Generally, there has consistently been an uneasy connection between art, artists and the money required to produce art. Between the patronage of the king and court, government awards and corporate sponsorship, artists and arts associations have not constantly fit well—with the artists frequently being forced into the role of servant to the funding master.
Be that as it may, in this day and age, artists have the chance to change this model by applying their creative abilities to develop from artist to entrepreneur. However students are taught that entrepreneurship is defined as follows: “the creation of opportunity and value with goal to profit financially, socially or otherwise through the assumption of risk and effort.” In the context of arts entrepreneurship, the value created is art.
In this post, I will address the key component found in this definition and address the significance of art entrepreneurship and its capability to assist artists with making a living from their creativity, artistry, skills, and talents. I will speak to increasing chances while diminishing dangers related with a career in the arts.
Entrepreneurship is a big-vision act of creativity. It is one that has an experienced and felt impact—both for (arts) entrepreneurs and those they serve. One (or a team) is creating opportunities for self and others, jobs, economic stimulus, products, culture, and services—such as art. Like artists, all kinds of entrepreneurs principally create value for others.
Value in the arts can be intrinsic or extrinsic and is often both. Example of extrinsic value: “That Picasso painting is worth $10,000,000.” This refers to the monetary value of the painting. “That Picasso painting stirs my soul.” This is intrinsic value—a feeling, an experience, an impression that is subjective and has nothing to do with monetary worth. Extrinsic value can lead artists towards income generation and, potentially, sustainable careers in the arts. The intrinsic value created is the art itself—which, hopefully, creates an experience and evokes a response for those experiencing it.
For varied reasons, some artists associate profit with “selling out.” However, arts entrepreneurs are not selling out—they are selling art. In my own experience, I find the unemployed are typically those who speak about selling out. Those paying their rent through their artistry, usually don’t speak in such terms.
More artists need to be taught that profit is not a dirty word, but critical for sustainability. With resources, like cash in hand, one can take additional and, at times, more significant risks, enabling artists to scale, to grow their business, and continually deepen their work. Profit can also be viewed as communication of value on the part of audiences, who vote with their credit cards. Profit is the one necessary element to having a viable and sustainable business.
The word “risk” should not be omitted from the definition of entrepreneurship, as entrepreneurship is a risk-based endeavor, just as a career in the arts is. One does not know if their efforts will be fruitful, if an audience will appreciate what was created, if the creators will attract donors or investors, if a show will profit or have a long run. There are no guarantees.
Arts entrepreneurship skills increase the likelihood of artists succeeding—based on their own definitions of success. Such skills “up the odds,” so to speak, by teaching artists how to strategize. Such skills also teach artists how to differentiate themselves from other players in the market, to budget, fundraise, and sell what they have created. They know how to develop a fan base of loyal followers, how to find their artistic voice, to reduce the certain risks of a career in the arts through research, to be highly adaptable, and to know how to protect their own intellectual property. Niche identification and creation is an entrepreneurial skill that artists often utilize—a practice that can often lead to market dominance, and consequential profitability, within a niche. By reducing risk, the potential for success rises.
Effort (that is service-focused)
I built an accredited theatre conservatory in Oslo, Norway. In the building process, I was often asked two questions by journalists and government officials: What makes what you are doing 1. different and 2. necessary? I struggled with the latter for a time. What I realized is they were asking me to differentiate myself from the other players in the market, but to also be of service to the community. Service, I learned, is the only way to become necessary as an artist. Being necessary (needed) can lead to profitability, as people need their needs fulfilled.
Choosing a Muse
Art for art’s sake has unequivocal value. Example: Emily Dickinson wrote poems in private, only occasionally sharing with family and friends. Over 1,800 poems were discovered, and later shared, after her death. However, if one wants to make a living from their art, it is important for artists to serve not just their own instincts, impulses, and desires, but also be aware of the needs, desires, fears, and problems of their audiences. This knowledge requires engaging with and understanding, ideally empathizing with, one’s audience. Artistic value that is created with an audience in mind has a higher likelihood of resonating for an audience as the work was created for them. In this respect, one’s audience becomes a muse. Artists have been inspired by muses throughout time.
The Value of Arts Entrepreneurship
Arts Entrepreneurship training offers no guarantees. However, it does increase the likelihood of artists’ success. Many of our students go to school, in part, to increase their odds of working professionally. However, the current standard in arts education in largely one of “all arts technique and no real business skills,” which contributes to the starving artist stereotype. To help artists overcome this stereotype, it is critical that they are offered the “missing puzzle piece” of arts education found in so many schools around the country.
Advice for Artist-Entrepreneurs
The way that technology irreversibly affects society—and the arts—is certain. Investor and entrepreneur Victor W. Hwang explained what he called “The Seven Commandments of Silicon Valley” in an article for Forbes.
As artists, we read these and says, “Yes. That is the thing that artist do!” He said to:
Embrace the dream
Laugh at no idea or offhandedly proposed quixotic quest, deplore any hint of fatalism.
Open as many doors as you can
Seek out and talk with a diverse mix of people, listen to them and value the different perspectives they offer.
Trust others, including strangers
While there may be an upfront cost in trusting strangers, the cost of the alternative is greater.
Experiment with others
Innovation inevitably involves improvement over time and perseverance. And the advice and feedback of others can be critical.
Fairness and mutually beneficial dealings aren’t always easy to come by – or common in the business world – but they incentivize people to work together and can lead to greater, repeated, long-term success.
As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal. “The expectation … is that there will be many ups and down, wrong turns, and false starts,” Hwang writes. “The key is to get up and try again.”
Pay it forward and everyone wins
Don’t do a favor with the expectation of an immediate payback, but the rising tide that comes with an ecosystem of positive, helpful mindsets and mutual success will lift everyone.