Margaret Albaugh is a photographer and advocate based in Spokane who focuses on personal projects, documentary work, family work, visual poems, and environmental portraits. Her personal projects focus on cultural identity, gender, and exploring the nuance of human nature.
Margaret had some striking and humbling things to say about the idea of resilience and what support artists and artist communities need right now and in the future. We’re sharing Margaret’s story as part of our annual Spring fundraising campaign. Help us reach our goal of raising $55,000 by June 30! Your gift will help Artist Trust support artists with cash grants, educational programs, and more. Read Margaret’s interview below and join us by donating here!
On the resilience of artists and what has inspired her:
Ooph, ‘resilience’ is an interesting word for me. I think of resilience as the ability to move forward or find progress or at the very least, not give up when things become difficult. That said, everyone has different privileges that afford people more “resilience”. And I worry that saying someone has ‘resilience’ is another way of saying they’ve pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. For a mother with depression, resilience might look like getting out of bed, feeding her kids, and then fighting a mental battle all day while she reminds herself life is worth living. She might get nothing “done” but don’t tell me she isn’t resilient. So I’m glad the question asks for a personal interpretation because resilience can certainly look different for everyone.
I’m aware that my partner and I are in a privileged place because of social constructs and economic situations. We’re very lucky he has a job he has been able to maintain throughout the pandemic and that my artistry and my artist profession can withstand a few hits before it affects our quality of life. We live in a neighborhood where my kids can get outside and play. I think about what life would look like for me if this pandemic hit when I was a child – the kinds of struggles my mother would have. She worked HARD to make ends meet and a lot of times they didn’t meet at all. She had a very different life, different privileges, lack of privileges. She is an immigrant here and that is its own resilience. For her, life was about survival and I do not forget that as I try to make my artist career work. If I had her situation right now, I wouldn’t have an art career. I don’t know if that makes artistry sound privileged but I know that society does not appreciate art in a monetary way. They appreciate it in their social media feeds, they appreciate it on art buildings, but people struggle to PAY for art which makes an artist lifestyle really difficult. So when I say that if I had my mother’s situation I wouldn’t be an artist, I mean I am aware of how difficult it is for artists to make ends meet in this society and thus I would have to find something more pragmatic…. and I am aware that for some artists in our community, that’s the case. They’ve had to make pragmatic choices about their art in order for survival. I do my best to help other artists get access to grants and community funding as a way to help people out who may not have the time to seek those opportunities.
I think about my mom a lot and I know there are many artist parents/guardians out there who are suffering and trying to stay ‘resilient’ and the community, the art and non-art community, need to help them. Thriving does not necessarily mean someone has been resilient. And resilience does not always equate to thriving. Until our society changes to appreciate art and to pay artists and until society breaks down social barriers for people (artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, disabled artists, and otherwise marginalized artists), resilience will have a different meaning and equation for everyone.
What has inspired me or brought me hope is a difficult question. I struggle with depression and hope is the one thing that people need to survive depression. I think in my life, my kids have given me hope and a sense of duty to be better, to improve, and to change. In our world, it is seeing friends and community who understand that the world needs to change and they focus on changing it. It is seeing my own family members change in order to make the world better. Their humility and ability to listen brings me hope and inspires me.
So much has happened in a year and I think if you haven’t changed then you’re not listening. I’ve done a lot to educate myself on social matters – to learn more about racism, oppression, white privilege, and how I uphold those things. I started years ago but I would say the last year, being forced inside with only social media as your bridge to the outside world, gave me a lot of time to think about myself and my role in everything. As an artist, I think a lot about my ‘voice’ and what I want to do with my photography. And I think the past year has helped me change as an advocate and focus more on how I can use my life experiences to advocate for change. My photography has become more inward. The last year has flipped me inside out. So my work has become more about my vulnerabilities and my hurts and how I want things to change.
Art communities need non-art communities to appreciate them and value them. I’ve noticed most art buyers are other artists and that means art isn’t really accessible to people. People don’t know how or why they should buy art because art isn’t really valued (or maybe not understood?). There need to be more ways for artists to get funded so they can continue to make work. And art communities need to step up and appreciate marginalized artists. I did a two-week workshop in the fine art photography world and I saw how dominated the white male perspective is. There were hardly any art books done by people of color, LGBTQ+ and none that I saw from people with disabilities – granted, I didn’t research every single photographer to know their backgrounds for sure but the artists that get spotlighted had very similar backgrounds and demographics. The perspective in these genres felt more like a white male looking at everyone else. That needs to change. So people who have power in the art world need to recognize ways they can uplift voices that don’t look or sound like theirs and make space for those voices to rise. There need to be more artists celebrated that truly represent the diverse voices of our country.