Artists Have to be Entrepreneurs
In the summer of 2010 I performed in my first ever Fringe Festival. I had known about the Fringe circuit for a long time. I had volunteered at the San Francisco Fringe as a technician ten years earlier where I saw some of the worst theatre in my life. It was at that point (at the ripe age of twenty-five) when I decided to stop pursuing theatre the way I had previously. By this point I had created three solo shows and directed a play I wrote, but when I moved to the Bay Area something changed. I had taken on jobs in arts admin and tech and got totally burned out by what I was witnessing, not to mention how jaded I felt about what I saw on my own.
So there I was in Boulder in 2010, where I had attended college at Naropa University. My friends from that time period had gone on to found this Fringe. My show was all about my dealings with the New Age movement and Boulder was the perfect place to test out the Fringe waters. My days were super long, around twelve to sixteen hours of running around to various venues as well as performing and networking. My schedule was highlighted with multiple notes of what shows I should stand outside of and postcard, where I could interact with audience members so that my show hopefully got stuck in their heads. Also, I had grown older and my indifference had transformed back towards curiosity. I was seeing quality theatre, shows that were inspiring me, making me laugh and cry. I was connecting with a batch of amazing people and being constantly reminded why I had fallen in love with the live arts in the first place. I was coming back home to theatre and my heart was open.
My interest in so many subjects, my ability to juggle various administrative duties, to change focus quickly and see how things overlap, to realize when to drop an idea that wasn’t panning out... this way of being in the world wasn’t scattered, it was actually entrepreneurial.
While I was in line with a bunch of other artists waiting to get into a show that was quickly filling up, I started a conversation with a new friend who was in the MFA program for Contemporary Performance at Naropa. I was going on and on about all the things I was noticing in the field that I had to stay on top of in order to do this full time. As I started listing the intertwined aspects of marketing, fundraising, visual branding, PR, creating a database of donors, and networking, I watched her brow crinkle in both confusion and curiosity.
I discovered that she didn’t really know what I was talking about.
“They still aren’t teaching this stuff?” I asked, blown away. She just shook her head.
“Would you be up for meeting with me and some of my class to talk about the business?” she asked.
The next thing I knew I was creating a syllabus of information to share. In my friend’s small living room I disseminated information to about six people. Another friend, Karen, (who was in charge of finances for the Fringe at the time) joined me. At one point she stopped me. “Hold on,” she said. “How many of you know how to write a press release?” Not one hand was raised. “Wow...,” she said. My jaw dropped. I mean, I didn’t learn how to write a press release in college either, but I graduated in ‘97 with a BA from this school. Now they had a master’s degree in how to be a very present weirdo on stage, and not one of these people who was going into their last year had this basic tool in their tool box.
When I got back home I wrote down everything one would need to know in order to self-produce their work. The list was long, because as I had already learned years back, this was a full-time job. When I was twenty-five I wasn’t ready for what it would take to put myself out in the world in this capacity. I just wanted to create new works and perform them. All the business stuff freaked me out. After flailing about for almost a decade I realized that I had built up the skill set through various other jobs and life circumstances to actually go forward in this way, and my skin had thickened due to consistent rejection and indifference. My interest in so many subjects, my ability to juggle various administrative duties, to change focus quickly and see how things overlapped, to realize when to drop an idea that wasn’t panning out... this way of being in the world wasn’t scattered, it was actually entrepreneurial.
How do you run a crowdfunding campaign that doesn’t make your friends block you on Facebook? How do you identify and brand your work? How do you really figure out who your audience is? How do you have a good working relationship with the press?
I created a course outline and named the crash course The Nuts and Bolts of Being a Performing Artist. I asked people who were currently in school or who had just graduated whether they were learning anything about the business side of the performing arts. All I heard was a resounding no. I developed a pitch for the course and started contacting various service organizations that helped artists, as well as performing arts programs at colleges, and started to gain some traction. What stood out were the people who saw the inherent value in making this information available to current students and working artists, and those who didn’t.
“Why don’t universities make this a mandatory part of the curriculum?” asked one performing arts student during one of my workshops.
“Academic narcissism,” I said without a beat.
The blind spot of most college professors needs to be understood for what it is. A lot of college teachers who are tenure track have been in school their whole lives. Creating their own work has been in the context of academia and the relationship to both process and theory. Practitioners in the academy always have a place to rehearse and develop new work. They don’t have to worry whether people attend the performance and if it will break even or not. When showing a new work, they are part of an infrastructure that already subsidizes them. The business skill set doesn’t seem to fit into “What Would Artaud Do?” They are focused on students building a performance skill set. I’ve actually heard some of these well-meaning professors say “If they want that information, they can take a course with the business school.”
There are two fundamental problems with that attitude. One, it treats this critical information as “other.” Art doesn’t mix with business. Which is just not the case. That’s simply xenophobic arrogance. When you come to terms with the fact that most MFA programs are mills churning out the future waitstaff of America, you may feel pangs of guilt instead of writing off how inherently important it is to choose the photo that pops for a show poster. Two, most business people speak in a foreign language that right-brain artists can’t translate. They walk away from a workshop on how to choose a business entity feeling stupider than when they walked in. The double bind is that those artists (who need the information desperately) end up writing it off out of frustration or (even worse) shame. Some just end up thinking “What’s the point?” and choose another career entirely.
It took almost two years from an initial conversation with a friend of mine who was in a PhD program in theatre to host me at her college to teach “Nuts and Bolts.” The pitch had to go through several committees and departments in order to move forward. Having her advocate for me was what made the difference. If she hadn’t been in the trenches speaking on my behalf, it wouldn’t have happened. Plus, it gave me one of my better (and somewhat disturbing) pull quotes: “I can honestly express that I learned more about creating a sustainable artistic business during Seth’s seven-hour workshop than I did during six years of graduate study.”
