May 31, 2009

Esther Robinson on Looking Debt in the Eye

This article is posted at:

What’s the upside of the current recession? Clarity about credit. It’s time for us to finally recognize that no gallery, grant, agent, or god is going to make our credit woes disappear. The economy is bad and getting worse, but it’s giving us a gift. There are actions we can take—actions we must take—to guarantee that we can make our art going forward. These actions all center on our relationship to credit.

Think fast: When was the last time you used a credit card? Probably pretty recently, if you’re like most people. These days, using personal credit as a constant source of financing is so common that we barely even register the individual transactions. My first film, A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and The Warhol Factory, was made possible by personal credit. Granted, I was conservative (I never took on more debt than I could handle, kept balance-to-available-credit ratios low, used zero percent cards, and paid off the amounts regularly). Still, the cards were a godsend, allowing me to fly to interviews and take calculated risks against future infusions of cash. But what if all that disappeared?

Here’s the kicker: “About 45 percent of U.S. banks reduced credit limits for new or existing credit-card customers in the fourth quarter of 2008,” according to a January 2009 Federal Reserve survey of senior loan officers. And a November 30 report by Meredith Whitney, a former Oppenheimer analyst, states that financial institutions may slash $2 trillion in credit-card lines in the next 18 months.

In other words, your credit card limits are likely to be lowered, and getting new lines of credit is going to be a lot harder. In some ways this is good news. None of us should carry more credit than we can pay down, and lower limits can keep us in the safe zone. But credit is still a useful tool. Like any businesspeople, artists often need access to cash more quickly than our bank balance allows (deadlines to meet before the grant check clears, for example). And as long as we can afford to pay it back, credit can be a lifeline. So what to do?

The first step is to rid yourself of current debt. The truth is, the money that you spend on interest payments is money you can’t spend on making art. If you finance a current project with personal credit you can’t pay down, you’ll still be making payments on that project five years from now—instead of using that money to make new work. You need to look your debt in the eye and:

Figure out how much you owe.
Figure out what your upcoming costs will be.
Determine how much you can realistically spend each month to pay down your balances.
Use on-line credit calculators to determine the fastest way to rid yourself of debt.

A number of websites feature great tools to help you analyze your different cards and their respective balances and interest rates to determine which ones you should pay down first to garner the greatest savings. In general, you should attempt to pay down the highest interest rate debt first. A “debt snowball” calculator allows you to enter up to 20 different debts and their respective APRs. You then enter in how much you can spend each month to pay down this debt, and it will tell you what order/amounts to pay for each card to get you out of debt the fastest.

Power Payment works on the same principle—and the site also has online budgeting, which is very helpful if you first need to figure out how much you can spend on debt payments.

The CNN Money debt planner has a regular pay-down calculator but also allows you to type in when you want your debt to end. It also tells you how much you need to pay each month to make this happen.The second thing you need to do is safeguard your access to credit by improving your Credit (FICO) Score. Your score determines your credit limits, and whether you’ll be offered new credit lines. The lower your score, the harder the credit crunch will hit you. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to improve your score. Here are some solid credit repair tips: Order a copy of your credit report, review it carefully, and correct any significant errors.

You are legally entitled to receive one free report a year. You can go to and order your free credit report or to and to order reports for a charge. Changing a mistake on your report (like a mislabeled late payment) can take 30 days to four months or longer. I think this step is best done with friends. Truthfully the report can be a bit daunting, so if you’re with your friends you can have a good laugh at how poorly designed the report is, have some good snacks and plow through finding mistakes. Then write the letters and send them off….

Next, pay your bills on time. I know, it’s a recession. But, now more than ever, it’s important to stay on top of things. A recent missed payment is more likely to lower your score than an isolated late payment from way back. What this means is, forget how you did or didn’t pay your bills before and just start paying them on time now.

Make AutoPay your friend. If you’re traveling a lot or are prone to forgetting, you can set up AutoPay for automatic payment of your credit card’s minimum balance (just be sure to always have enough money in the bank to cover it!). Scared of Autopay? Set a date every month that is “credit day” and stick to paying your bills on that date. The good news is that if you’re serious about debt reduction and you’re paying on-time using the tools on analyzing your credit in the links above, your credit score will improve.

