The Nightmare Audit of an Indie Artist
A performer’s life is thrown into chaos when tax collectors ask a terrifying question: Are you really an artist?
Illustrations by April Malig
The first time I spoke with Venus DeMars, an artist and musician from Minnesota, she called after midnight from her sister’s backyard up on the north shore. I wanted to talk to her about an audit she was going through with the state tax authorities; I had heard it was something more than a simple mismatch between receipts. She called me late, after playing a concert, and told me her story — out of breath, pacing in the dark. At the end of our conversation I posed a question: Isn’t the worst-case scenario here just a change in tax status, maybe a little bit of money to pay back? What does it matter?
Her voice caught. “It feels like it's discrediting me as a person,” she said, “and just throwing my twenty-year career out the window. Saying, ‘you were just playing the whole time.’ You put your heart and soul out on the line because that's what touches people. And then they tell you that everything you're doing is just pretend. It can crush you.”
Since late 2012 …