In order to be a successful (a word that I grapple with constantly) performing artist, you need to understand business fundamentals, and disseminating this information is crucial. How do you run a crowdfunding campaign that doesn’t make your friends block you on Facebook? How do you identify and brand (ugh… brand) your work? How do you really figure out who your audience is? How do you have a good working relationship with the press? Knowing these key aspects gives artists a leg up, not to mention more validity and credibility in a world that still views artists as quaint and a little off.
I’m always the first to point out that it’s important to figure out what you hate doing, what aspects being covered during the course make you nauseous, because it’s imperative that you figure a work-around for that. Do you need to outsource that work to someone else? Do you need to create a cognitive shift so that you can accomplish it without feeling like you’re going to die? Do you need a group of other artists to meet with on a regular basis to discuss how your business is coming along to keep you on track?
Most importantly what top three things do you need to focus on for the next two years? Making Your Life as an Artist (which every single one of you reading this should download immediately and read next) from Artist U got me thinking about how important this is. They do work similar to what I do in terms of education but have an even better infrastructure, which I hope to become a part of. Like any amazing resource, I was able to walk away with a new focus from reading this straightforward, pull-no-punches-account how to build a sustainable life as an artist because, hey, I’m still figuring it out just like you.
I don’t mess around with this course or the process of being a working artist. It’s ridiculously difficult, complicated, and discouraging. It’s also liberating, boundless, and phenomenally rewarding. I want students to know what they are getting themselves into and what it’s going to take to deal with the almost psychotic ups and downs of choosing this life.
We need to not be afraid of this skill set. We need to embrace our entrepreneurial mindset and understand how transferable our skills can be in our chosen field and through other means of livelihood. Educational institutions need to get on board by offering semester and year-long courses on the business of being a professional working artist. Service organizations need to work on grants in tandem to cross-pollinate best practices, resource and data sharing that can benefit the live arts as a whole. I need to collaborate with other artist educators to make all of the above a reality.
What do you need next in terms of your career and how are you going to make it happen?
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here
Hi, Seth. This is a post I wrote for TCG in, I think it was, 2011. It's titled "What if...Artists Were Trained As Entrepreneurs?" http://bit.ly/TCGArtsEntrep... I hope you find it of interest. There's a GeoMap of identified programs for Arts Entrepreneurship that currently exist (that we know of) in America. Check it out: http://www.societyaee.org/r... There are others outside of the states. You can also find a bibliography for the field under "Resources" on the society website, which is about to be updated. We have the 3rd annual Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education conference happening in October at Millikin University. I recommend you attend. Get involved and help lead. We can use your voice. Here is that link: http://www.societyaee.org/ You will find info. about this year's conference under the tab 2016. Here's a link to the program I serve as Director for: https://www.smu.edu/Meadows... Hope to see you at the society conference and to meet in person. Let me know if you have questions. Best, Jim Hart, Director of Arts Entrepreneurship, SMU
Here is a link to a great conference, United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which has a sizable membership in the SIG Arts Entrepreneurship. http://www.usasbe.org/group...
Due to the popularity of this series on the entrepreneurial mindset for artists, I decided to write a book. Ruthless Reciprocity: A Living Document to Transform the Performing Arts Community is a comprehensive overview of what performing artists need to know to make a go of it in this field. It's a pull-no-punches account of what you need to be aware of from business fundamentals, collective ownership, and mostly importantly, creating a nation-wide movement of change that can’t be ignored.
I’m raising funds so I can write this full time. The pitch video is 2 minutes and gives you a solid framework of how this book will serve the performing arts field as a whole. Please consider supporting this project.
Seth, I want to applaud you for this article - and couldn't agree more. My entire full-time job is teaching business skills to visual artists, and the demand is unbelievable. Through The Arts Business Institute, we travel around the country putting on workshops and bootcamps co-sponsored by arts organizations, to help artists understand the business side of things so that they can become successful entrepreneurs.
That said, I've also experienced what you have - the academics who actually fear us coming in. They understand how to teach art, not how to sell it. More than one of our proposed workshops - requested by the career development people at an art school - have been shot down by fearful faculty members, those "narcissists" you refer to.
Business courses should be taught in art school - I totally agree. But to be honest, if you are a history or philosophy or English major, you aren't taught to run a business either.
The real losers are the students who are under the impression that they will graduate and just get a job or start a business, and don't have a clue. Unfortunately the number of people who are art or theater majors who have that as their career is very small .... maybe 2%?
Hi Seth, You're preaching to the choir here. I always tell art students to make sure they take at least one business course before they leave school. After struggling for 38 years in business with an "I don't need to sell, I'm an artist" attitude, I'm hitting it with all I've got now. Sure I already know a lot, but now I'm buckling down and learning seriously. Wish I'd done it sooner.
I find the choir to be quite divided still. People may know they need this info but are resistant, like you mention, are scared to death of feeling dumb, or have a false idea that everything just naturally works out.
In any case people need to feel compelled and ready to take all this on. I'm glad you promote this knowledge to students. Onward!
Amen! Thank you for this. I reposted on the PlayPenn Facebook page.
In addition, theater departments need to be exposing their students to more contemporary work. Here's why: http://www.tcgcircle.org/20...
I realized I never responded to this. Thank you so much for reposting to PlayPenn. Awesome. The TCG article you linked to is great and right on target.
Seth, I work with alumni of a major theater school in New York in Los Angeles and I really enjoyed your article. How best can I contact you directly?
