Artists Raising Kids: Thoughts On How to Have it All

Andrew Simonet & Family

Choreographer Andrew Simonet, his wife Elizabeth, and their sons Nico Wolf & Jesse Tiger. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Simonet)

On September 29th, choreographer (and parent) Andrew Simonet will present “Artists Raising Kids,” a webinar dedicated to helping current and future parents navigate this exciting journey. 

This summer, Creative Capital conducted a survey entitled “Artists-As-Parents” to find out more about how working artists sustain their practice while also being busy parents (or prepare themselves to do so as parents-to-be). We received nearly 600 responses, giving us a good idea of the profile of artist-parents in our network, the challenges they face, and the strategies they use to maximize their time and productivity. Some responses that stood out:

“I was repeatedly told by curators and other artists as I raised my kids that ‘we don’t have time for people who aren’t serious’ and ‘well, obviously you chose a family over a career’… Artists like to think of themselves as politically sensitive and aware. In reality, when it comes to age, kids, or class they reveal significant prejudices.” (Anonymous)

“Kids and art are a natural combination. I share all of my art with them, they are the first to see my work and critique it. I also make sure they have lots of art supplies and projects—they will often work on art projects in my studio while I am working, combining parenting with art. They help keep me young and my brain flexible—thinking out of the box.”  (John K Mercer, Photography)

“Art should be at the forefront of social change, and in that capacity it should offer models that allow for artist families to be visible and supported. If it does not, it creates a situation in which people, especially women, have to choose between participating in the art world or having a family. As a family we aim to share the joy and work of raising our child as evenly as possible. As collaborators in art we do the same.” (Anonymous)

Sentiments like these are not uncommon, and inspired us to introduce a new webinar to our suite of online learning programs. Its leader, Andrew Simonet, is the founding co-director and choreographer of Philadelphia’s Headlong Dance Theater. He also runs Artists U, a professional development program for artists in Philadelphia, Baltimore and South Carolina. Andrew lives in West Philly with his wife Elizabeth and their sons Jesse Tiger and Nico Wolf. I had the opportunity to get some of Andrew’s thoughts on his own artist-parent journey, and how the artist-parent dynamic can be improved.

Hannah Fenlon: Tell us a bit about your kids (names, ages, fun facts).

Andrew Simonet:
Jesse Tiger Klimo Simonet, 9, maker of intricate games, Minecrafter, devoted reader.
Nicolo Wolf Stevens Simonet, 6, keeper of family traditions, giggler, swimmer.

Hannah: What is one of the biggest challenges you faced in the beginning of your parenthood? What about as your kids got older?

Andrew: Having our first kid called into question a lot of our unsustainable habits: working all the time, doing 20 projects at once, never having a fixed schedule. It was painful, but those habits are bad for anyone, kids or no kids, and in a way it was good that the intensity of parenthood made me change. Choosing to be an artist doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense—it makes spiritual sense. Same for parenting. It’s not a shrewd or efficient choice, but what important choices are?

Hannah: You said in a previous interview that having kids meant that your “mission got bigger. Or maybe simpler”. How might you advise other artists to deal with a similar “mission shift” as they choose to have kids?

Andrew: We artist parents have a choice. We can whine about how there’s never enough time and we aren’t making enough work and we aren’t on the scene enough. Or we can see parenting as a distilling of our lives, trimming back to the really essential things, the simpler things in our work and our mission. So many artists I know scatter themselves too thin, doing too many things but none of them with full attention or resource. I try to see parenting as pushing back against that, making me prioritize and choose.

Hannah: It’s clear that parents who are practicing artists (and professionals in general) would benefit hugely from a new work culture that prioritizes families. How do you think a shift in the culture would benefit and/or change the arts community specifically?

Andrew: I think the working culture of the arts is quite broken. Artists and arts professionals are similarly overburdened, under-resourced and exhausted. I understand why lawyers trying to make partner would work themselves into the ground. But in the arts, there’s no payoff, no incentive. We have all the workaholism and none of the resources. Another way to say that: if you are your own boss and funding your work, at least make the working conditions humane.

Hannah: For those who haven’t yet had kids, what are some reasons to take advantage of this webinar?

Andrew: I was nervous before I had kids, but I had also seen some close collaborators raise kids in our community. I think that’s the most valuable thing, hearing from other artists who have done it, and disrupting some of the assumptions about what is and isn’t possible.

Want to engage further with Andrew and the artist-as-parents discussion? Click here to register for his “Artists Raising Kids” webinar on Monday, September 29nd at 7:00pm EST.

 

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Hannah Fenlon

About Hannah Fenlon

Hannah is the Marketing Assistant for the Professional Development Program at Creative Capital, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Arts Administration from Columbia University. She has worked as a freelance producer and casting director in Chicago (where she co-founded Two Birds Casting, a casting facilitation service for theatre) and spent two years as an Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago. Hannah has worked with Goodman Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Ojai Playwrights Conference, A Red Orchid Theatre and, most recently, Theatre Communications Group, with whom she planned the 2014 National Theatre Conference in San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico, and is now in the process of planning their 2015 Audience (R)Evolution Convening. Hannah has a BA in Drama from Kenyon College.

2 thoughts on “Artists Raising Kids: Thoughts On How to Have it All

  1. I would like to express my appreciation to Andrew for having started this Foundation of artists raising up kids. I live in Nairobi Kenya. I am a painter born in Kenya and brought up here too. Its not easy to choose the art career in Africa especially the Visual arts career and try to raise a family making a living entirely as an artist. Well,I chose this career anyways despite the discouragements and lack of role models to guide or inspire me to move on during my early stages of decision in life.I guess for me this is a call rather than a profession because the odds against this career are too many.We do not have enough Art galleries and art institutions in the Country, art opportunities are rare to come by, the few private art galleries that were operational previously are closing down! the list goes on and on. I am one of the few artists here who has beaten the odds by marrying and trying to raise up kids under the circumstances.I am 49 years old with 5 kids, 2 grown-ups and three young ones, 16, 12 and 2 years. Challenges of life and economic constrains has proved to be overwhelming resulting to my wife seeking for a job away from home in order to contribute to our economic needs. We therefore are bringing up our kids in turns and away from each other. At one time they are with me and another time with my wife in another Country.’Crazy’ isn’t it? but I believe in the family and the institution of marriage only that I am an artists too.

  2. As a parent and a creative, I have been feeling the pressure of striking a balance. All of our kids are unschooled and trying to find the line at which I am both working and connecting with them the *exact* right amount has been really tough. Then I realized what I was doing wrong, changed my mindset, and got way more productive. How? I realized I needed to let go of trying to make everything *perfect* and go for *good enough*. I can’t spend every minute of every day working AND connecting with my kids. There is no magic”add hours” button on each day. After this realization, I have put out more art, more blogs, more web content than I ever have before. Being an artist with kids isn’t impossible. We are the creative people. Time to start using that creativity to come up with ways to be the best parents and the best creatives we can be.
    My related blog posts, if you are interested:
    http://www.lightinmyhands.com/creativity-children-chaos/
    http://www.lightinmyhands.com/connection-creativity/
    http://www.lightinmyhands.com/living-the-impossible/

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