Michael Lewy. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Michael Lewy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Being “paid with exposure” does not work. “You can die of exposure.”

For the ninth interview in this series asking people active in the Boston arts scene about their thoughts on how to rebuild it after the pandemic, I talked to Michael Lewy—a multimedia artist who currently lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife and daughter. He is the author of Chart Sensation, a book of PowerPoint charts, and has shown at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the Pacific Film Archives, and Carroll and Sons Gallery in Boston. Lewy has been working on his current project, entitled Bigfoot Island, since 2014, which deals with the subjects of memory, childhood, pre-1970s science fiction media, and analog special effects. His website is michaellewy.com. Check out the video of our full conversation below.

On what has gone before
I have been a working artist in Boston for over 20 years.

I have to say it’s not easy to be an artist in this city.

Boston is a college town, and I have found that many artists get frustrated and end up leaving the city after graduating.

Over the years, I have watched many institutions, small galleries, and artists leave. I think that it makes building a community of artists difficult. Boston art institutions also don’t support local artists enough. I believe there is a lack of respect given to local artists; we live in the shadow of New York, and until we make our own way, this will not change.

On what is still to come
I believe that creating a vibrant arts community is an essential resource an artist can have. We need more innovative ways to develop this community, and we, as artists, need to lead the way.

I have been looking at ways to do this; connecting with other artists is essential. Maybe as artists, we can separate ourselves from the capitalist model and look for a new paradigm. How do we, as fellow artists, support each other? It’s much harder to go it alone; there is a lot of strength in numbers.

As an artist who is not supported by his artwork and must work a day job to support my family, time is one of the most critical resources. Giving artists health care and a living wage would be the first step.

Funding in this city is also critical; we need more artists to get paid for their work. This is not just a Boston problem. I don’t know how we start getting business to value the arts and creatives. We are often told that we are being paid with exposure; this does not work, and it’s not a substitute for being paid. I often say you can die of exposure.

We also have to stop living in the shadow of New York and look for a new model for supporting artists. Portland, OR, and smaller midwestern cities might be an excellent place to start; they provide artists with a lot more support.

Boston could do more by offering more grants and encouraging the creation of smaller venues for artists to show their work. Larger institutions could also help by showcasing local artists.

DigBoston Interview with Michael Lewy

Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. He holds an MFA in visual arts.