Other tips? Here’s a counter-intuitive one: Use the credit cards you have as frequently as is prudent. A perverse result of the credit crisis is that if you don’t use your credit accounts, the banks may close them or lower the limit. And having your limits reduced can lower your score. The banks are looking for ways to reduce their risk, and an inactive account gives them a great excuse. But remember to use them responsibly; this is not license to go wild. Also, it’s important to keep your overall balance low in relation to your available credit. If your credit limit is $10,000, keeping your balance below $2,500 (25%) will improve your score.

Pay off your credit card debt rather than moving it to lower rate cards. This is important because you want to avoid drastically changing the ratio of your overall balances to your overall available credit. Example: You owe a total of $2,000 on four credit cards, each with a $2,000 limit. Your total limit is $8,000, of which your balance ($2,000) is 25%. If you transfer all your balances to two cards and cancel the other two, your total credit limit is reduced to $4,000 and your $2,000 balance is now 50% of the limit. To the banks, this looks worse than where you started.And what if you have a really questionable credit history?

Open a few new credit accounts, use them responsibly, and pay them off on time. Payment history is 35% of your credit score (new credit makes up 10%; types of credit in use, another 10%; length of credit history, 15%; and amounts owed, 30%), so if you’ve hurt your credit, establishing a good payment history is key to getting your credit score back together. However if you have a short credit history (you’ve never had credit or haven’t used much credit in the past), don’t open a lot of new accounts over a short time period. The banks will think you’re about to go on a spending binge, and new credit is 10% of your score.

How long will it take to improve my credit score? Negative items affect your credit score much more quickly than positive items. Late payments will have a negative impact in just a few months, whereas paying bills on time may take 6 to 12 months to generate a significant improvement. But it’s important to remember that starting right now gets you closer. And remember, a great credit score makes other good things happen. You can qualify for a mortgage, get better rates from the credit cards you do have, and a great score can help with apartment rental and job applications that often include credit checks. Plus, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that you conquered the credit demon.

Finally, if this is all too daunting and your bills are mounting and you are having trouble making ends meet, contact your creditors or see a legitimate credit counselor. The key is not to shut down, or pretend a problem doesn’t exist. Remember that you are a resilient creative person, and can use your creative skills to build your way forward through the challenges. Learn from past mistakes—and change them.

As artists we’re skilled at making a lot happen with little money. Let’s use that skill to shape our lives and our work. Let’s use the recession to determine what we want our future to be like—recognizing that with hard work this difficult economic moment will pass both for our country and for us.

Esther Robinson has worked on behalf of America’s artists for more than 14 years in many capacities, including foundation program officer, television and film producer/director, technology entrepreneur, and arts activist. She is the founder of ArtHome a nonprofit “change agent” that helps artists and their communities build assets and equity through financial literacy, credit access, and home ownership. Robinson is also a filmmaker. Her prize-winning film, A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and The Warhol Factory, is currently in worldwide release.

teaching the arts

* Associate Professor/Professor in Art (Visual or Performing) and Head of School
University of Tasmania (Australia)
(date posted: 5/25/2009)

* Assistant Professor
University of California at Los Angeles (California)
(date posted: 5/28/2009)

* Technical Director
Ursinus College (Pennsylvania)
(date posted: 5/25/2009)

May 29, 2009


Mississippi Arts Commission Announces Arts Reinvestment Indicative to Preserve Jobs

Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the new program will provide grants of up to $25,000 each to nonprofits and government agencies working to sustain arts-related jobs vulnerable to the economic downturn.... Posted on May 28, 2009

Deadline: July 10, 2009

Global Film Initiative Accepting Applications for Summer 2009 Feature-Film Production Grants

Grants of up to $10,000 each will be awarded to accomplished filmmakers from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Oceania.... Posted on May 28, 2009

Deadline: July 15, 2009

National Endowment for the Humanities Invites Nominations for Jefferson Lecture

A $10,000 honorarium will be given to an individual who has produced outstanding scholarly work in the humanities; he or she will deliver the Jefferson Lecture before a broad general audience.... Posted on May 27, 2009

Deadline: June 24, 2009

Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation Accepting Applications for 2009 Round Two Economic Opportunity Fund Grants

