Although Israel is full of wonderful artists, like in many countries, it is difficult to make a living by simply selling one’s work here. Most artists combine their art with teaching in order to make ends meet. Artists can choose to represent themselves or make a contract with an art dealer, who will take care of the business aspects of their career for them. There are a number of different guilds and cooperatives that you may join to assist you in selling your work. You may also choose to display your works at art fairs throughout the country, such as the yearly Chutzot HaYotzer Festival in Jerusalem.
Keep in mind that Israel is a small country, and even if you are very successful, there just isn’t that much business. Artists generally work in private studios which they pay for themselves. Many artists choose to work from home. Those who join cooperatives also spend a few hours a week in the cooperative store as a sales clerk.
There is also a grant available to Olim artists by the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. The grant is given in one installment to both professional and amateur artists that the Ministry deems to be “good,” “talented” and “exceptionally talented.” Olim may apply for this grant within ten years of their Aliyah date. More information about this grant can be found on the Department of Absorption website.
There are several art schools throughout the country that offer both certificate and Bachelor degree programs:
- Bezalel: Academy of arts and design in Jerusalem, which awards both Bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
- The Institute for Art at Tel Chai College: Offers different tracks based on specialties, and located in the Upper Galilee.
- Beit Berl College: Awards a certificate in art therapies, as well as different programs (BA, MA, and certifications) in art and the teaching of art.
A special thanks to Leah Laker for participating in this interview.
Please provide us with a brief description of your field.
I am a visual artist in watercolors, acrylics and mixed media. In addition, I am an art consultant for small to medium sized businesses.
What is your current position?
Currently, I am an independent professional working from my own home studio. I own and operate Studio Rimonim in Modi’in. I am a member of the Modi’in Artists group and participate in their shows and events. I generally market my work through my online galleries www.studiorimonim.com.
What work settings are available in Israel?
In my experience, most of the artists I have met are self-employed or at least have an income-generating position elsewhere, in addition to their work as an artist. Some are members of several groups or associations, like the Israel Artists’ Association in Tel Aviv. Depending on where you live, there are also opportunities to participate in shows and studio tours. Through these associations and networking, you can arrange to show your work to the general public. Solo exhibitions can be arranged at locations such as the Jerusalem Theatre, but you must submit your work to a jury, and the costs of such shows can be quite expensive.
It is less expensive to participate in a group show, so it is important to live in an area where there is a local artists’ association. For example, because Modi’in is usually a co-sponsor of many art events, artists who reside in other nearby locations are not necessarily permitted to participate in all of the local art shows. In Modi’in, we also have a cultural liaison who helps the artists’ group to plan and coordinate certain events, like our themed exhibition for International Women’s Day. Many of the artists in the Modi’in group also seek out international art shows and galleries to promote their work.
There are many galleries, especially in large cities and areas where there are many tourists. However, it is difficult to obtain representation by galleries unless they are specifically geared towards showing the works of local artists or you are willing to pay a fee. Artists have to work hard to establish a reputation and seek out opportunities to connect with gallery owners. There are many innovative and wonderful contemporary artists here, but there is also competition from historical and traditional artists whose works are recognized and sought out by tourists.
What is the best way for an Oleh to earn a living as an artist?
This is the same challenge that exists for any artist, regardless of where you live. In any location, the best way to earn a living as an artist is to develop your unique talents and to have a body of work that has appeal for a large number of people. It also helps to have very good connections to the media and high income professionals, both socially and through business connections. Marketing knowledge is a must and networking skills follow right behind. Set up a distribution network, if possible, with galleries and clients you already have, before making Aliyah.
There are many social networking opportunities, e.g. the Jerusalem Business Network Forum. By going out and meeting new people you can create your own opportunities. It makes a big difference if you actively seek to develop new relationships and are open to going outside your zone of comfort. Even when you are not fluent in Hebrew you can begin to participate in your new community.
Do I need to know Hebrew?
It really helps if you know Hebrew, as you can become involved in more groups and have more opportunities open to you.
What experience do I need to get started?
You are who you are; bring your curriculum vitae and samples of your work.
There is a process available for immigrant artists and I think this is important for establishing your reputation here: You can apply for an artist’s allowance when you meet with your Absorption Ministry representative after making Aliyah. This isn’t a large sum, but it will help you purchase supplies and get started. The important part of this process is that you submit your application with your CV and samples of your work and you will then be invited to appear before a jury, to show your work. That jury will give you an official letter that designates you as an artist. This can be used as a reference in entering shows or getting representation.
If you are considering seeking gallery representation, I would prepare the same type of materials for making a gallery submission that you would use in your home country. There are artists and organizations that offer art workshops, if you wish to continue to develop your expertise, and that may also be an excellent way to develop contacts in the art field.
What are the benefits of being an artist in Israel?
Just being here and experiencing the vitality and youthfulness of Israel is an inspiration in itself. Your life will be full of new sights and experiences and you will want to paint them all. You will never find yourself lacking in themes.
It took me a couple of years to get settled in Modi’in and to do all the things necessary to rebuild my home and lifestyle, including taking Ulpan. While I was getting my personal infrastructure established, I was able to become an active member of the Modi’in Artists group and participated in their annual Studio Tours. I also had my first solo show at the Heichal HaTarbut (theatre gallery). Now I have established myself as a member of the artists’ community and I continually enjoy meeting new artists.
It is exciting to be able to interact with other Jewish artists and to explore and develop Jewish themes. We have Neot Kedumim nearby which is the Biblical Nature Reserve and it has been a source of inspiration. In addition, we make frequent Tiyulim, short trips to various places in the country, and I take photos that I can use as references in my studio. There are lots of opportunities to paint on location but if you work in watercolors, as I do, you will find that there is a challenge in drying time for both paint and paper. I have been able to sell some of my work here and I have learned to paint in a very colorful style using watercolors. Not many artists here are skilled in watercolor technique, so if this is your specialty, you can develop a niche.
Another benefit for many artists, although I haven’t gone that route, is the opportunity to teach, particularly to children. Most families pay for after-school classes for their children to learn art, music and sports. School finishes much earlier in the day in Israel, and parents must provide activities for their children until they come home from work. This is a way that some of my artist friends create a supplementary income.
Do I have to join any professional organizations?
There is no requirement and you will be able to participate in shows and events without joining an organization. However, I have found it very helpful to be part of a group. You will want advice on framing and art supply sources. You will also have access to more events and, of course, you will feel more integrated within Israeli society by having new friends and colleagues.
How do you feel (in general terms) about working as an artist in Israel?
In general, I have found several new opportunities to develop my professional skills and to grow my business. Here I am part of a community in which I can freely express my Jewish self, even though I am not yet fluent in the language and therefore am challenged to participate as much as I would like. I especially appreciate being able to live and work by the Jewish calendar and am constantly inspired by the beauty of the landscape, flowers, trees, culture and Biblical sites. I am lucky enough to have my own studio and to be developing my own business here without having to take regular employment to support myself, so my experience is not necessarily that of the average artist. That said, I think there are lots of opportunities to develop professional skills, learn new techniques, and link Jewish ideas, historical experiences and culture.
Leah Laker is based at Studio Rimonim in Modi’in and can be reached at [email protected] or at 054-848-4135. For more information about Leah, please see her Facebook page and Linked In profile.