Thanks. The best way to reach me is seth [at] sethums [dot] com
I posted this below in the thread but wanted it to stick out. This is a Google Drive folder of resources that I send to all my Nuts and Bolts students after a workshop. It's open source so feel free to add to it and share it as much as you want. Just DON'T DELETE anything. #knowledgeispower #resourcesharing
I love the comments and criticisms (and spirit) this topic invoked:
Artists differ from artists. Entrepreneur is a bad word. Branding + promotion = sales (blech!). I am a theatre artist who moved to branding (and investments) not as an alternative (giving up) but to achieve AUTONOMY.
To me, the entire article is saying something to the theatre/performance community that Prince, Robert Fripp, and others before them have been saying to the music industry for decades: Find AUTONOMY.
You are shedding light on the importance of knowing how to use your tools and resources correctly to do your best work for an AUDIENCE.
MEMORandoms dot com
For those who are not looking for a career (my art is not for sale, I'm a holy priest in a Grotowski-esque temple) > I hear you. MY ART is not for sale either. I, too, am a holy priest in a Grotowski-esque temple. However, the more money I make (Preacher-man: Affluence!! Amen!!) the more I can support others and myself (and my kid!).
Poor Theatre is a killer concept, but own the temple, don't rent it. > doh!
I've been preaching the academic-arts-business black hole for years. You've summed it up nicely in a digestible article. With structure. Coming from the bloated new tech start-up space, I get it. (Praising you? Maybe. But I only put you on a pedestal so I can look up your toga).
For those who think giving kudos for identifying the critical need if artists to design a life of AUTONOMY as we dip into 2016...2017...2020 in a blink...well...
..haters be hatin'...
Art is so many things:
#phenemonology #feminism #theOther #Diaspora #identity #race #pretense #goof #slapstick #raunch #digerati #pain #hiphop #silence #time #WilliamSnakeshit #hashtags
But if anything, it's about DOING. AUTOMOMY supports doing.
This thread epitomizes, as my professor and (#namedrop) friend, R. Schechner might call: The Performance in/of the Business of Art.
Seth Godin would be proud.
-j.2uhybr.ioj2u (at) hybr.io
Joseph Alan WachsApple Stock Holderabout.me/joewachs
Copyright 2015 | HybridPoetics, LLC.
I appreciate your absurd mind-meld comments with way too many hashtags. I think as well that autonomy (very important) is even better served in the context of collaboration, which is what this comment thread has accomplished to a certain extent.
BTW- Godin might not be proud at all.
Affirmative. > Towards a devised theatre + networked collaborations. Sans tag.
On the academic front, I think your topic could/should/may evolve into a symposium/conference as it continues to expand and gain momentum.
> Does Capitalism in a Socialist art form have merit? > Break-out sessions on the A B C's of personal finance. > Branding + messaging + positioning for artists and companies. > Raising capital through conventional and unconventional means. > The performance of social media. > Rich Theatre/Poor Theatre (I like that one!). > How Joe Papp bought the Public for $1 and other tax loopholes for artists. > Meerkat and Periscope > Self-Promotion on a shoe-string. > Own your temple. Rent your space.
I'd pay good money to attend that conference.
I'm stealing your ideas above for possible inclusion in Part 2 of this essay, if that's alright. Yes, a conference is an interesting idea. There are SO MANY of them already though. None on this specific topic, though, that I know of. There is a small cohort coming together of artist educators to discuss what's next happening next year so we'll see what comes of that.
Steal this post.
Be my guest. Ideas are easy. Comedy is hard.
< There are SO MANY of them already...>
You're right. Conferences are so 1985.
Conference/schmoference. You should have an explosion. A HowlRound LiveStream, followed by a weekly podcast recorded live in front of a participating audience free of charge with artists reporting back their growth. Dave Ramsey meets Robert Wilson. I liked your section where you mentioned connecting with others to support accountability of your projects.
Don't forget the book you need to write.
Ride the wave.
PS: Seth - In addition to FB, follow me on twitter to stay in touch: @hybridpoetics @joewachs + email provided.
HI Seth - You will be happy to know that we are teaching business and sustainability in the arts at Naropa University's MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance program.
I saw you post that on the Facebook thread. So so great. I'm glad this is happening.
Jimmy, I understand your point but the courses I offer are for those in the university system, art service orgs and artists to take part in. Sometimes I'm hired and the course is offered for free to students and the greater community. Sometimes I work directly with artists and they pay me. It's a mish-mash.
One thing I learned is that if I'm shy about promotion no one will know what I do and yes, I'm going to plug people who's work I think is beneficial. Not all of the links above are of people I know personally but have a deep respect for.
"Most artists can't afford the fees..." That's simply not true. I do my best to help subsidize it by working with organizational partners and it's all based on the economy of the area and what fair market value would be. Affordable in one city looks very different in another. Yes, there are rewards for altruism and I've done PLENTY of that throughout my career.
I'm sorry you feel pitched to death. If we don't feel comfortable putting ourselves out there we never will.
FYI from flautist Claire Chase, MacArthur Fellow
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be addressing tonight in the talk “The Arts, Entrepreneurship and Higher Education?”
Obviously entrepreneurship is the word du jour, and I think it’s become really tired and I’m actually not even sure if the term is useful for us anymore. This thing that was supposed to be about subverting the dominant paradigm and inventing and disrupting and having agency in many ways has been co-opted by the corporate world and, in some ways, by academic institutions as an agent of conformity, which is not my understanding of what that impulse is. It’s also recently been equated with neoliberalism, which is a very problematic place for the arts and higher education to be in.
Is the idea of entrepreneurship as it’s understood now stifling?
I think it is. The idea of invention has been turned into this thing that you’re supposed to learn like any other set of skills, and I find that very problematic. What I would like to talk about is the distinction between creating a model and nourishing a modality, a way of doing things, a process, because we never have a model. We never have a plan. We are always making things up. I believe that is at the core of any artistic, creative process that has integrity. It is similarly at the core of any organizational model that is going to support that model, and I don’t see those things as different.
