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The art of retirement

Through much of their careers, most artists are so busy simply surviving that planning for retirement isn't even in the picture. The odd jobs that allow enough free time to pursue their passions don't usually offer a pension plan.

Artist Pension Trust, or APT, an investment program managed by an outfit called MutualArt, gives visual artists an opportunity to invest art rather than cash for their golden years.

Here's how it works: Participating artists are asked to place 20 works with the trust over the course of 20 years so that the pieces can be sold when returns look the most promising. Then 40 percent of the proceeds go into an artist's private retirement account, another 32 percent is divvied up among all the trust's artists, and 28 percent goes to MutualArt itself, to cover all management and operating costs.

Trust founders project payouts for individual artists from $500,000 to $1.5 million. That estimate is based on the fund's projected overall value and the proportionate worth of each artist's work.

APT is still too new to have been subjected to any real market tests, but artists like the idea.

A mix of capitalism and socialism
Katie Grinnan is a sculptor who lives in Los Angeles. Making ends meet is a challenge.

"I barely make a living so far," she admits. "I teach sometimes, and every so often I make some money off my work. I'm still emerging, but I feel like I'm on the cusp."

Grinnan's situation, she says, is like many artists she has come to know in her budding career.

"I'm typical in that respect," she says.

Under her prevailing circumstances, Grinnan has little time to consider the future and what might await her when she reaches the age of retirement.

Grinnan joined the Artist Pension Trust three years ago when it was in its infancy.

"I know a lot of people in the trust, and that's a good thing, too. It feels nice. It seems like a weird mix of capitalism and socialism, and I was attracted to that in some way."

She says she was also fascinated by its communality.

A sampling of works in the Artist Pension Trust  
Source: APT

"It seemed like a way that one artist could help other artists," she says. "I also liked that it's a pension plan. It's rare that art is valued that way. So I approach it as a new and exciting concept, an experiment."

The selection process
APT President and CEO Bijan Khezri says about 600 artists, of which about half are U.S. citizens, are currently enrolled in the program. Originally, he says, regional curatorial committees invited artists to participate, but networking among artists has resulted in an increase in the number applying without invitation.

Next: "Art riskier than stocks"
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