Artists and Creatives Making Aliyah: Challenges and Opportunities
Working in the arts naturally comes with challenges, no matter where you are in the world.
You’re working in a creative industry – one that some people might claim isn’t as “useful” as others – and you’re often required to go it alone for large portions of your career to pursue your passion. That’s often the case in Israel. Though the country is more than open to the arts, you will face challenges as an artist that you might not face if you enter the country as an engineer or computer whiz.
Thankfully, you’re not doomed to curtail your creative streak when you’re an artist making Aliyah. You just need to be realistic – there are challenges to overcome for you to continue on your creative path. However, there are also opportunities, some of which can help set you on the way to a lucrative career.
The State of the Arts in Israel
Israel appreciates the arts.
However, the realistic picture of the industry is that it’s not a priority for the country. This fact was highlighted in a 2016 report by The Center for Political Economics that pointed out that the combined creative industries of Israel accounted for just 4% of the country’s GDP during that year. All told, art (and similar fields) generated NIS 21 million, lagging far behind other industries.
Further data, this time from Statista, sheds more light on the revenue the industry generates, this time in U.S. dollars. It claims that “arts, entertainment, and recreation” generated $15.14 billion in 2018, with projections stating this will remain fairly static up to 2024, which should see $16.78 billion in projected revenue. Contrast this to the United States, in which the same industry was forecast to reach $422.71 billion in value by 2023, and there’s a clear disparity.
There’s less demand for the arts in Israel than there is in the United States.
However, “less” demand isn’t the same thing as “no” demand. For instance, the Israeli film industry is constantly growing, with about 2.5 million people per year watching its films. Granted, that’s not a patch on Hollywood. But for creatives who work in the film industry, you’ll find that there is demand for your skills.
Still, the reality is that Olim emigrating from the United States will find a much different creative picture in Israel.
The Challenges That Artists and Creatives Face Once They’ve Made Aliyah
If you specialize in the arts – or similar creative fields – these are the challenges you might face when you make Aliyah.
Challenge 1 – Fewer Networking Opportunities
Succeeding as an artist is partly about your talent and partly about who you know. For instance, somebody who paints will need to know gallery owners and industry professionals who can help them sell their work. In the film industry, you’ll often rely on word of mouth and a growing reputation from the projects on which you work to secure more jobs.
That networking is far easier in the United States because of the sheer size of its creative and entertainment industries. Based on the figures shared above, the U.S.’s arts industry is nearly 28 times the size of Israel’s – bad news for creatives looking to establish a foothold once they’ve made Aliyah.
Still, it’s important to note that there are still networking opportunities available, as you’ll discover later in the article. You’ll just have to accept that you’re entering a smaller “community” than you’ve had before, which can make it harder to land jobs or get your artwork displayed.
Challenge 2 – The Cost of Living
According to the World Repatriation Agency Israel, the average monthly wage in Israel is about NIS 9,000 (roughly $2,500). That drops dramatically if you take into account Israel’s living wage, which is just NIS 1,800 per person.
This is important because it indicates how much money you need to make from your art in order to live comfortably in the country. Frankly, many people struggle to make NIS 9,000 per month from their art alone, leading to them taking on other jobs to supplement their income. Nefesh B’Nefesh – one of Israel’s top resources for Olim – says that this is common, with most artists taking roles as teachers to ensure they have a consistent flow of income.
That could be a shock to the system for somebody who has established a career as an artist in the United States. Given that the industry’s size is much smaller in Israel, you’ll likely find there is less demand for your work in the country than there was in the U.S. Taking on a second job is often necessary. However, you may be fortunate enough to be able to sell your art outside of Israel, which could supplement your income.
Challenge 3 – Learning Hebrew
Understanding – and being able to speak – Hebrew isn’t absolutely essential in Israel. Around 85% of the population can speak English, at least to some degree, so you can navigate the basics fairly well. However, knowing Hebrew becomes a lot more important once you enter the creative field.
Though there are several guilds and collectives available to support artists, many of the members will speak Hebrew as their first language. Not being able to speak Hebrew places you at a disadvantage – you’ll still be able to join these groups but you may find it harder to network with people who could give you opportunities.
You may also find it harder to speak about your work during exhibitions and showings if you don’t know Hebrew. Thankfully, there are resources available to Olim to help them learn the language quickly. The Ulpan program, for instance, offers an intensive course that lasts for five months within your Absorption Center. Use it – you’ll find it much easier to navigate Israel’s artistic sector if you can speak the native language.
Opportunities for Artists and Creatives in Israel
So far, you may have the impression that Israel doesn’t make it easy for artists and creatives to get ahead. That’s not the case – you simply need to be realistic about the situation you’re entering. Once you’re in Israel, you’ll have access to the following opportunities that could help you to build your career as an artist.