Like I said during the Twitter Chat today, any buzzword or phrase can get co-opted (and usually does by the corporate monstrosity). However, we can either develop a secret language that only gets shared among artists or criticize the co-opting aspect and then move forward.
I've done shows on how the phrase Creative Economy has completely lost its punch and original meaning. Other words/phrases include Creative Placemaking (really popular with funders right now and the last few years) and Sustainability. It's just what happens and we got into the rhetoric a bit on Twitter including the history and whatnot and reacted and reacted to reactions and then moved on.
Entrepreneur might be the wrong word. It could very well be inaccurate but what else do we call it? I'm not sure. Those who I am peers with who work in a similar capacity might consider what they do entrepreneurial but wouldn't call themselves and entrepreneur. Noah from Springboard pointed that out today and I think it's an interesting distinction.
Seth! I would love to know who was your friend from the Contemporary Performance program? I was in the class that graduated in 2011, so I imagine I was part of that MFA graduate class you referenced. Funny thing, I actually asked that year for a class on fundraising or just the general business side of being a self-producing artist. And one of my classmates looked at me and said, "You'll figure it out as it happens." I was stupefied! As someone who had worked in the non-profit, specifically the philanthropic side, of the workforce for ten years in San Francisco, and was a self-producing artist during that time before I entered graduate school, I wanted some insights from my faculty. Alas, no go. And, yes, I think to some degree it stemmed from your analysis of academics being in academia for too long. At the same time, I understand this to be the phenomenon of our economic age in America. Academia provides the space for artistic inquiry and creation-if it isn't Disney Broadway material we want to create and produce. Heck, that was one of the reasons I wanted my MFA-to be a professor like David Rousseve at UCLA, and have a position at a university and also create work for my company. Since graduating with my MFA, I've learned it's a long road into Academia and as a self-producing artist. One of the biggest challenges for me is facing burn-out from rejection from residencies and funding opportunities based on a myriad of reasons, none of which have to do with the aptitude of my proposal writing-most institutions and funders appreciate my well-written proposals; the reasons for denial are the standard overwhelm for support. I've also learned while chasing the goal of a "successful" artist, to apply my liberal arts skills and professional background toward entrepreneurial efforts of other sorts to provide a sustainable life and space to create the work, go to workshops, and network. Thanks for your article and speaking to the gap and the need!
Jason, we'll become friends on Facebook and I'll PM you who :)
You bring up sooooo many issues that all meld together into why we need to understand that these skills are transferable into other sectors. The limitations of the funding world, the long road into academia, the constant rejection can become so discouraging. I'm glad you had such a solid background before getting your MFA as that is a baseline of knowledge you can always use. The exact reason why "You'll figure it out as it happens." is such jaw dropping response.
I just posted this on the Naropa MFA group on FB and found out that a person who is currently in the program just took a course from someone involved in Artists U so Naropa is making strides in the right direction and as I've noted in a lot of the comments below, there's so many more programs I didn't know about that people are generously making me aware of. Scroll down and find out about them.
Join us for the conversation about Arts and Entrepreneurship Thursday April 16th at 1:00 PM EST on Twitter. Just use the hashtag #howlround We're going to go deep and get real about it all. Thanks!!
Thanks, Seth! I'll be in rehearsal during the Twitter conversation-but please post it somewhere! I would love to stay in the loop!
It will be archived here sometime tomorrow after the chat!
"What stood out were the people who saw the inherent value in making this information available to current students and working artists, and those who didn’t.
“Why don’t universities make this a mandatory part of the curriculum?” asked one performing arts student during one of my workshops.
“Academic narcissism,” I said without a beat."
There's an assumption here. It's that there are two groups of folks (a straw man set-up, btw) and that one is neutral (yours) and the other has a problem. The assumption is that everyone does art for the same reasons or that there is only one reason to do art instead of a million. So while some of what you're saying is useful for certain people I'm sure, it's based in several assumptions, including: that everybody wants to be the kind of artist you do; that all artists do or should want "careers" in a classic sense; that art is and should be a business and/or mixed intentionally and optimistically with capitalism (this is an entirely unfounded idea and lends itself to huge, complicated philosophical conversation which is not being represented by your article); and that there is only one right way to be an artist, only one motivation. I think we can all agree that the issue of art can't possibly be this simple. This actually, ironically, might be a narcissistic blind spot in your philosophy.
The idea of academic narcissism as you lay it out is also a straw man. The manner, motivations, backgrounds, etc. among students and professors is so varied, so many different people, so many different colleges and programs, so many different professors working at so many different levels of knowledge and practice. You mention tenure-track as a way to narrow it down, but that's the minority of professors these days; we all know that. I'd like to see a more critical conversation about this. The fact that you said it "without a beat" is not necessarily a good thing and might be something you and your readers should think about.
NOTE: This was my initial response to the above commentator. I was triggered and defensive when I replied and have since re-read and thought about my approach. It would have been more beneficial for the conversation, and the Howl Round commons as whole, to have replied in a more constructive manner than I did so below. For the sake of transparency I'm leaving my initial comments below as they were but wanted to state my new position up front. -Seth
1) Use your actual identity if your going to take me to task, which I'm fine with.
2) Call me out as a sham instead of using straw man because that's just a way of diluting it.
3) This is my opinion and all opinions have flaws and I'm fine with having that pointed out if it's done in a respectful way. Your tone (and I'll give you some leeway because after all this is the internet and things get misconstrued all the time) SEEMS like you're talking down to me the entire time. That's why my tone right now is snarky.
