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Program Coordinator, Public Art

Continuing our "Artists Learn-and-Share" series, we recently connected with Rhode Island-based artist, Shey Rivera Ríos, to hear how the Public Art Learning Fund has strengthened their public artmaking practices this past year.

Despite pandemic-related travel disruptions, Shey leaned into gaining hard skills from Hannah Cole’s Sunlight Tax Money Bootcamp as well as learning more deeply about legal information for artists with lawyer Jacqueline Walker.

Kamaria Carrington (KC): In this COVID-19 reality, what has this professional develop opportunity meant to your practice as a public artist/creative?

Shey Rivera Ríos (SRR): This was one of the most powerful opportunities I got last year. I was able to focus on what I needed instead of launching a project. And I really did need to start re-thinking more than creating. I wanted to focus on my practice and how to make it sustainable! I needed help with very unsexy things like taxes, accounting, and finances. It was so fortunate that Jacqueline Walker, who is based in Pittsburg, started her independent practice last year. She is an amazing lawyer who combines law with holistic approaches to help sustain creatives’ lives. She guided me through the process of negotiating contracts and spotting potential red flags. A red flag in a contract could be where an artist might lose rights or their intellectual property. In capitalist terms your artistry and creativity are your assets as an artist. There are so many ways that people can try to take away ownership or control of your assets as an artist. Jacqueline also teaches that as artists we have a right to negotiate terms to build healthy relationships between ourselves and contractors. This perspective was a huge help for me to be able to manage contracts with confidence!

I realized I needed to invest more in the infrastructure of my artistic practice and needed more skills with finances and taxes. Hannah Cole, of Sunlight Tax, has a money bootcamp for artists. I used the rest of my Public Art Learning Fund award for the whole bootcamp experience, which I wouldn’t have had access to without the financial support. The bootcamp is a set of workshops and consulting that Hannah provides to a cohort of artists. And I also got one-on-one support with Hannah for filing my taxes.

Jackie’s support helped me rethink a large project that I have been contracted to lead this year. I was able to assert my boundaries and protect myself from “scope-creep.” A scope-creep is when you are hired for a specific scope of work, but then the client adds additional tasks and more work without an agreement or increased compensation. When this happens, you need to negotiate an amendment to your initial agreement or negotiate a separate contract.

I began to ask deeper questions about my artistic practice and capacity. Things that are important to know when crafting and signing contracts like, what does it mean to collaborate? Do I want to design contracts with even splits of ownership with collaborators? As lead, how do I honor and compensate other artists’ commissions fairly. How do royalties come into play? And we need to keep thinking about collective money making. I also learned that I don’t have to give my creative property away. I can lend it. You can say to an institution that you can license images of work for a year or two and set terms for how you allow your work to be used.

Within the silhouette of an urn, the ocean waves. Money heads hold their hands over their hearts. Above it all, in cursive reads "Puerto Rico."
FANTASY ISLAND transmedia project, animated gif | by Shey Rivera Ríos

KC: What was something surprising you learned about yourself, your practice. and/or your public art-making through accessing it?

SRR: Surprising? I learned that I am valid, first of all, and that what I bring to any project is valuable. I can claim my power and negotiate fair agreements. I have agency! That was the big thing. Also knowing these contractual and legal systems a bit better took away the fear for me. I could negotiate and not just sign it and be ok with everything they say. I will look through everything! And I can identify if the terms fit how I work as an artist and give consent on my own terms to what I want out of the relationship. We feel and are told by institutions that we don’t have power...but we do!

I also know that all of us artists are struggling with this! And we can share this information with each other. This is always a collective strategy for me, but I’m glad that was confirmed throughout the practice.

In front of a projection of the desert, Shey holds a pamphlet and speaks into a microphone. They hold their hand to their chest and wear a colorful paisely gown.
Shey Rivera Ríos live at Indie Grits Festival | courtesy of Indie Grits Festival

KC: What has this opportunity opened up for you? Would you recommend other artists accessing it?

SRR: I definitely recommend this opportunity to other artists. First, dream and think about what your dreams need to be real. And, what do you need to keep dreaming? If we keep going without abundance, support, and material security, we will burnout. Looking at the practical things that you need as an artist is hard but important.

This year I want to figure out what kind of entity I want for my own private practice! I feel empowered and want to keep doing my own thing. This is something I have been avoiding for a long time—as if I needed institutions to validate my work first. But I don’t need that. I can partner or negotiate contracts around work. And I can help support people who run into roadblocks in their own work.

There should be more grants like this. Most places don’t recognize your inherent value as an artist or the need to rest and replenish. I chose a very pragmatic route, but I can also see other people compensating mentors, and having space to replenish and rest. Having time to figuring out the structure to leverage your well-being—I think that’s a huge one!

I’m all in for NEFA’s Public Art Learning Fund. I’m telling everyone to apply.

KC: Thank you for sharing your experience with us Shey!

For more "Artists Learn-and-Share," read our interviews with Yara Liceaga-Rojas and Chris Battaglia.

Apply to the Public Art Learning Fund

Visit nefa.org/PublicArtLearningFund to learn more about the April 20, 2021 deadline, including eligibility, funding priorities, and more.

Shey 'Rí Acu' Rivera Ríos (they/them/theirs)

Shey stands between two bushes and wears a beaded necklace and floral, beaded jacket over a mesh and satin, black top. The side of their head is shaved, and their hair is otherwise long and dark.
Shey Rivera Ríos | photo by Erin Smithers

Shey 'Rí Acu' Rivera Ríos (they/them) is an interdisciplinary artist and cultural strategist. Rivera has 12 years of experience in the arts sector, as both administrator and producer in leadership roles and as an independent artist and curator. Rivera was born and raised in Borikén (Puerto Rico), and has been living in Providence, RI, for the past 10 years.

Follow @sheyriv on Instagram! 

A black tiled gallery has a neon sign on one wall and a projection of the animated image (below) on the other.
FANTASY ISLAND transmedia project, installation at Movimiento de Arte y Cultural Latina (MACLA), San José, CA | courtesy of Shey Rivera Ríos
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