I had the pleasure of interviewing artist and founder of The Haggus Society, Terri Lloyd. Terri is a fiercely independent woman who embodies the punk D-I-Y ethos. She finds ways to create opportunities in the arts for herself and her peers instead of waiting for the Establishment to create them for her. She candidly shared about the challenges of aging in the art world, earning an income, living with chronic health conditions, health insurance coverage, and more. She also reminds us that art is not about chasing fame and fortune, but a way of life.
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Here is Terri’s artist story:
Opportunities for Women Artists Over 40 and the Haggus Society
The Haggus Society is a vehicle for older women in the arts. Existing unparalleled, it emerged out of a brainstorm with a friend to address the lack of opportunities for aging women artists. Terri spent about a year looking for organizations, grants and other opportunities for women over the age of 40, to no avail. She discovered that an artist has to become an “art star” at an early age, otherwise finding funding and support becomes very competitive. Since the arts don’t offer many opportunities for women over 40, Terri had to create them. But leading an arts organization, especially as a volunteer, comes with the challenge of not having enough time for her own art making.
Early on, the Haggus Society launched at least one show per month. One year they produced 16 shows. She had a stroke because of it. Now, the Haggus Society doesn’t have the budget or time to do as many shows, so they are held quarterly. What’s exciting are the artists who show in exhibitions for the first time. Their excitement fuels her. With pride, Terri explained that the exhibitions run the gamut from first time exhibitors to academics who love putting shows like B*tch Fest on their curricula vitae.
The shows themselves are also a success. The art gets seen by over 1500 people per month. The shows are held in an insurance office and not a traditional gallery space. This practice puts art in a space where people usually go (a “usual space”) and gets people talking about art in places and by people who wouldn’t normally be talking about it.
Money, Marriage, and the Pressure to Be Traditionally Employed
Terri hasn’t had a 9-5 job in over 10 years. She used to work as a freelance graphic designer and marketing consultant. One reason she stopped doing this type of work is because she “got tired of clients seeing her as an employee and not a partner.”
Terri further explained,
“When you have to be creative in other venues (advertising copy, marketing campaigns), the last thing you want to do when you get home is make art because it’s been sucked out of you all day. It’s hard to recharge the batteries. I’ve never had a non-creative day job. I had retail jobs in my 20s and teens but I always managed to make them creative. I designed their ads, for example.”
Terri has expanded beyond relying on a day job for money. She has rental property and gets a little income from that — not a lot, about $12K a year. Other sources of income include other projects, such as mentoring other artists, her art poster sales, and collaborative projects like the book, Commie Porn. These projects are not only a source of income but help her push her work and art career forward.
Her husband is very supportive. In the past he wanted her to get a 9-5 day job, which had to do with “people’s own mythologies and relationships about money,” she explained. Early in their marriage, he complained that she was not contributing enough income to the household. She feels that misconceptions about financial security influenced his complaints; even her in-laws and friends complained that she did not have “a real job.” But when she started working a traditional job, she became very unhappy. She and her husband eventually realized that the idea of financial security through traditional employment is a farce. She became more financially secure when she was earning an income on her own terms. Despite this, from time to time she has had to borrow money from relatives, which she hates, but in general, she and her husband are doing okay financially. Now that the pressure for her to be traditionally employed is out of the way, she can focus on finishing projects and making art. Her husband, it turns out, is her biggest fan.
Terri was married in her 20s to another artist and he died abruptly. They wanted kids. But after he died, she had to reinvent herself. She was already 30 when he passed away. Since she didn’t want teenagers in her 50s, she made a deal with herself that if she didn’t find someone she wanted to have kids with by 35 she wasn’t going to do it. Then 35 approached and she met her current husband. By then she realized she wasn’t living in a world she wanted to bring in kids into and she wasn’t in the right place emotionally or financially. So she chose not to have children.
Her husband’s union will provide him with a good retirement package, which she is thankful for. But she does not have any retirement money saved. The closest thing she will get to a retirement fund is if she sells her rental property. She said that it’s scary that at 54 years old she doesn’t have a retirement fund of her own. They will be living a lot more modestly when her husband retires.
Terri believes that gender impacts an artist’s experience in the art world. For example, she said that if she changed the spelling of her name to the more masculine version, Terry, she’d have more opportunities because people would assume she was male. She isn’t claiming that people do this consciously. It’s indirect and subtle, rather, and the way society functions. What is more direct, however, is the “mansplaining” she encounters — the entitled and condescending tone she has been met with when speaking to some men in the art world.
On the other hand, she isn’t happy about what women do to each other, either:
“We are phenomenal when supporting each other. The problem is when we start competing with each other and tear each other down. I won’t allow this in the Haggus Society. There’s room for all of us. We don’t need to compete. We can do better than capitalism and misogyny. The women who tear each other down are just reflecting the culture they are in, being a good slave and supporting that patriarchal construct. Everyone has a voice, each is distinct, so there should be no competition in the arts.”
Terri has health insurance through her husband’s union. But he has to accumulate a certain amount of hours per month to be eligible, a policy one wouldn’t expect from a major union like his. There have been times they went without coverage. This system is not good for any employee or for her since she has chronic health conditions. At time she has had to delay needed medical care.
Terri wouldn’t be able to run the Haggus Society or make art without her husband’s job and health insurance. Obamacare is not a viable option for her and if she were alone she couldn’t afford to buy her own. She would need to pay more than $5,000 a year to cover expenses for the health conditions she has now. In order to survive she would have to earn upwards of $50K a year, or would probably get insurance through a day job, an experience that is not good for her mental health or art practice.
Chronic Health Conditions
Chronic health conditions can be overwhelming and make it hard to for her to keep up the pace of running a non-profit organization and working on her own art and art career. When a person is used to working at a very productive and fast pace, it can be difficult to accept that there is a need to scale back. Some days she finds it hard to feel motivated. There are days that she has to force herself not work and to take some time to rejuvenate. During these days she “stays in bed and does nothing.” Surely, many productive people can relate to the guilt-ridden self-dialogue Terri has about doing nothing, but luckily she is able to quickly get over it when she tells herself, “Everyone else gets a day off, why can’t I?”
Social Class and the Arts
There is a social structure in the art world based on class, popularity, and money (Is your work selling?). Terri further explains that if you don’t meet these standards “the general construct is that you are kept out of this world and not allowed opportunities others might have. It’s weird how money dictates value.” There are other ways to go about getting visibility and credibility in the art world, and she prefers those. “When you focus on the structure of the scene, you lose sight of the art.” For her, credibility is more important. She wants the academics and institutions to take her seriously. “It goes back to all that Hollywood crap about fame and fortune and all that glitters is gold,” which she doesn’t take seriously. “There are actually no rules. With internet and social media, it’s easier to break through the clutter” and create your own opportunities.
On Artists and the Arts
There are many artists without the resources Terri has. She shared that she sees a lot of artists “living on the financial edge.” She knows some who are on public assistance. She also knows many who contend with mental health conditions.
Witnessing these struggles further highlights why it is important to recognize that art is actually legitimate work, and people who do this work face struggles of income, health, and mental health that go unaddressed. Terri explained,
“Art is not a hobby. It’s a way of actually being, a way of life. We’re thinking beings. We need to think and solve mysteries. Explorations through the arts are explorations into the human condition and art makes us human. It expresses what it is inside of the individual on that human level. What makes us our species is our ability to ask and explore existential questions and to resonate individually through the expression of color or language or the visual or song and sound. A society without art becomes sick. It’s necessary for critical thinking. It’s sad that we live in a society that doesn’t value art but values celebrity, sports, and big money.”