4) Sure, I'm up for a critical conversation about anything. I'm revealing the fact that I said what I said: "without a beat". I'm not saying what I said is the law of the land. It's what I think is true but of course that can be disputed and I can then change my mind. I want it to be disputed, but seriously, you could do it in a kinder way. You're simply taking pot shots at me and showing the holes in my essay. I'm sure there are more. Feel free to tear it apart, but attach your real name on it. HowlRound is a commons and a place for transparency and discussion, not the bowels of 4chan.
5) I don't think my view is neutral (as you think I think it is) in the least. I DO think the university has major flaws. Luckily, if you've read other commentators, there are a bunch of programs that are stepping up to the plate around the issues I've raised concerns about. I'm really excited about these programs because they are showing holes in my essay, that there are as you say "so many different people, so many different colleges and programs, so many different professors working at so many different levels", and those people are making their voices heard here with their identity in plain view. I'm excited to hear more about what they are doing and how we can transform the arts for the better on a national scale.
6) "The fact that you said it "without a beat" is not necessarily a good thing and might be something you and your readers should think about." Sure, and I invite everyone to tell me what they think about it. Make me change my mind through constructive arguments. I'm all for it.
7) I don't think there is one way to be an artist. I think if you want to be a working artist, especially one who is making their own work, that you need this skill set in order to do it. If you just want to make art for no other reason than to make it, awesome.
This is an interesting reply because one of the reasons I was offput by your article was not because it was necessarily "bad" but because I felt it was incredibly condescending. You are indeed talking about your opinion as if it's an unadulterated fact; it's literally in the title, Seth.
It sounds like that wasn't your intention. If you didn't want some of your readers to feel that way, and to feel uncomfortable sharing their names with you because they thought you would respond snarkily (which is why I didn't share mine--I don't feel like dealing with that, nor should I have to), you should have used different language. Your article is full of very loaded language... maybe you don't realize how it comes across.
I think my points about straw men are fairly straightforward and correct. I'm sorry that I didn't uncritically praise you like everybody else here, but that doesn't mean my contribution to the conversation is a throwaway or that I am trolling you. You put a piece of work on the internet and it seems like you don't want anything but positive responses. There are many valid reasons why people on the internet post anonymously. I wish you well, truly, and I apologize if I came across wrong.
I responded from a very defensive place and I apologize. You can think whatever you want about my essay.
Seth, this is as good a place as any to bring what I was saying to you on Twitter into this comments section.
I think what you are doing on behalf of artists deserves tremendous respect.
My point is similar to the one that (the anonymous) julwa has made, and that I (un-anonymously and with due respect) now paraphrase so that you don't take it as if I'm talking down to you:
Not everyone does art for the same reasons. Not all artists want "careers" in a classic sense. Not everybody thinks that art is or should be a business.
And I'll add another point:The danger in a title like "Facing Facts: Artists HAVE To Be Entrepreneurs" is to discourage or outright scare away talented artists with no facility and/or interest in business from creating their art.
I will jump in here as well. Two phrases that were quite problematic. "Academic narcissism" and "xenophobic arrogance." Ouch. That is such a broad brush. Last I checked, HowlRound was sponsored by Emerson - an academic institution. Bit of biting the hand that feeds you. And for the last 25 years artists like yourself have been creating careers that are a blend of practice and teaching - all at the academy. Also want to point out that practitioners on the tenure track MUST make art and often do so through self-producing - something I encourage in my own students. Artists must learn the business. Agreed. And the academy can help. They won't invite you to collaborate with them if you speak from ignorance and arrogance about what they do. Check the faculty rosters of a few of your favorite institutions and you'll find plenty of folks who are much like you.
Sorry if you got offended. I've been saying these two phrases for years outside of this essay. Many of my friends who are entering post-docs and PhD positions nod their head yes when we talk about it and have plenty to say about the fallacies they have to constantly deal with. Not everyone is going to feel that way because I'm using strong language and I completely agree that I'm making a sweeping statement but it's one that pushes two buttons. The "I don't like what you're saying" button, and the "I like what you're saying" button, so I think it has some use even from a reactionary standpoint.
Yes, Emerson is behind Howl Round. This piece had to go through an editing process and those terms didn't raise any red flags for them. I should be able to criticize the academy as a whole, which I did and feel was necessary for this essay. I think it's important for us to be able to criticize that which we are a part of and affiliated with to whatever extent that may be.
There are also artists OUTSIDE of the academic setting who are making a career from teaching and practice in different capacities. Both are important. There's problems with that option as well.
I'm glad that you think artists must learn the business and that you encourage self-producing, as it's something one should learn before exiting the academy. Yes, there are plenty of folks just like me on those rosters you mention, and most of the ones I have created relationships with understand that I'm talking about an institutional problem on grand scale, not about them individually.
I'm actually being asked to collaborate more with many institutions and faculty since this essay got published, so I think what I say rings true to some, even if it's intense.
Ok, I totally get your point about my title and how that could discourage or scare away talented artists. Yes, not everyone wants a career in the classic sense but why would you go into severe debt for a degree that will lend you no skills other than increasing you talent level and having to compete against a wide swath of people who are just as talented?
So my argument to that would be, go make art but don't major in it unless you have a free ride or it is being deeply subsidized.
The large percentage of the people I know as colleagues and peers didn't get any training in how what I'm writing about and are angry about it. Luckily as other people have noted in this thread of comments, there's a lot changing so that's awesome but the majority of universities still are behind in the effort needed.
Yes, yes, and yes. I actually avoided reading this article for a day because I knew. Yes, I knew. It took me a painfully long time to learn these lessons. A decade of flailing is no small thing in a professional life. There have been times as I reflected on what I did and didn't learn in university that I have the painful feeling that sometimes this knowledge is withheld to limit the competition. I hate thinking that. But alongside "academic narcissim" I would put "raw fear."
