Financial guidance for the creative community
ATB’s Branch for Arts & Culture welcomes artists and freelancers.
By ATB Financial 25 August 2023 3 min read
When you first hear about a place where artists and bankers meet, it might sound like a comical mismatch. But for the artists who frequent it and the artists who work there as bankers, it’s no joke.
“We are a branch for artists, by artists,” said Isabelle Hebert, Culture Banker at ATB’s Branch for Arts & Culture. “For the past 5 years, I have watched as artists grind and hustle to make their art beautiful and empowering, but also self-sustaining financially. That is why the BFAC exists.”
Edmonton artist Nikki Rae Hallow thought the BFAC sounded unreal when her friend suggested it.
“She said it's for artists. It is literally for artists. It's designed for people like us. And I made an appointment,” said Hallow, who freelances as an actor, comedian, writer, and voiceover artist.
“I was terrified—because going to banks is absolutely terrifying. But going to the branch and seeing art on the walls…it never occurred to me that was a thing.”
Built for artists
The BFAC hosts exhibits and performances, but its core purpose is understanding the personal and business financial challenges artists are facing, and finding them opportunities to improve their financial position.
Hallow grew up in a trades family, with a father who was a master tradesman and a mother who was a clown and puppeteer. Hallow herself is a machinist, but found herself gravitating towards the arts.
“I always wanted to be performing. And then I got into the BFA acting program at the UofA. One of my mentors, Michael Kennard, who's a University of Alberta professor and clown from the dynamic duo Mump & Smoot. was like, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’ And I said ‘I'd like to do this.’”
Before COVID-19, Hallow was in a comfortable financial situation and considering home ownership. She found that being a self-employed artist put her at a disadvantage with the banks she approached about a mortgage.
“I'm working very hard. I have savings. Why don't I have the opportunity? I'm capable of maintaining all of these things and more. And yet you're still denying me and a lot of other people the opportunity to buy a house or to get a loan.”
With live audiences restricted and film productions disrupted, the pandemic had a dramatic impact on the performing arts industry. Hallow’s opportunities to earn were limited and her finances were weakened.
Meeting with John Evans, another Culture Banker at the BFAC, reignited her optimism.
“It was having this branch go, ‘There is an opportunity for you and there is a way for you to also live the life that you want—to buy a house or to get a loan, or to manage your finances or find a better way than just struggling through what you're dealing with.’”
Evans explained the branch’s lending solutions for artists, which include gap financing, crowdfunding, support for associations and nonprofits, and financial literacy programs.
“It really gave me hope that there are ways to get the things that I want, or to give myself more breathing room,” said Hallow.
A wealth of knowledge
As a freelance artist whose income varies month to month, Hallow already had some budgeting savvy. Her suggestions for other artists include setting aside three to six months of income, living within your means, and diversifying your skillset as ways to be more financially resilient.
“I think the biggest piece of advice, and frankly what I had not understood until I changed my career over to banking,” adds Hebert, “is how integral a strong, thought-out annual budget is. Even if you are working as a contractor, budget and plan like an entrepreneur."
At the BFAC, artists can add to their financial literacy with topics like paying off high interest debt first, putting savings in a high yield savings account, and the advantages of a tax-free savings account.
"And pay your taxes, always," says Hallow, who stresses the importance of putting money aside for the CRA. "Luckily, I haven't had a problem with that. But I know people who didn't do that. And then tax time comes along."
On with the shows
With a trusted advisor guiding her finances, Hallow can focus on her busy schedule.
Hallow’s professional work—from voicing a knight in the video game MythForce, to acting in the Amazon Prime series High School, based on a memoir by musicians Tegan & Sara—can be browsed on her website (nikkiraehallow.com).
Photo credit: Mat Simpson
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