Grants will be awarded to Louisiana cultural economy workers, businesses, and nonprofit organizations working to increase income or revenue through a specific, unique economic development opportunity.... Posted on May 27, 2009

Deadline: July 6, 2009

Writing Competition Invites Native Americans to Share Insights on Economy

Six awards of $10,000 each will be given to Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and American Indian individuals who have written essays depicting the challenges and opportunities they face in the current political and economic climate.... Posted on May 23, 2009

Deadline: September 15, 2009

May 22, 2009


Film Independent Accepting Applications for Sloan Foundation Producers Grant

The $25,000 development grant will fund the production and distribution of a screenplay with a scientific, mathematical, and/or technological theme or storyline; independent film producers may apply....Posted on May 22, 2009

Deadline: July 6, 2009

California Arts Council Offers Funding for Music Performances

A matching grant of up to $15,000 will be awarded to presenting organizations providing discounted or free music performances to California's underserved, rural, and/or inner-city populations....Posted on May 22, 2009

Deadline: July 1, 2009

New England Foundation for the Arts Offers American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funding

Grants will be awarded to help Connecticut and Rhode Island nonprofits support planned public art projects that have been affected by the economic downturn...Posted on May 21, 2009

Deadline: July 1, 2009 (Concept Letters)

May 21, 2009

Call for Entries: 24th Annual Imagen Awards

The Imagen Foundation seeks to recognize and reward positive portrayals of Latinos in all forms of media, as well as to encourage and recognize the achievements of Latinos in the entertainment and communications industries. In keeping with its mission, The Imagen Foundation cordially invites all members of the entertainment and communications industries to participate in the 24th Annual Imagen Awards Competition.

Deadline for submissions: June 1, 2009

For more information on qualifications and categories, and to submit an entry for the 24th Annual Imagen Awards, please visit:

Winners will be announced at the 24th Annual Imagen Awards Gala on Sunday, August 23, 2009, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

The Imagen Foundation works to create, promote, and enhance opportunities for all Latinos in front of and behind the camera and throughout the entertainment industry, and serves as a liaison between the industry and the Latino community by providing access, education and resources.

May 20, 2009

Haig P. Manoogian Screenings

June 2, 5:00 PM, 6:30 PM & 8:00 PM:

Haig P. Manoogian Screenings,
Directors Guild of America
7920 Sunset Blvd.
(West Hollywood, CA)

Presented by the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, this is the annual screenings of Graduate & Undergraduate Wasserman / King Finalists and Graduate & Undergraduate Wasserman & King Winners.

Click here for schedule.

A reception follows the last screening, along with audience choice awards. No reservations necessary. Admissions and parking are free.

the artist's journey

May 18, 2009


Tournées Festival Offers Grants to Bring Contemporary French Cinema to U.S. College Campuses

Grants of up to $2,300 will be given to American universities or colleges conducting a French cinema festival featuring at least five different films....Posted on May 13, 2009

Deadline: June 30, 2009 and October 1, 2009

Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Announces New Technology Funding Program for Jazz

Grants of up to $75,000 each will be awarded to jazz musicians and nonprofits using technology to develop audience, communications, marketing, distribution channels, and networking for jazz performance....Posted on May 13, 2009

Deadline: July 6, 2009 (Round I); and July 1, 2010 (Round II)

teaching the arts

* Assistant Professor of Music History and World Music
North Georgia College & State University (Georgia)
(date posted: 5/13/2009)

* Theater Instructor
Northeast Higher Education District (Minnesota)
(date posted: 5/11/2009)

* Instructor/Assistant Professor of Voice: Tenor/Baritone
Northern State University (South Dakota)
(date posted: 5/12/2009)

May 09, 2009

teaching the arts

* Visiting Assistant Professor, Creative Writing
University of California at Riverside (California)
(date posted: 5/4/2009)

* Assistant/Associate Professor of Design (Scenic/Lighting Design)
Missouri Valley College (Missouri)
(date posted: 5/4/2009)

* Assistant Professor, Theater Department
Hunter College, CUNY (New York)
(date posted: 5/4/2009)

May 08, 2009

doc screening

The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, Melnitz Movies, and The International Documentary Association