I didn't motivate into this way of thinking until I was 34. I'm 40 now. All of my 20s I just wanted to make art and to be appreciated and hopefully something would just happen. Now I know that happening is up to me and how I want to engage the world through my creative practice (which I also feel extends into my many juggling of hats as an admin for myself). The other thing: Don't do it alone. Find a team that you can distribute tasks with and learn from or that can be on going cohort to keep you on track. Catherine, that raw fear is the same that you look straight in the eye when you know you need to create a piece that will challenge you. All your doing is taking the same courage that you lend to your creative vision and making it accessible on many fronts.
I can definitely feel what Catherine is talking about, and it's interesting that you got motivated into this way of thinking in your 30s because I'm in this weird sort of transitional place, and I feel like I need to do something different or new, but I'm not sure exactly what.
Your advice about not doing it alone is heard, but where do you find people who would be on board with the artist and entrepreneur?
I'm actually in the process of writing a part 2 to this essay where I go into that. There's different ways to go about it, but one is forming a cohort of people of a similar ilk to dig into best practices for each person, holding each other accountable, developing strong business plans and learning from each other's failures and successes. This can be done by Skype (most of my people in this capacity live throughout the country) or in person.
This can be people you went to school with, community members, etc but it has to be people that agree to a basic understanding of getting your shit in order so that it's not a battle over theory, it's a pragmatic implementation of what to do next.
I guess there needs to be a lot more conversation and attention paid to this topic.
I have seen this article retweeted so many times, my initial reaction was similar to Seth's in that I thought WTF, how can this be news to people? (and I don't use WTF. This may be the first time) The need for artists to be entrepreneurs has been a conversation for at least a decade now and it feels like people are just discovering it.
That said, a lot training programs don't see it as a priority. I keep prodding a performing arts training program I have an association with to include managing ones career in their classes with little success to date. Even if they didn't have me teach it, I said, it needed to be taught.
This conversation bubbles up and then simmers down again. I've watched it happen over and over. The main thing is coming up with a way to talk about it and engage with it so that people can't avert theri eyes, duck behind a chair and hide from it. I'm not totally sure how to do that but it's, for me, the next step in saying "This conversation isn't going away and THIS is why." I need to find the best "this". WTF.
I'm an artist taking an MBA in Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation from Kenney College in Florida. I recognize that artists (including myself) need help in understanding the business side of art and how to best market themselves. Entrepreneurship and the arts both require creativity, so business can appeal and be understood when presented from an entrepreneurial perspective. Looking forward to broadening my perspective more by reading @TheArtstsU.
"Entrepreneurship and the arts both require creativity." This is my article in a nutshell. Thanks. You'll love the Artists U guide. It's majorly brilliant.
The fact that this has gone so viral says a lot. Well done.
Thank you. Viral in the performing arts landscape is pretty rad, and I never use the word rad.
I developed and taught a university course on Arts Marketing in 1998 & at the time it was regarded as such a novel & bizzare idea that I literally had a morning TV programme interview me about it. I'm not convinced that much has changed. Pretty remarkable that art schools still think it odd that their art students need to learn entrepeurial skills alongside their crafting their creative skills to make it in the world. Thank you for reminding artists about the importance of being creative entrepreneurs.
"I'm not convinced that much has changed." Yes and no. There is movement but it is small and not centrally located in terms of finding all the programs and being able to see what matches up with how you think. Also, I see a lot of non-profits creating this toolkits that are basically repeating the same info instead of working on one that all can agree upon. Part of that is satisfying funders, part is that they want to serve their particular constituents. I want this to be open source and adaptable because the business landscape changes so friggin' much. Also some schools are really trying to make this happen but it can be uphill. I do want to recognize the people in these discussions who are making huge strides in making this info available. Now, let's do it TOGETHER.
What's your answer, or better yet, working answer?
Great article! It serves as a great starting point for thinking about how one can attack some of the administrative aspects of managing an arts career. I more or less learned that I HAD to think entrepreneurially when people weren't paying attention. It's still difficult to get the press, curators, etc. excited about one's work, but with some skills in P.R. and promotion (not a dirty word) an artist can learn how to interface with an audience and people who will show interest in and talk about her or his work! I call this process Meta-Practice, and wrote an essay about it. You can find it at metapractice.info. Just FYI...
"On a fundamental level, meta-practice involves promotional activities including exhibition, marketing, public relations, advertising and other pursuits necessary to attract attention to an artist's practice. What distinguishes meta-practice from standard promotion is that the artist's distinctive intentions, designs and methods can be integrated as formal and aesthetic strategies, turning the means of attracting attention into its own aesthetic pursuit." -http://metapractice.info/te...
To this I say: Fuck. Yes.
Thank you, @sethums:disqus!
This is incredible and beautiful. I have felt this way for years without being able to put into words as eloquently and articulately as you have. Bravo, aloha!
A wonderful article, and (indirectly) a testimonial for the Apprentice Program run by The Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, MN. We take in 2-5 young artists to help bridge the gap between their academic and professional careers and immerse them in our company's artist/administrator model. In ten months, besides artistic roles, they also serve with the Marketing, Development, and Production Teams to learn the business skills that can support the forging of their independent careers, or make them valuable additions to resident ensembles elsewhere.
Beautiful, Scott. How do you choose people to take part in these programs? Always interested in the process.
It's a basic audition/interview process, but the important aspect to stress is that it all happens in person. We do not accept any electronic submissions to the program. We feel it's important to be in the same room with the applicant so that we can be sure we've done our best job of communicating our offer and expectations, and also so that we can get a sense (as much as one can) of what this potential colleague would be like to work with on good days as well as bad days.
