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How to Get Paid to Make Art in the Public-Impact Space

Plastic cups full of paint.

Whether you’re into photography, music, or theatre, there is a nonprofit job out there with your name on it. Plenty of organizations are looking for creative folks with gigs that vary from marketing design to educating youth to collaborating with community members, and they can be found in big cities and small towns alike.

If you want a job where you can let your creative juices flow, read on for tips from folks whose work involves making art in the public-impact space.


Many public-impact organizations have marketing professionals, and larger organizations have entire teams. Writers, photographers, graphic designers, and videographers are all in-demand positions.

Ali Bibbo is the Creative Manager at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. She studied journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder and knew she wanted to do something with visual storytelling. So after graduating in 2013, she got a job as a designer for a small public relations firm and dedicated her free time to creating videos and multimedia art projects documenting the day to day life of queer and trans people in Denver.

When she saw Planned Parenthood’s job posting on Idealist a couple years ago, she says it felt like a perfect combination of art and social justice. She’s been working there ever since.

On a day-to-day basis, Ali creates videos and graphics for use in promoting both Planned Parenthood’s services and its political campaigns. One of her recent projects is a short video that documents all the activists who have been advocating for reproductive rights in the past year.

“Art and design and visual expression can be so powerful with nonprofits,” she said. “It is super inspiring and it feels really powerful to be able to create something that will be seen and will resonate.”

Many nonprofits have communications or marketing departments, with a variety of artistic jobs available. Even smaller organizations often have at least one communications professional, so being able to write and design can really help you get your foot in the door.

If you’re looking to break into nonprofit communications, keep your eyes peeled to, Ali suggests. And in the meantime, her advice is to keep working on your art and building up your skills so that you will have a portfolio and experience when your dream job opens up. She also suggests trying to freelance for small nonprofits that may not have the funding for full-time marketing professionals.


Another popular field for artists is education. There are jobs teaching music, drawing, drama, and other arts at nonprofits and public schools in most every city.

Rose Ann Hofland is the Director of the Community Learning Center at the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science in Sioux Falls, SD. As a theatre and English major at the University of South Dakota, Rose Ann knew she wanted to work in theatre.

She started at the Pavilion ten years ago, working part-time for the theatre department. Today, she manages all of the Pavilion’s education programs, which include preschool programs, after-school classes, a performing arts academy, summer camps, and teacher education in visual arts, performing arts, and science.

The Pavilion hires part-time educators to teach the art and science classes, workshops, and camps. The folks who manage many of the Pavilion’s programming efforts also typically have art or theatre backgrounds. And, like any large nonprofits, there are a variety of jobs from accounting to marketing to development.

In larger cities, like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco there are several arts education nonprofits. But, Rose Ann says that even in smaller communities, like Sioux Falls, there is a community need for, and high interest in, arts education. So while you may have more opportunities in big cities, don’t give up if you’re in a smaller town. You might have to work part-time at multiple gigs, but the work is there.

"The reality in terms of making this a career is that many in arts education are balancing multiple jobs to make a living,” she says. “The work is a passion for those who are in it, which means long hours and high personal investment, but it is also highly rewarding and meaningful.”

Her advice is to get as much practical experience as you can while you’re an art student. Look for internships and volunteer opportunities so you can learn, build up your resume, and network.

Community Collaboration

No matter what artistic medium you work in, a good way to get your foot in the door is to freelance with nonprofits, social justice organizations, and community centers.

Eric Martinez Resly is an artist and a Unitarian Universalist minister in Washington, D.C. He runs an interfaith arts organization called The Sanctuaries, which helps provide leadership opportunities and community connections for burgeoning artists.

"The core of our mission is to harness the sacred power of the arts for personal growth and social change,” he says. “What that means practically is that we provide a space for artists of diverse mediums, racial, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds.”

The organization provides training for artists interested in social justice, as well as for nonprofits that want to work with artists. One career path is to create art for nonprofits, by doing things like making campaign signs, designing logos, or creating videos. But, Eric says the other path that The Sanctuaries tries to help artists learn is how to make art with, not for, nonprofit organizations and community groups.

“It’s really about using art as a tool to facilitate collaborative art-making experiences,” he says. It combines community organizing efforts and grassroots justice. It’s about sharing the ways in which certain injustices impact folks and collectively creating something, whether it be a mural, a song, or something else.”

Eric says that The Sanctuaries tries to instill in artists that their work is valuable and that they should feel comfortable asking for payment when they work with organizations. He encourages artists to ask for compensation for the work that they do with nonprofits.

His advice is to build relationships with other artists, with social justice organizations, and with community members. Get to know the people who are doing the work in the community and ask them how you can help. He also suggests getting to know other local artists so you can build a community and work together to hold each other accountable.

You can do these things no matter where you live, he says. But if you are in the Washington, D.C. area, he encourages folks to join The Sanctuaries, attend events, and get involved with some of their work.

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About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.

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