The ‘Portfolio’ Artist

Last week I attended a peer convening in New Haven. By peer convening, I mean I met with universities and art organizations that also offer professional practice programs for artists. One of the topics we focused on during a break-out session was artist “portfolio careers.”                                                Artist porfolio

What does that mean?

It doesn’t refer, exactly, to an artist’s physical portfolio. It refers to the “portfolio” of jobs, activities, projects, creative offerings, etc. that artists undertake to earn income. Now, I almost wrote: “make ends meet” instead of “earn income.” That may be the case for many artists, but let’s pretend that having a variety of income streams isn’t a bad thing. It  isn’t atypical. Is this a troubling trend?

Maybe not.

A strong financial portfolio is comprised of diverse investments. Local department stores sell a variety of products. Many companies offer a variety of services to bring in revenue. Many artists teach, create, consult, or have multiple projects at one time to earn income. They are still artists and they still have a skill and craft to offer society. In fact, many entrepreneurs today have portfolio careers. Traditional training teaches us how to join the American workforce–to work for someone else. What if… What if business training was more  inline with employment trends and taught us how to effectively run our own businesses?

In our Ignite class, we ask artists to create a mission statement. It is this statement that will unify all of your offerings as an artist. You can work several jobs and still be a working artist but a mission statement will allow you choose jobs that support your goals and core values. The downside to being a portfolio artist is time. It can be exhausting.

One way to explore new revenue streams without comprising your  craft: think about your process and not just the end result. Is there something about your process that can synthesized to other industries? This may be a way  to supplement those other projects that don’t bring in a lot of income but offer you a sense of wellbeing. Artist-entrepreneurs have done it before.

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