We have a good track record of success. 2015 will bring in our eight Apprentice Company. A former Apprentice is now our Company Manager; others have gone on to work for places like Ford's Theatre in DC and TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, and others have used our program as a springboard into graduate acting programs at Wayne State University, University of Houston, and SMU.
"...it all happens in person." Hugely important. I just taught a webinar on Crowdfunding and Identity Building (another way of saying Branding) and it solidified that I 90% prefer teaching face to face. Skype and other GoToMeeting type services can work but how one is taking in the info, how they react, how they ask questions, how they show their true self, if you will, can only be done in that way. It's why I feel this information needs to be passed down through the oral tradition.
Thank you for sharing your process of selection, Scott.
This is pretty much everything I want to say in my senior thesis. So many of my peers in my BFA program want to eventually own their own theatre companies, but how can we be successful in that when we have no one teaching us how to run a business? How are we supposed to support ourselves when we have no idea that Qualified Performing Artist Deductions are a thing?
So, thank you for stepping up and teaching these MFA students; hopefully, other universities will one day shed their own academic narcissism and actually start helping their students prepare for the real world of the performing arts.
Amelia, will you share your thesis with me when you complete it? I'd love to get your perspective. At this point I think we need a movement of people to show academia that the numbers of people interested in learning this skill set is too large to ignore. How to do organize that is the question.
I certainly will! And I agree -- in the conversations I've had with my peers, and even a couple of like-minded faculty, it's apparent that the interest is there. And it's even possible that part of the problem is that not all faculty have a level of experience with entrepreneurship and the business side of things that they would feel comfortable/qualified to teach these things.
The nice thing about a liberal arts education is that you have so much access to faculty in other departments, and I think collaborative classes between theatre and business faculty might be a good place to start. That can be tricky in conservatorie, but even then I'm sure it would be possible to work with another local school; there just needs to be enough of a demand that administrators can't say no.
"I think collaborative classes between theatre and business faculty might be a good place to start." You need to be careful with this one. A lot of people in business school environments don't know how to adapt the information to the artist's way of thinking. Some can and they do a stellar job of getting everyone on board but if you are majorly right brained then it can be difficult.
This is why I'm a huge advocate of artists teaching this information instead. Being "in the trenches", the artists educator has the perspective immediately and can speak to the artists experience without any BS. The line drawn in the sand of learn art over here/ get arts admin skills over there needs to be eradicated. Those schools CAN work together but they need to understand the need first.
"There just needs to be enough of a demand that administrators can't say no." Yup, and how do we do this collectively? That's my next mission. To figure that out.
Ooh, you make a good point. I guess my thought with that is that only one of the Theatre faculty at my school (and it's a pretty small department to begin with) is still consistently working with professional theatre companies. As a result, we only have one professor telling students that this is something they need to be thinking/learning about, while the rest have either been in academia their whole careers or have been out of the "real world" so long that they don't even think about it or don't know how to teach current-day business.
Yes, this tends to be the case in most institutions. Under-resourced faculty who feel strongly and passionately about making this info available *somehow*, while others have no interest or investment or see it as "other". Some things to consider: Springboard for the Arts Toolbox, Creative Capital's webinars (search online). There's more but those are interesting starts. I'm finding out more. Also I have this google drive folder full of Artist Resources from my Nuts and Bolts course that I always send students post-workshop:
This is AWESOME. Thank you so much for sharing!
Of course. Share it as much as you like.
Seth: thanks for your article. Many in academia (yes, including me) have been doing this for some time. There are over 100 arts entrepreneurship minors, certificates, programs and, here at ASU you can get your MFA Theatre with a concentration arts entrepreneurship and management. We even publish a toolkit for artist entrepreneurs - including step-by-step instructions on crafting a press release and a template to fill in when you're done. See http://pave.asu.edu for more information and consider coming down to Tempe next month for our 4th biennial symposium: Creativity and New Venture Creation in the Arts.
Linda, I went and checked out PAVE. Awesome. Thank you for your hard work in making this a reality. You mentioned over 100 programs of different kinds. Is there a database you can point us all to for this information? It's crucial and I think part of the issue is it doesn't seem to be centralized or easily found.
Are there forums where you share info with other arts entrepreneurship programs of best practices, what's working, what needs to be tweaked, what students get the most out of, what is missing, what is changing in the ecosystem that needs to be integrated? These conversations of people working on the front lines needs to be seen. Thanks again.
There are a number of resources you might be interested in. First is our recently published "Free Resources for Artists" available at http://filmdancetheatre.asu... This is derived from our report, "How It's Being Done: Arts Business Training Across the US," available here: http://filmdancetheatre.asu... Those publications both focus on field-based training. In academia, the Association of Arts Administration Educators has an active arts entrepreneurship section and last year there was a meeting form a new "Society of Arts Entrepreneurship Educators." This group is having its second meeting in October at Ohio State University. They published a list of academic courses and programs, which is where I got my "over 100" number.
You can find that inventory here: http://www.societyaee.org/r...
If you're based in Colorado, you may want to reach out to Arts Incubator of the Rockies, which offers arts entrepreneurship curricula for individual and organizations: http://www.airartsincubator...
Because we've being doing this work here at ASU for ten years, and we certainly weren't the first, I'm always surprised to hear that it's NOT happening in many other universities.
Great. Thank you, Linda. I will dig into all of this. I'm based in MA myself but I'm sure this will be of use to the readers of these comments as well as the colleagues I know in CO as well as around the country.
A majority of universities are still not up to speed. It would be wonderful for there to be a subcommittee of the Society of Arts Entrepreneurship Educators that purely focuses on outreach and advocacy of these programs to Universities across the US and Canada. I'm not sure if one is already in place or not. I just know that the buy in would be a lot easier if it's coming from those in the field who are in an academic setting.
