Calgary

Artists with 'fluctuating salaries' welcome at new ATB branches

"Starving artist" may be a cliche — but people working in creative industries often struggle to have their income viewed as reliable. Now ATB Financial has established branches for arts and culture in both Edmonton and Calgary, with advisers specifically trained to navigate artists' sometimes fluctuating livelihoods.

Edmonton, Calgary offices offer lending options for creative people who 'hustle'

Artist Grady Williams' painting is displayed in the Edmonton ATB branch for arts and culture. (Emily Hayes/Radio-Canada)

"Starving artist" may be a cliche — but people working in creative industries often struggle to have their income viewed as reliable.

Their wages may come from a combination of coins in a guitar case, revenue from a tour, painting sales, six different grants and a handful of lesson fees.

Even for folks bringing in a good income, it can be challenging — and complicated — to calculate all of that and appear a safe enough risk to qualify for bank loans and mortgages.

In both Edmonton and Calgary, ATB Financial has established a branch for arts and culture. Each has advisers specifically trained to navigate artists' sometimes fluctuating livelihoods and help them secure financing.

"Musicians, artists tend to hustle a little so if you lose something over here, you're going to pick something up over here," initiative director Ben Spencer told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday. "So we think it's a decent bet."

The offices at the new Edmonton ATB branch is dedicated to artists and has a decor that reflects its members' work. (Lyssia Baldini/Radio-Canada)

The provincial Crown corporation launched the service in recent weeks in both cities.

The new artists' ATB branch in Edmonton is in the CKUA building on Jasper Avenue. (Lyssia Baldini/Radio-Canada)

In Edmonton, the branch will be dedicated solely to creative industry workers, and will be based out of the CKUA building on Jasper Avenue.

In Calgary, artists can turn to the Stephen Avenue branch, which houses an art gallery and a cafe.

The ATB Financial branch on Stephen Avenue in Calgary will have staff trained to help artists. (Google Maps)

"They're full service banking branches but they have more of a clubhouse feel," Spencer said.

"I think there are sometimes status issues that come for artists around banking where they might feel a little judged or get that sense that maybe the bank doesn't think they're a great customer."

The goal of the branch is to make artists comfortable and provide them with industry-specific financial advice. (Lyssia Baldini/Radio-Canada)

Spencer, himself a singer-songwriter who contributes to the Edmonton music scene, brought this idea to ATB after living and playing music in Montreal.

A credit union there had a dedicated branch for artists, and Spencer said he found out it was the branch with the lowest loan default rate in the network.

Ben Spencer is a songwriter based in Edmonton. He's also the initiative director for ATB Financial's new branches for arts and culture workers. (CBC)

The ATB branches will have services tailored to emerging artists, established artists, businesses that work in the arts, such as in the screen industry, and non-profits that provide supports for artists. Branch staff are themselves artists of varying kinds, from pianists to dancers.

ATB has branches in about 250 communities in Alberta. (CBC)

Spencer said they won't guarantee lower financing, as risk often translates into higher fees, but said the risk will be likely assessed as lower than at a traditional financial institution.

With files from Elizabeth Withey and the Calgary Eyeopener.