A Documentary Salon Screening

a collection of UCLA student works

Introduction by Dean Robert Rosen
Honoring Alumnus and Filmmaker Joan Churchill

“Frozen Dreams” Dir. Xochitl Dorsey
“The Unbearable Likeness of Moving” Dir. Martin Kisselov
“Wish Tree” Dir. Esther Shubinski
“May I Please Speak to Vartan” Dir. Alex Jablonski
“Border State Park” Dir. Gabriel Boguez
“Elegy” Dir. Kristina Malsberger
“One Winter in China” Dir. Victoria Meng
“Movement” Dir. Alex O’Flinn and Mikiko Sasaki
“My Big Fat Gay Family” Dir. Dana Block
“Vulgar Knowledge” Dir. David Kelly
“Water Under the Bridge” Dir. Rebecca Chambers
“Lochlann Jr. Had a Brother” Dir. Lochlann Dey

Wednesday May 13th, 2009 @ 7:30 PM
Reception to follow.

UCLA James Bridges Theater

This event is free and open to the public.

The James Bridges Theater is located in Melnitz Hall at the northeast corner of UCLA's campus
(Nearest cross streets are Sunset and Hilgard in Westwood.) $9 parking in Lot #3


Alliance for California Traditional Arts Invites Applications for Living Cultures Grants Program

Grants of up to $7,500 each will be awarded to nonprofits and tribal organizations working to preserve folk and traditional arts representing California groups sharing a common heritage, language, religion, occupation, or region....


Posted on May 2, 2009
Deadline: August 1, 2009

Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma Invites Applications for 2009 Ochberg Fellowship

The fellowship will provide six or more mid-career journalists with an expense-paid trip to a two-day seminar designed to improve their coverage of violent events....

Posted on May 7, 2009
Deadline: July 24, 2009


May 07, 2009

How Cissy Grew staged reading at FesivALL in Charleston, WV

“How Cissy Grew” by Susan Johnston (staged reading)
Event Details

Monday, June 22, 2009 8:00 pm

Buy Tickets:

Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation
Architectural Products
Corbett, Inc
InterfaceFlor Commercial

Charleston High grad, Susan Johnston, was honored last April in front of an overflow crowd of 700 raucous theatergoers, creators and fans at the 30th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards. Miss Johnston was recognized for her play, “How Cissy Grew”, which had its world premiere run at The El Portal Forum Theatre from October to November 2008 starring James Denton of Desperate Housewives, Erin J. O’Brien, Liz Vital and Stewart Calhoun who was also nominated by LA Weekly for Best Supporting Male Performance for his role as “The Guy”. All of these actors, as well as the original director and Ms. Johnston will be here for a staged reading of the play.

“How Cissy Grew” tracks the implosion of a West Virginia family over the twenty years following their baby’s mysterious and brief abduction. Best known for her plays, Old Woman Flying and One Girl Drummer, Miss Johnston’s work has been produced and/or read at Mill Mountain, City Lights Youth Theatre, The Jungle, Centenary Stage, The O’Neill, The Peter Norton Space, The Lark, The Echo, Manhattan Theatre Space, NADA, La MaMa, Provincetown Playhouse, etc. She is a six-time published playwright who completed her MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has received a number of grants and fellowships, including a Jerome and a nomination for a Fulbright. She has worked as a film industry reporter for Interview magazine and an interstitial writer for A&E’s Biography series. Her first novel, Party Favors, is on shelves now. In May, Miss Johnston was honored by NYU with a Meritorious Alumni Service Award for her work helping to establish alumni programs on both the West and East coasts.

The play was critically hailed from the offset. The LA Times called the play “absorbing” and said, “Johnston’s monologues for the guilt-stricken Butch, beautifully underplayed by Denton, are the show’s highlights.” Daily Variety said, “Susan Johnston examines the jagged shards of a dysfunctional family's sorrowful history, offering compelling glimpses into the aftermath of a horrific event.”

"Compelling glimpses into the aftermath of a horrific event." —Variety

"Piercingly painful and beautifully wrought." —LA Weekly

"70 searing minutes." —LA Daily News

"Spellbinding and seductive." —

Cost: $19 (festival seating)



Clay Center on stage (Enter through Walker Theatre entrance)
One Clay Square
Charleston, WV, 25301
(304) 561-3570