Thanks again for all your work and these resources.
Good read. We (C4 Atlanta) just sent out a survey to gather feedback about our art entrepreneurship programs. We need better metrics but it is a start. We also started a free program for local college/university art classes--it is just a short lecture series on the importance of a business plan for artists. We want our work to reach the classroom.
Jessy, I'd love to see the results of your survey once you've gathered them. It's so important to gather that data. Glad C4 is making an impact in this way!
At Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, through the School for the Contemporary Arts, we have just piloted our first program on Creative Entrepreneurship - called "Surviving as a Creative Entrepreneur.". The program covered virtually everything that the article suggested. We feel it has tremendous opportunity for significant impact.
Thanks awesome, Howard. So glad to hear about these programs because they are so necessary. How are you planning on measuring the impact the program has? That data is so crucial so that other universities can see the need in numbers. Also, would you consider changing Surviving to Thriving in the title? :)
Our program is in a pilot phase. We have a research element. What would you suggest should the impact measurements? Love the change of title - have proposed it
I'm not sure of the best way to measure impact other than a very intensive survey that people take before the program, directly after the program and then a year later. This way you can get a sense of the effects with data points that demonstrate whats most effective. I'm not sure of the best methodology for this but I'm sure you can contact non-profits and other institutions offering similar programming to ask how they go about it.
I've heard survey monkey is good for playing with different levels of measurement and it's priced out accordingly. I know my friends at Arts Extension Services at UMASS have used it in the past.
Glad you liked the change of title!
'Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute' (AEI) 2015,presented by the Broward Cultural Division, The Community Partnership for Arts andCulture (CPAC), and ArtServe:
Saturdays, JUNE 6, 13, 20, 27, 2015 at ArtServe, Inc.1350 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 33304.
AEI will be offered as 20 classes convening during full-day sessions (9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.) on June 6, 13, 20, 2015 and a Business Plan Clinic and Workshop on June 27, 2015 (9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.).
Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI) is a course of study to assist artists, of all disciplines (visual, musicians, writers, media, theater, performing arts), by cultivating and advancing their business skills.Presented on four Saturdays, AEI will be offered as a series of 20 classes. AEI is led by a premier faculty composed of a leading business practitioners and artists familiar with arts and culture from the South Florida region. Faculty members instruct artists through a series of lectures, panels, practicalexercises and discussions. The Institute is for all artists, looking for ways to consistently increase their sales, meet area business professionals and other artists who will share their success stories and give tips on what it takes to get a business going.
See: The Starting Gate; Miami Herald: http://bit.ly/1AJEEG2
2015 AEI Brochure: http://bit.ly/AEIflyer2015
The 2015 AEI program link: http://bit.ly/AEI2015
Read the news coverage: Miami Herald: http://bit.ly/2012Herald
Designed to help artists operate in the marketplace more successfully, the AEI course curriculum covers all aspects of developing an artistic business. It helps artists identify and develop their personal brand, develop strategies for communicating with target markets, raise capital and identify a variety of tools for protecting one's work legally, and helps them to strengthen their operating infrastructure and expand their business.
Now in its ninth year, the 2015 AEI curriculum offers critical support for your work, enabling one to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the larger urban arts and culture sector.
For additional information on the Institute, please contact me.
James Shermer, Grants AdministratorBroward County Cultural Division100 South Andrews Avenue, 6th FloorFort Lauderdale, FL firstname.lastname@example.org Desk, 954-357-5769 Fax954-790-2190 Cellwww.broward.org/arts
Thanks for sharing that, Jim. I'm glad this exists. With nine years under your belt, what kind of metrics are you seeing in terms of participants who go through the program? What are the successes? What has needed to be tweaked? Does this serve people regionally as well as nationally?
Have always told performers that they would have to be entrepreneurs as well. Most are unfamiliar with the concept. It's what "someone else does". And they wonder why their careers aren't taking off the way they planned.
Sterling, I want to share with you this conversation that just happened with my good friend Carl to shed some light on why that is the case:
Carl Atiya Swanson @catiyas 1h1 hour [email protected] People are hungry for some real talk. And they want to know they are not alone, which is why the @TheArtistsU book is so great.
Seth Lepore @sethlepore 60m60 minutes [email protected] @TheArtistsU Yes, it's a combo of get your act together and its ok that you haven't had it together until now.
Carl Atiya Swanson @catiyas 56m56 minutes [email protected] @TheArtistsU It's that realization that this should be taught & integrated earlier - I'm not failing, my education failed me.
Seth Lepore @sethlepore 54m54 minutes [email protected] @TheArtistsU Very much so. We need that time to screw up in the bubble of school since the real world bursts that fairly quickly.
Heck yes! We have this conversation all the time. Thank you for the excellent article, and the peppering of fabulous links.
What is the main struggle you and peers discuss? I'm always interested.
This. Absolutely. I've had this conversation so many times with fellow theatricians - the mental gymnastics and creative play space of an MFA is great, but the need for practical business skills in the arts world is tremendous. Academia is not fully serving its students if it fails to prepare them for the business of being an artist.
^Thanks! Yes, this conversation needs to be fully implemented into the university system. We need a quorum that makes it so that it can't be shoved aside. I live in the Pioneer Valley of MA where 2 out of the 5 major universities won't offer this information because business courses are seen as a "trade" that doesn't fit in with liberal arts studies. I think that's a bunch of BS.
[ps - I'm heading to Amherst tomorrow]
You are?!! It would be great to meet up if you have time while you're here. You can email me at seth [at] sethums [dot] com
Great article- I agree. Gets right to the heart of it-
Thanks Phil! Glad this spoke to you.