For the love of art: Facing unemployment in the Czech Republic

In an expensive design shop in Prague, a young woman sits behind a desk with art theory study guides covered in pink and green highlighter marks spread out in front of her.

“In the end, it was art or military school, so I chose art. Maybe it was the wrong decision,” Jana Travnickova says with a laugh.

Travnickova, a 30-year-old woman living in the Czech Republic, is studying for her master’s degree in art from the University of West Bohemia. She explains, “If I had been in the military I wouldn’t have to care about my living. And I wouldn’t have to be here.”

“Here” is Qubus, the design shop where Travnickova works part time. The owner of Qubus, Jakub Berdych, is an old friend of hers. He offered her a job so she could work while in school to make money to pursue her passion.

“I was 5-years-old when I first became interested in art,” Travnickova says. “My aunt is a painter, so when I was 5 or 6 I was already creating with her.” After elementary school, Travnickova attended secondary school where she learned graphic design and other graphic techniques. “I wanted to go to military school actually. I was always good at sports and I was connected with nature, but … I chose art.”

Travnickova’s eyes glance from the papers she is studying toward the street, as the sound of a horse drawn carriage rolls over the cobblestone street outside of the empty shop. She explains that the business is usually slow, and customers are rare.

Final exams are a month away, and after those, Travnickova will graduate from school. She says that she doesn’t know what she’s going to do, because after she graduates, Travnickova will no longer have a job at Qubus. “It would be great to have my own studio and have my own art and be kind of like … ah, I forgot the word … free! It would be nice to be free.”

Unfortunately, the price of supporting oneself in the artistic community is far from free.

The Ministry of Culture, the central administrative body for the arts, cultural and educational activities, offers artist grants but only to a select few. Travnickova explains that if you’re a known artist or an artist supported by a gallery, you don’t have to work other jobs to support the art. “If it’s like me, studying art and not really a famous artist or just like [a] normal [person], then you really have to find work to make money so you can make art. The government gives some money for artists, not much. Just some, and it’s always the same people.”

Eurostat reports that the Czech Republic has the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the EU. In 2013, the Czech Republic had an average 7 percent unemployment rate, while the EU average was 11 percent. However, even with the comparatively low unemployment rates in the Czech Republic, art students are among the most likely to have difficulty finding work.

Mario Carpe, a 27-year-old, studied law and business in school but describes himself as “born with a pencil in hand.” Art has always been his passion, and he has worked in advertising and publishing since graduation. He has won many illustration awards, creating graphics for companies sucha s Nike, Maxim and Volcom, and his work is featured in galleries in Madrid and Barcelona.

Originally from Spain, Carpe speaks with an excited tone, only becoming grave when contemplating the struggles of being an artist. “For me, it’s something beyond the place, more intimate and personal, each person will find something harder than another thing,” he says. “If you want to set up the place as a condition, [I] would say the first limitation could be language and cultural things, such as finding contacts and knowing the market if you are looking for an economic target.”

Coming from a place of job security, Carpe speaks about life and money differently than Travnickova. “If you want really to be rich,” he says, “don’t be focused on money and then it will come to you, it’s easy. What you give is what you get.” He believes that he is successful because he is happy, not the other way around.

Although concerned about her future employment, Travnickova remains hopeful and determined, saying, “Art is important. It’s what is happening in your soul, or in your internal feelings. It happens in many people around you. Nobody wants to talk about it, their crisis. Nobody wants to show out their private [life]. True art, you can say ‘yeah this happened to me, it also maybe happened to you but it’s nothing to be ashamed of, just show it.’”

Prague Issue Piece 2 from Mercedes Bleth on Vimeo.