Artists Raising Kids: Thoughts On How to Have it All

Choreographer (and parent) Andrew Simonet presents Creative Capital’s “Artists Raising Kids” online workshop, dedicated to helping current and future parents navigate this exciting journey. 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.

Here are 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, photographer

“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 online workshop 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?

AndrewHaving 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. 

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