Private: Performance Artist

Performance artists entertain audiences with their skills in various environments.

There are many, many different kinds of performance artists, from circus performers to activists to professional weirdos. Some performance art occurs in formal venues, while other types may take place out in the world where anyone might stumble across them. At the end of the day, performance art is all about eliciting reactions from people and getting them to experience something unexpected. A laugh, a moment of thoughtfulness, or a single tear may all be worth a tip.

Performance art is an umbrella category for art forms so antiquated they've ceased to be common - like sword swallowing, vaudeville, or mime - as well as newer art forms that classic venues don't always have a place for - like drag, public interventions, or improvisational theatre. Anything that doesn't fit neatly into the performance categories like comedy, drama, music, or dance might fall into its clutches.

What unifies performance artists, in spite of the differences between their specific disciplines, is a commitment to their audiences. Even seemingly spontaneous performance art pieces take planning to execute well, and most performing artists have spent a lot of time honing their craft. Launching a career in performance art takes skill, guts, and a good sense of timing, but for the right person in the right place, it can be life changing...even world-changing.

Work as a performance artist may include...

  • Planning, rehearsing, and performing a specific piece
  • Booking a venue or finding a location for a performance
  • Interacting with audience members or passersby
  • Developing and workshopping material over time
  • Improving an act with new resources

Performance artists are largely self-employed, depending on venue payouts from performances and audience tips. Some work closely with venues and may make regular appearances at a specific place as part of a mutual arrangement where their presence will draw customers. Others perform wherever they are able to, from private parties to public parks. Some are employed by specialty performance organizations, like traveling circuses or comedic variety shows. Others pursue creative residencies or other avenues that may help to fund their artistic efforts. Most performance artists don't go into it for the money; however, many well-known artists are performance artists of some kind who have gained recognition and gone on to do more work in the public eye. Social media has created a platform for performance artists who want to expand their viewing audience, and can be a great tool for those looking to bring their art to the world.

There is no educational requirement for a career in performance art, and successful performers range from illiterates to PhD holders and everything in between. The only thing a performance artists must do is commit to their craft, which could be anything. The boundaries of performance art are nonexistent; anything that one is willing to put effort into planning and carrying out might qualify. Whether the result will be good or garner positive attention is another matter; performance artists are not always well-received by the general public, which is why building a career as one can take a thick skin and a level head. Not all performers work with venues, but those who do often represent themselves in negotiations until they reach a level of success that allows them to hire a manager.

If you're unapologetically creative and want the world to know it, performance art might be the niche career for you to pursue.

Busker Street Union is a creative placemaking program that acts as a resource and advocate for street performers.

The Busking Project promotes, celebrates, and defends buskers with tech, advocacy, and opportunities.

The American Guild of Variety Artists is a labor union representing artists and stage managers who undertake live performances in the variety field.