Trials of being money smart while studying fine art
UB art students find creative ways to cover supply costs
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 23:09
Austin Lewis gets an average of three hours of sleep a night. He drinks three cups of coffee a day to stay awake. He is taking 20 credits of art, psychology and general education classes.
Each week he works at Wegmans for 10 hours, holds 10 Academic Advising office hours, studies for 10-20 hours, works on art projects for about 15 hours and paints his latest mural for two to six hours.
And his parents have no idea. Although the sophomore fine arts and psychology major is from the Buffalo area, he is too busy to see his parents.
He suspects they think he’s avoiding them, but he’s actually too busy working.
Lewis pays $500 out of pocket for the tuition not covered by his loans, up to $225 in lab fees a semester and up to $120 on each art project.
Aside from paying tuition every semester, art students at UB pay lab fees for each class. These lab fees range from $50 to $100, depending on the department. But Lewis isn’t the only art student who is frustrated and scrambling for cash.
Some say their lab fee should be enough to cover supplies. They expect to be provided with more materials, rather than having to buy or rent them from places like the on-campus Art Resource Center (ARC), or art stores like Michael’s and Hyatt’s.
To pay for their art supplies, some students take on part-time jobs while others take out loans or receive an art allowance from their parents.
Lewis never asked his parents.
He has been supporting himself financially since he was a 9-year-old delivery boy for The Buffalo News making $100 per week.
“I have a hard time taking money from people, even if they are supposed to be a monetary resource,” Lewis said. “I never have [accepted money] and I probably never will. I know a lot of people are like, ‘I’m going to mooch off my parents until I can’t anymore,’ but not me … it’s not that they don’t give me money, it’s that I would rather not take it.”
This mindset carried him through elementary, middle and high school as he worked various jobs.
This independent lifestyle was heightened when Lewis came to UB. He discovered where he could be employed and earn benefits.
“When you’ve always been doing something or working, finding something isn’t hard,” Lewis said.
As an Academic Advisor, his meal plan is discounted and the university pays for his dorm residency as long as he holds 10 office hours, attends multiple meetings, hosts programs and tutors kids every week.
He barely fits in a social life.
Many of the art professors understand what Lewis is going through.
Reinhard Reizenstein, associate professor and head of the sculpture program, always had at least two jobs while he was in college at the Ontario College of Art.He would paint houses, do roofing repairs or work in grocery stores to save up money for his art supplies. He believes nothing’s changed.
“In North America especially, we are strapped to the idea of students paying for their supplies,” Reizenstein said. “If you go to places like Denmark, Germany, Finland or anywhere in the Nordic countries, everything is supplied. Students are even paid to go to graduate school. It’s because people care about art education in Europe and we’re not sure about it here.”
Because of this belief, he has occasionally loaned students money to finish a project if someone’s “in a real jam” or if their project needs to be done by a certain date. Sometimes the students will pay him back and sometimes they don’t, but Reizenstein doesn’t care either way.
The sculptor also tells students to go dumpster diving when they are having financial troubles.
He has found planks of wood, pieces of plastic and parts of motors to give to students.
While Lewis has never jumped into a dumpster for sculpting supplies, he uses pieces of wood and cardboard from Wegmans.
“It looked like I was homeless with a big shopping bag and cart full of cardboard boxes, but it was worth it,” Lewis said.
He has also gone through the trash piles from various sculpting classes to find metal and other raw materials.
While it may be simple for sculpting students to use found materials to create a masterpiece, other concentrations in the department can’t be as thrifty.
Printmaking is regarded as the most expensive field to go into when it comes to the fine arts.
In order to create a print, students must use paper that is $3.50 to $5 a sheet, copper or zinc plates that range from $10 to $170, tools that cost up to $65 and ink that ranges from $2 to $60 depending on the type and color.
Jeff Sherven, a print media technician, believes paying for these supplies is all part of the learning process.
“It’s about understanding the commitment it takes to get involved in the art world,” Sherven said. “You have to make expense distinctions and that’s what this teaches you. [Budget] is not something that can be explained; it’s not something that is just right or wrong. If that was the case and we were controlling [the prices], there would be no challenge.”
The students in his class see his point, but still don’t like having to pay so much for their materials. Tanya Dorph-Mankey, a senior fine art major with a concentration in print making, knows the paper she has to buy is very high quality, but doesn’t think it should be so expensive.