Finance isn’t Alexandra Harris’s favorite topic.
“I almost didn’t come today because I didn’t want to look at the reality of my life,” Harris, a voice over actor, said with a laugh. “I got real overwhelmed.”
Harris is at Getting Real with Money, a workshop at the Women’s Center for Creative Work, an organization based in Northeast Los Angeles, nestled next to the L.A. River.
The center hopes to “cultivate L.A.’s feminist creative communities” and offers artistic and professional development. There’s clubs for the chronically ill, grant writing classes or a game night to practice Spanish.
The workshop -- taught by arts consultant and the center’s treasurer Beth Pickens -- aims to give female artists the basics on saving, budgeting and planning for retirement.
“The Roth IRA ... that’s one where I think if I do nothing else in that workshop but people understand what it is and why they need it and how to get it -- then I feel like I’ve done my job,” Pickens said.
Women from all creative backgrounds are at the two-part workshop, from musicians, writers, actors to arts organizers and designers.
Between money talk, they commiserate on how expensive it is to live in Los Angeles.
“I never want them to know I can’t pay $5 for my coffee,” a woman said jokingly.
Many artists work for themselves, which can translate to inconsistent pay, sometimes putting thoughts like savings or retirement accounts on the backburner.
“There’s definitely no HR when you’re on your own, have your own business,” Pickens said. “You are your own HR.”
And with the gender and racial pay gap, the gig economy can hit women hard.
“It’s a job where people can become exploited easily by being told they’re being given exposure in lieu of cash,” Pickens pointed out.
Pickens preaches setting tangible goals, tracking your purchases and knowing your worth.
Liberal arts educations might provide the skills to be an artist but it might not teach supporting yourself, Pickens said.
“I work with people who have MFAs from every amazing art school in the U.S. and very few of them had any professional development training,” she said. “Now, people are leaving most MFA programs with $100,000 of student loan debt and no clear information about how to build an art career and how to make money from it. That’s a problem.”
Sophie He, who works for a startup, was inspired by Pickens’ workshop to ask for a raise -- and got it.
Harris related to that.
“There’s a great line she said which is ‘Ask for the highest number you can say with a straight face,’ which is brilliant,” Harris said. “They can find (the money) if they want you."