those who are willing to accept “summer camp” accommodations–and sometimes ho-hum meals–can still enjoy a fabulous week of inspiration.

No two events will offer the same pay, or the same benefits. If you keep your focus on the sheer joy of sharing art with your students, you’ll almost always go home happy… and so will they.

How I set my prices

When events asked me to set my prices, they were based on several factors.

(A) The going rate. If I priced myself too low, students got the idea that those classes weren’t valuable. If I priced myself too high, I didn’t get enough students. It’s a tricky balance, and always a risk.

(B) My expenses. It cost me more to teach in Washington State than it did to teach in Houston. I checked flight costs, car rentals (if necessary), hotel (sleeping room) fees, and so on.

When you’re new to national events, you may actually lose money the first couple of years, until your student registrations are high enough to cover your expenses.

Yes, I taught at a loss, but–in those days–event organizers weren’t making large profits either.

(C) How eager I was to teach at that location/event.

If it was a great audience and a fun event with no headaches, I’d set my “minimum number of students” figure at the break-even point.

If it was a high-stress venue where I could count on “surprises” that could short-change my students, I was less eager to accept the gig.

    Surprises can be positive or negative.  Once, an event organizer “forgot” about my class. My students and I stood around for nearly half an hour while the staff located a room that we could use. That was unfortunate and extreme, but not unique.Later that year, another event not only gave me a room with huge tables and comfy chairs, the room was beyond amazing. We had an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, so the students could use nature–green and gorgeous outside our windows–as their inspiration. We had a wonderful day!

    No two events–or event organizers–are the same. But, some events will be more personally rewarding than others.

At most events, the opportunity to spend about a week with like-minded artists… Well, it can’t be put into words. It is one of the best experiences in the world.

When things go awry, they’re generally minor; no event is perfect, and most event organizers go out of their way to make up for inevitable “oops” moments.

And, when things go well–as they usually do–each class is rich in ways far beyond the paycheck.

Be sure that you can afford it

I can go on & on about the non-monetary rewards of teaching, but that “bottom line” can be the make-or-break issue for teachers.

You’ll need preparation time before an event, and R&R time after an event. Even when it’s a fabulous event–and most of them are–it’s still stressful.

Whether you travel into jet lag territory, or stay up late each night at journaling parties, you’ll probably go home exhausted… but happy.

I generally figured that it would to take me 3x the amount of time that I was gone, to catch up on sleep and general rest, in addition to the tidal wave of phone calls, emails and snail mail that awaited me when I returned to my studio/office.

The income builds slowly

Don’t expect to make much money the first year. And, even when you’ve been teaching for awhile, remember that the paycheck represents far more work hours than the time you spend in front of a class.

That said, once you reach the point where your full-time income can come from your art…. Well, I’d much rather be a professional in this field than doing almost any other kind of work.

Related link: The Benefits of Teaching One-Day Workshops (at ArtBusiness.com)

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