studio assistant
Art Business

Is it Worth It? Hiring a Studio Assistant

In a new monthly column for Artrepreneur, art curator and critic Audra Lambert answers the most frequent questions she receives from independent artists.

Independent artists are used to managing a variety of administrative tasks alongside their practice. But as the studio begins to demand more of their time, they will begin to notice certain inconveniences. Time-consuming hiccups – a FedEx account exploding, a Facebook page left unattended for over a week, or an inbox overflowing with new (unanswered) exhibition proposals – are enough to make any artist go mad.

While you may feel you’ve got everything under control, you might soon come to the conclusion that your art practice suddenly requires a greater time commitment than previously thought. Art-making that used to be squeezed in between events and before art fairs has shifted to a constant steady stream demanding your attention, and you’re eyeing how to build capacity to meet demand.  Could the moment have finally arrived? Is this the right time to begin seriously considering hiring a studio assistant?

Below we outline some advice for independent artists weighing the possibility of building a studio assistant into a project budget, hiring a remote/virtual assistant to handle general studio flow, or having someone in the studio full-time to facilitate the creation and movement of artworks. Here, we reveal common traits uniting all independent artists onboarding studio assistants:  the general reasoning behind hiring, and the deciding factors around when it’s the right time to hire.

independent artists
Determine whether a studio assistant might enhance your practice b identifying the key areas requiring their assistance.

How Can a Studio Assistant Maximize Your Practice?

As independent artists weighing several options, it’s best to take a look at the bigger picture. What’s currently holding your practice back from reaching greater success? Are you mainly missing opportunities to effectively market your success? Are you unable to complete the volume of artworks that you are selling? Are there large-scale commissions that require temporary help? By honing in on what specific needs you’ll require from a studio assistant, you can better express the specific skill sets and time commitment that you’ll be expecting. In addition to nailing down what you’re looking for assistance with, you should be doing your own due diligence – asking around to find the appropriate rate to offer a studio assistant,  ensuring you’re meeting industry standards with regard to specific skill sets.

It’s important to be very specific about your goals when hiring a studio assistant. If you need an extra pair of hands on a major commission this should be explicit from the start. If you’re looking for a studio assistant that can be proactive about your social media accounts, that needs to be clearly articulated.

Additionally, you should specify the terms of the arrangement – perhaps you won a grant and have earmarked specific funds from that winning proposal toward a studio assistant. Making the project fee or hourly rate clear from the start, along with indicating the terms of employment (whether the position is a 1099 or a payroll position), will save you future hassle down the road.

studio assistant
Consider how you anticipate your studio assistant should devote their time before their first day.

Make Efficiency the Goal

Administering tasks to a studio assistant shouldn’t take up such a significant chunk of time that it negates you hiring an assistant in the first place. Instead, having an informed studio assistant by your side should enable you to realize new potential for growth. Providence-based artist Joe Winograd is an internationally recognized multimedia artist pursuing an MFA from RISD who has noticed a particular need for a studio assistant with regard to projects encompassing large-scale installation work.

Hiring assistants can help alleviate the burdens of completing substantial work beyond my personal means and help balance the wide range of entrepreneurial responsibilities required in maintaining a creative business,” he notes.

Winograd also notes the transformative effect he hopes that informed and knowledgeable assistants would play in developing his practice. “Having a diverse team of passionate, creative and greatly-motivated assistants can also allow my work to grow in new directions,” he says. “For example, I am currently looking for assistants who possess unique technical skills to help develop my work for new media platforms and incorporate newer technologies in my interactive installation projects. It is my hope that these assistants would help my work evolve and generate tremendous sensorial experiences for audiences.”  

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When organizing tasks for a studio assistant to handle, the scope of work should be clear from the day they arrive. When delegating your own time to direct your assistant, choose a period when you have a good thirty minutes to prepare for their arrival. If you are rushing to meet them and don’t feel centered or focused, you’ll wind up wasting more of your time than you anticipated. Arrange your time so that you can orient assistants as they arrive, check in periodically as needed, and wrap up at the end of the day. This way, you’ll be conserving your efforts for what most demands your immediate attention.  

Another point to consider is how you anticipate your studio assistant should devote their time. Are you hiring a studio assistant to help with completing artwork, or to assist with administration and project management? Before you hire, hire wisely. Find out what tools you can use to automate your work.  Utilize apps or set up time-saving processes that will help conserve your assistant’s effort (and manage time, saving you that precious hourly rate!)

Perhaps you don’t even need a studio assistant to be onsite – in this case, virtual assistants – usually sourced through online brokers or freelance sites such as Fiverr or Upwork – can make your life easier while you get back up to speed. Whether you decide to pursue the virtual assistant route or to bring fresh eyes into the studio, make sure you onboard staff that knows their way around the work you assign them. If using software tools, you want a staff that can effectively utilize these tools in a way that makes sense for your business. Invest wisely in your studio assistant’s time, and you’ll be better prepared to see them succeed in the tasks you assign them.

independent artists
Unless you’re looking for long-term sustainability, you may not have reached the point where a studio assistant is necessary.

Is It Really Time to Hire a Studio Assistant?

Many independent artists struggle through temporary moments of insanity waiting out the high tide for when low tide returns. Have a few flashpoints in the year when your head is spinning, but still have time to take off a week or two here and there during the quieter months? Unless you want to look out for long-term sustainability, you may not have reached that tipping point yet where a studio assistant is necessary. While some independent artists can handle a few weeks of crazy during the busy season, you may not be cut out for the stress – in which case, a temporary assistant is probably your best bet. Otherwise, keep your time commitment and fiscal responsibilities lean until you’ve reached a point where time off is no longer an option – then you can onboard someone to replace you when you’re ready to jet elsewhere for a week.

Finally, go with your gut! If you’ve worked for yourself long enough to know that it’s the right time to begin to hand off some of the more menial tasks associated with running a studio, then you should go with that impulse. Begin asking around – professor friends may have students looking for part-time work, and are a great first step to hiring eager and willing hands. Young, up-and-coming artists looking to hone their own practice are another sure bet – visiting a few openings and striking up conversations should yield several options. Let yourself focus on the strategic and creative aspects of your practice, entrusting the day-to-day operations to a competent and capable team. By hiring the right studio assistant, you can focus on sustainability, and take your practice in new directions you previously never thought possible!

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About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is an independent curator and art critic based in New York, NY. The founder of Antecedent Projects (2014), a sustainable urban curatorial consultancy investigating site-specific heritage, and is Editor-in-Chief, ANTE. Mag. Lambert manages ART360 by Orangenius, an immersive, 3-D art viewing experience, and serves as Managing Editor, Artrepreneur.

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