Last Friday night, I had one of those “transformative” experiences we in the arts so often like to refer to when we try to validate the importance of what we do to outsiders. A friend invited me along to attend the Atlanta Opera’s latest performance of La Boheme. I’ll admit, this is one of my favorite works, so perhaps my judgement is a little biased. Mr. Puccini did an excellent job of crafting perhaps the most gorgeous of all romantic comedies with everything we expect from opera – death, sopranos singing a ton of high notes, a love story, and scandal, complete with a toy vendor, a parade and a soliloquy about love for an old coat.
As I was sitting in the concert hall, crying my eyes out as Mimi and Rodolfo prepare to break up because his poverty is literally causing her to die faster of tuberculosis (oh that cliche 19th century consumption…), I was reminded of why I fell in love with this art form in the first place for the first time in a long time. Just like a relationship that’s lasted through the years, we fall in love with what we do over and over and over again.
We often feel much less love and appreciation when we think of the administrative practices that propel our artistry forward. I am the first to tell you that even though I teach classes on arts business, I rarely get excited over filling in spreadsheets. On its own, managing email lists is about as thrilling as being waterboarded. The monotony of small, detail-oriented tasks sometimes becomes unbearable when we consider that the time could be spent on our creative practices instead. And not spending an adequate amount of time managing their business needs is where many artists falter in their careers.
We teach our students at C4 Atlanta that it is the “Why” behind your creative discipline that drives consumer behavior and not the “What.” I would also venture even further to say that we need to keep the “Why” in mind for motivating us to spend an adequate amount of time on the practices that maintain our small arts businesses. As artists, inspiration drives our behavior. And when we divorce our creative side and our administrative side, we begin to separate the “Why” from the “What”.
So how do you actually achieve this? Firstly, let your core values be your guide no matter whether you are writing emails or creating installations. Your core values and and your mission should be the through line in literally everything you do as a business, including your communications, your website design and the operational processes you undertake. Keeping these core values at the heart of everything not only helps to strengthen your overall brand recognition, but also helps to keep you inspired to keep going.
Next, find ways to include your muses in your overall business environment. It sounds trite, but listening to music or keeping notes in view on my desk from folks who’ve sat in my classes while I work on those blasted spreadsheets helps to create a positive association with the tasks that I need to accomplish to keep this organization going. That positive association makes it more likely that I will think more favorably about Excel the next time I need to work. Literally surrounding yourself with creativity allows creativity to permeate your activities.
Lastly, don’t forget to actually take time to allow yourself to be truly inspired. And I don’t mean going to a show or event. Burnout is one of the fastest ways to kill your artistic career. Hyper focusing on the results our actions achieve is one of the surest ways to drive yourself into strong state of neurosis, or at the very least create a pronounced self of anxiety whenever we think about our to do lists. Instead, focus your efforts on the process and allow yourself to be inspired by yourself. Art is not a journey with a destination but a way of living for those of us who practice it as a career. Getting more likes on Facebook, or a longer email list, or a showing at a particular location may propel your career or do nothing at all. Even with the best education, we are all just throwing it at the wall to see what sticks. Changing my mentality from being results driven to being process driven has saved me a lot of money on the therapist’s couch. Again, this has more to do with keeping the “Why” in mind versus the “what” that we accomplish.
So what are some ways that you keep the “why” in your business practices? Comment below and let us know what works for you!