Nia King’s #ArtLife: Musings and Advice from a Queer Art Activist of Color is one of the most useful zines I’ve ever read. In this zine, Nia writes about quitting her full-time job to become a full-time freelancer and art activist, sharing both her personal experiences and advice for other emerging artists.
I bought #ArtLife at the Portland Zine Symposium in 2015, when I’d only been sharing my art with the world for a month, and it’s been a primary guide for me ever since. It’s hard to make a living as an artist, especially as one with multiple marginalized identities. Nia, a mixed-race queer artist with chronic pain and depression, gets it. Her advice is accessible for artists who are just starting out, and unlike much art-career advice, hers doesn’t make unjustified assumptions about readers having privilege and resources. Advice topics include networking, publishing, and interviewing people who are marginalized in ways you are not.
The essay “Media is Not a Dirty Word,” which suggests thinking of your work as media, the “merger of art and business” that simplifies gaining an audience by taking advantage of other people’s publishing platforms. Self-promotion as an artist is arduous, and this essay gave me realistic expectations of how difficult it is while acknowledging both the difficulties and the advantages of publishing work through someone else’s channels.
“On the Value of QPOC Art Activism” is a must-read for anyone who cares about financial and social justice for queer artists of color. Nia asks probing questions like, “Why is it the people who make this vital work have to sell their labor to someone else to pay the rent? Why isn’t it enough to add beauty to people’s lives and fuel to the fire for social justice?” Queer artists of color deserve much more financial and emotional love than they get. This essay sings their praises and can remind white and cishet artists and non-artists how vital queer artists of color are. We all need to remember.
#ArtLife also offers reflections and suggestions about ethical dilemmas that are often overlooked in art and journalism spaces. Nia uses feminist, Black, Chicana, indigenous, and disability justice-oriented research methodologies to challenge the journalistic ideal of limiting involvement with subjects. As someone who strives to be ethical in my own work, I really appreciate hearing about Nia’s experiences and thoughts.
#ArtLife holds a special place in my heart and in my room, because it’s so useful I never want to fully put it away. I treasure Nia’s work and hope to contribute to the vital project of advising marginalized artists by writing about my own experiences and advice as a white queer and trans disabled artist.
You can buy #ArtLife from Nia for $2, and it’s available to read for free through the New Paltz Zine Library Online. It may also be available through Brown Recluse Zine Distro when they re-open for the new year.
Nia is also the editor of Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives, volumes 1 and 2, which collect many of her interviews with artists from her podcast We Want the Airwaves. If you’re looking for more of her work (and you really should be), visit her website. You can also support her on Patreon to help fund the QPOC art revolution.