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How to Get Paid to Design Money

It's not clear if you can get paid in your design.

by Ben Richmond
Dec 10 2013, 5:55pm
via the US Mint

If you wanna make money, become a doctor or something—but you if you want to design money, then here’s your chance: You’ve got a month to apply for the US Mint and the National Endowment for the Arts program that brings outsiders into the coin-designing fold.

Since in 2003, the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) has brought in new artists into exciting and surprisingly un-lucrative practice of molding America’s dough. The designers of the backs of contemporary nickels and pennies came up through the program, as well as the designers of some of the 50 States quarters, the America the Beautiful series and the ever-unpopular $1 coins. This year the Mint is expecting to bring up to 20 artists into its stable.

Once under contract, artists can be paid for each demonstrations of design they submit, depending on how long they’ve been under contract. It’s, uh, not a ton of money:

But designs that make it onto a coin net the artist $5,000, which still doesn’t seem like a lot. Maybe if you get it in the denomination of your design, like $5,000 in pennies, it'll seems like more. (This seems unlikely, if not cruel.) I guess it’s more the feeling of knowing that your work is riding around in the pockets of millions, collecting in jars, and determining the fate of indecisive people all across America as well as in Ecuador, Panama and East Timor. It might seem a little thankless—coin designers don’t enjoy much name recognition—but most of the time artists can sneak their initials on the final design.

AIP-alum and penny-designer Lyndon Bass's initials appear under the word "One," and Joseph Menna, the penny's sculptor's initials appear opposite, via Wikimedia Commons

But contrary to the spirit of amateurs just jumping in there, rolling up their sleeves, and blowing everyone’s mind with the dime of the century, the Mint has some standards for who can apply. To be considered artists, applicants have to have five years of experience or a degree, be making money from his or her art, and have “experience in digital art techniques such as use of Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat, Illustrator, Wacom tablets, or similar technology.” Artists also have to have a portfolio of published or publicly displayed art.

If you’ve got that, and you feel confident in your ability to “convey complex concepts with symbolism,” and properly use perspective then you’re ready to register at Grant.gov, and submit your application at some point before January 11, and your work before January 29.

If it all sounds too complex there’s a webinar on Wednesday afternoon, December 11, at 4 EST at Arts.gov.

It might seem like overkill to have so many coin designers, especially when it seems like physical currency is falling out of favor and it doesn't really change all that often, except to confound would-be counterfitters. But Mint produces a number of coin series just for collectors, rather than circulation. They're in the midst of producing a "Presidential Spouses" series of dollar coins, like the Abigal Adams dollar here on the right. AIP artists also design medals, which can commemorate historical events or sites.

"Some of these are bronze duplicates of Congressional Gold Medals authorized by Congress under separate Public Laws, while others are produced under the Secretary of the Treasury's authority to strike national medals," according to the Mint's website. The medals feature less prominent members of American history, like Native American Code Talkers, Dr. Norman Borlaug, and members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. It's the most hipster option for designers working for the US Mint.

So there you go. The pay may not be fantastic, but how many people are carrying around a work of Van Gogh and using it to buy soda? That's right. Now go practice drawing some eagles.