February 16, 2012
On my desktop is an image of rap mogul, Jay-Z, and the phrase, “Not a Businessman—a Business, Man.” There’s a great deal aspiring artists can learn from him and his wife, Beyonce, who gave birth to the couple’s first child, Blue Ivy Carter, last month.
According to the National Foundation for the Arts (NEA), over one-third of artists are self-employed, compared to only 10 percent of the rest of the U.S. labor force. In this economic environment, the number of self-employed artists has been increasing, even though BFA and MFA programs gloss over practical business training – if they offer any at all. Yet it’s not enough to create great art; most successful artists also find a way to promote their work. They have to learn how to hustle.
Enter the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). Its mission is to empower artists at critical stages in their creative lives. Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Economic Development Corporation selected NYFA to administer the Artist as Entrepreneur Bootcamp, which equips artists with the practical skills to help them succeed. The curriculum includes career planning, business plan writing, marketing, financial management, and writing and presentation skills. Many artists have little to no knowledge of these topics.
Katy Rubin, Founding Artistic Director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, participated in a recent NYFA Bootcamp. She learned that business can be creative, too.
“Before Bootcamp, I thought that business was vaguely evil. As an artist, I was required to shun anything business-related. One of the big takeaways from the Bootcamp was that entrepreneurship is in itself an art, an outlet for self-expression and creative thinking, and that I could embrace the tools of business to help myself and other artists.”
As expressive as artists are in their work, many are reluctant to promote themselves. During a conversation with Katy and other Bootcamp participants, we agreed that this had to do with avulnerability that is even more pronounced in Western culture.
“Our society marginalizes artists,” says Rachel Selekman, one of the recent Bootcamp participants. “In ‘primitive’ cultures, artists, who were often shamans as well, were revered because of their critical contributions to the community.”
I, for one, think that business can learn from the arts. Every business is in need of creative problem-solving, and as Craig Nobbs, another participant, says, “The purpose of art is to make the familiar unfamiliar.” Here’s a list I concocted of hypothetical courses artists could teach to entrepreneurs.
•How Reflection Leads to Inspiration
•Imagining New Possibilities
•The Power of Storytelling
•Channeling Your Passion
•Your Career as a Canvas
Jay-Z figured out early on that art and commerce depend on each other. “I was forced to be an artist and a CEO from the beginning, so I was forced to be like a businessman because when I was trying to get a record deal, it was so hard to get a record deal on my own that it was either give up or create my own company.”
Aspiring artist-entrepreneurs take note.