Business Classes for Artists: Creating an Effective Learning Environment

A friend and colleague of mine sent me a link to blog post last week about business training for artists. Many of the points I agree with in the blog. The point made by the author that I agree with most is that business classes for the arts need to be structured in a way that speaks to the specific needs of an arts business or individual artist. The arts community is made up of a myriad of DIY individuals. Most don’t have small business loans or VC investors backing them.

Man in Suit sitting at a computer
What you might get if you Google Entrepreneur

The first, and in my opinion, most important part of a business plan is to decide what the heck it is you’re trying to sell. Is it a service? What is the creative offering? This seems simple. But it can be very challenging for artists. One reason is because artists are often Jacks-of-many-trades. Visual artists may flow between painting or mixed media. A performing artist might be both a singer and a dancer…or a puppeteer, circus performer, writer, director, on so forth.

Before one can get to the “what” of his creative offering, he needs to focus on the “why.” If you work in a variety of media or disciplines, then what is that through line that connects them all? What is your brand really about?

We live in an amazing time. Truly. It is possible to launch a marketing campaign with little money* (of course time is an investment). What are the resources and tools available to the DYI arts business?

*Just a side note: I do believe at some point an arts business needs to be able to invest in growth. You can’t operate with no money forever. You have an obligation to spend money as well as bring in revenue to meet budget goals.

There are some great classes and tools out there for small businesses and entrepreneurs. However, at the end of the day, the best learning environment is one where people can learn from one another as well as from a dynamic curriculum. I remember in grad school discussing this point in an educational psychology class. The “whole” is elevated if participants enter into a learning environment from various stages. Artists with less experience learn from those who have been there, done that. The seasoned artist begins to see her career trajectory as something that is nimble–she feels the freedom to explore new directions. This type of environment is hard to recreate with a one-size-fits-all business class. People of the same industry like to work together.

Recent Ignite Alumi talk about learning from one another. Watch!

The arts business class needs to meet artists and arts admins where they are  currently in their careers. It should frame business planning in a context that is relevant to people within the arts community with real world examples. Part of the gap between practicing one’s art and articulating a cohesive business plan often comes down to a lack of meta-cognition. In other words, artists don’t know that they know business skills. They’ve been told again and again that creating and business planning don’t mix. This is why equipping artists with vocabulary is so important. Learning a new idea or concept can change the way a person thinks and acts.  As humans, we accomplish this partly through language. Learning business vocabulary gets the synapses firing!

I enjoy strategic planning. I find the process very rewarding. I also find that the process taps into my creative center. Business is not a dirty word. In fact, the business plan is neutral. In any industry it takes imagination, smarts and moxie to get a business launched.

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