The Artist as Entrepreneur

At the end of my recent participation in travelling residency, Time_Place_Space: Nomad, the key reflections I came home with centred around:

How do we artists think about our financial situations, as well as the cultural narratives around our financial situations?

Why do we subscribe to, and perpetuate the “struggling artist” narrative? Why do we cringe when we hear ourselves, or another artist say, “I want to make money?” How can we make money, consistently, in our practice?

How can we be less dependent on grants, which are only diminishing in numbers, and in value? For some, day jobs are an acceptable and effective balance. But when does a day job take away time and energy towards our practice?

How do we learn from entrepreneurs and businesses – especially ones like Graham, the farmer whom this inquiry was inspired by? How do we adapt practices to enhance ours? And if we don’t understand the language, are we seeking to learn? Or do we just simply avoid it?

I cannot speak for other artists. But I’m in this for the long haul. My “career” as an artist, is my livelihood, is my life. And in so, is a long-term investment that I am constantly adding to.

One month ago, I approached Jason, a dear friend of mine from Singapore. Working now with the Australian Institute of Company Directors in Perth, I sought him out to be a facilitator and a provocateur to my process of finding some of these answers.

He has always been supportive of my ventures as an artist – when I first met him, he was on trek to a business degree whilst I had dropped out of pre-university and decided I was going to do Theatre! But I think we shared a common spirit of non-conformity, and a desire to carve our own paths. Couple that support and belief in me with his expertise, and I reckon I’ve got something pretty exciting going for me.

The relationship is collaborative – I learn about business as much as he is learning about the arts as an industry. We have committed to regular phone meetings where we unpack ideas, exchange homework as our ideas develop and evolve, chart directions, and challenge each other to move forward with these ideas; research and experiment, and repeat. And one thing I must affirm is how we are only working on ideas that in Jason’s words, “is this something you want to do?” “Is this something you (would) like to do?” My artistic practice is the starting point.

There are a couple of aims for me with this: finding a way to sustain a livelihood, long-term; learning a language I am vaguely (un)familiar with; broadening my perspectives and skill sets in order to be a more diverse resource and facilitator with the artists and peers I work with. And perhaps, as a sort of end game, that I could find a platform, or a way, to engage with other artists as they work towards their form of financial security.

Some things that I have recognised in this short time:

  1. Wanting to earn money does not negate my philosophical beliefs behind my choice to pursue the arts. Wanting to earn money does not equal wanting to do it for the money.
  2. There are ideas that service the arts and other artists. Many of these ideas do not necessarily generate an income, and are about giving back to the industry.
  3. I am discovering the multiple sets of skills I possess, as well as the wide scope in which I (can) use these sets of skills that would still remain integral to my personal artistic vision.

Last week’s homework was huge. And I am only starting to approach it, just as I enter into two weeks of creative development for Saltwater. As I continue with the work, both Saltwater and this, I am excited and hopeful, eager and ready.

There is much to do.


Postscript // The article, The Death of the Artist – and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur was published by The Atlantic, Dec 28, 2014; echoing my thoughts, and encouraging my pursuit with The Artist as Entrepreneur as a creative inquiry.



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