The Ministry of Aliyah’s Assistance to New Immigrant and Returning Resident Artists
The Ministry of Aliyah offers financial assistance to those who are recognized as professional artists. However, that assistance comes with a requirement to essentially prove yourself before you can access it.
Starting with the base criteria for applying, you either need to be a new or returning resident above the age of 17, or the child of a new immigrant or returning resident who is at least 18 years old. Alternatively, the Olim could be a gifted child aged between 10 and 17 or aged between 17 and 18 if they’re the older child of a new immigrant.
Assuming you – or your child – meet these criteria, your next step is to contact the Ministry of Aliyah to ask for an employment counselor. They’ll provide you with the “Application Form to the Professional Committee for New Immigrant and Returning Resident Artists.” Complete and photocopy the form, sending the photocopied version along with the following documents:
- Any certificates of formal education you have in the arts
- A certificate of employment abroad demonstrating you worked in the arts
- An abstract of your curriculum vitae (or resume) in either Hebrew or English
You’ll also be asked to provide any recommendations you have from previous employers, as well as proof of publication of your creative works, assuming you have any. The Ministry also asks you to sign a pair of statements, one of which is your consent to have your information forwarded to potential employers. The other is simply a statement that signifies that you’re applying for a grant.
You’re not done there.
With the paperwork in place, your employment counselor will refer you to a professional committee that’s in keeping with the area of the arts in which you work. There are five in total:
- Plastic arts and literature
- Cinema and television
- Theater and performance
- Dance and choreography
- Music and composition
Your presentation to the committee will vary depending on your field. For instance, an artist will be asked to present their portfolio, possibly alongside a presentation in which they explain their work. Actors, though they may have an extensive resume of roles, will usually be asked to audition.
The committee then ranks your performance or presentation, with those who receive a “Good,” “Excellent” or “Exceptionally Excellent.” Artists who achieve these rankings are then eligible for a one-time grant based on their talents. Furthermore, dance and plastic arts specialists can apply for further repeating assistance to rent a studio, which lasts for 12 months and covers a portion of the cost of rent.
If you achieve an “Excellent” or “Exceptionally Excellent” ranking, you’re also eligible for further assistance to help with the costs of buying equipment, publishing books, and other business-related aspects of your form of artistry.
Finally, a couple of addendums to this process. If you’re already employed by one of Israel’s leading cultural institutions, you’ll automatically receive an “Exceptionally Excellent” rating without having to go through the committee process. You just need to present a certificate of employment – with a signature from the director or director general of the institution – to bypass the process.
Second, it is possible to fail the application process by receiving a ranking of “Does not meet the criteria.” You’ll be able to apply again, in most cases, but you will have to go through the entire application process again. You can also receive a ranking of “Repeat summon,” which means you’ll have to present your portfolio (or audition) again without having to re-fill the paperwork.
Join an Artistic Industry Association
Whether you’re successful with your application for financial aid or not, you can still apply for one of the many artistic organizations in Israel.
The Israeli Art Association (IAA) is a good starting point. Working in collaboration with the Jewish National Fund, it welcomes Israeli artists to create special products that are emblematic of Israel and Judaism. But more importantly, it helps artists to sell their work. Think of it as the Israeli Etsy and you’re on the right track. It also donates 15% of the proceeds from every sale to organizations that are dedicated to helping young artists, making it an excellent choice for those who wish to give back.
You also have access to several artist-run initiatives in the country, each focusing on a different field and having its own offering for artists and creatives. For instance, Binyamin Gallery exists to provide young artists with a place to display – and potentially sell – their work without them having to rent out expensive gallery space themselves. Idris does something similar, while groups like Artopus Collective operate their own studio spaces for members who need a place to work but can’t afford the upkeep of their own studio.
Think of these associations as groups that provide opportunities for you to network, as well as create or display your art. They’ll help you get into the “in” crowd, which is vital given that Israel’s artistic community is so much smaller than America’s You can find a list of relevant groups – along with contact information – on the Artist-Run Alliance website.
You Can Make It as an Artist After Making Aliyah
There’s no denying that success in the arts – or any creative field – is tough in Israel. The country has a much smaller creative industry than you’re likely used to. Plus, you’re starting fresh, potentially with no industry contacts, which can make success much more difficult.
But “difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible.”
Assuming you have the skills, you have access to funding from The Ministry of Aliyah that can help you to at least get your creative endeavors started on the right foot. Plus, by joining industry associations dedicated to the arts, you can start building a network. The people you know can start introducing you to people they know to create further opportunities for gallery exhibitions and sales.
It’s also a good idea to be in the right place to maximize your opportunities for artistic expression. Tel Aviv is an obvious choice given that it’s the center of Israeli culture. But don’t underestimate cities like Modi’in – it has an active arts culture and hosts many shows for local creatives.