Arts Desk

Roadmap for 2029: Philip Barlow’s Actuarial Report on Artist Agnes Bolt

My favorite piece in Agnes Bolt's solo show at Project 4 is "Expertise," a collaborative exercise with Philip Barlow, a longtime D.C. art collector. In advance of her show, Bolt invited Barlow to get down in the trenches with her, challenging one another in a week-long game of performance art dares. The exhibit features all the video, artifacts, and swapped goods produced over the course of the week. It's excellent.

Bolt's day-two challenge for Barlow was "Expertise." As she posed the challenge:

I have heard that you are quite good at evaluating the future of certain events, determining the risk of some investments. Who doesn't want to know the future? So I would like to commission a modest report.

I would like you are [sic] to evaluate what the future may hold for my artistic career. I know this may seem an awkward request, but there are many resources at your disposal: galleries, artists, your own set of parameters, the Internet of course, hearsay. You may chose [sic] to use a format familiar to you, or not, but the report must be backed up with supporting evidence. Qualitative and quantitative. Authoritative, polished. Of course, this is open to interpretation. I am very curious, and I also like to take chances. How do we leap into the future? What risks are we willing to take?

This was no risk for Barlow, associate commissioner with the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking. For an actuary, this was just another day in the office. Barlow, who has always been game to help out an artist—he was once the subject of a 15-artist group show of Philip Barlow portraits—complied. His report's fascinating.

[scribd id=70689277 key=key-1wee6d9zm9kn6bt68b21 mode=list]

Note that this is a mock report—but for a mock report, the language and detail accomplish what Bolt needed. Barlow bases his guesstimate primarily on the career outcomes of 118 Carnegie Mellon University graduates (where Bolt is an MFA candidate). Hawk-eyed art fans will spot that D.C. artist and George Washington University new media professor Siobhan Rigg is an alum.

It would have been interesting to see the results had Barlow broken down the median incomes for these CMU grads. Too small a sample, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on fine artists that Barlow uses instead don't include the salaries of self-employed artists. Those may just be too depressing.

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