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Teaching Artists and Designers to be Creative Entrepreneurs

The education, training and career path of artists are changing. Today’s artists are self-employed, creating their own brands and businesses, and defining what a creative life looks like for themselves. By necessity — only 10% of arts graduates are working artists according to Artists Report Back —and with a product or idea to sell, artists are becoming art entrepreneurs. In fact, 15-20% of all arts graduates go on to establish their own creative ventures. In his notable 2015 article, “The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”, writer William Deresiewicz captured this new ecosystem and the professionalism of artists, “In the arts…the professional is giving way to the entrepreneur, or, more precisely, the ‘entrepreneur: the “self-employed”…the entrepreneurial self. Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job… Creative entrepreneurship is spawning its own institutional structure—online marketplaces, self-publishing platforms, nonprofit incubators, [and] collaborative spaces.”

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Artists Have Always Been Creative Entrepreneurs

Artists have always been entrepreneurs, fundamentally responsible for earning a living in a way that traditional professions never encounter. But the digital age and professionalization of the artist have created unprecedented access and opportunities for artists to reach their audience directly, challenging traditional training and education practices and career expectations of a gallery-dealer as the marker of success. The 2016 NEA Study, Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting U.S. Artists echoes this shift of independence with a report detailing four major findings that reflect the changes in how artists are working in today’s world:

  • The population of artists is growing and diversifying, and norms about who is considered an artist are changing
  • Artists are pursuing new opportunities to work entrepreneurially
  • Substantial numbers of artists now work in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways
  • Many artists are finding work as artists in non-arts contexts.

As the landscape of what an artist is and does to live a creative life changes, the study confirmed that “Artist-training programs are not adequately teaching artists the non-arts skills they need to support their work (business practices, entrepreneurship, and marketing) nor how to effectively apply their creative skills in a range of contexts.”

Higher Education and Creative Entrepreneurship

While some arts and design schools and career service departments are taking note, offering courses in creative and professional practice as well as entrepreneurship, only 34% of recent art school alumni said their institution helped them develop entrepreneurial skills in school.  With 66% of recent art school graduates carrying substantial debt as the cost of art degrees increases, students expect their institutions to prepare them with entrepreneurial skills to find or establish creative careers and teach them how to live creative lives.

The Career Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for Artists  results of the 2015 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) Survey Module, proves the data behind this trend: 71% of arts alumni indicated entrepreneurial skills were “Very” or “Somewhat important” to their profession or work life but only 26% of alumni reported their institution helped them develop entrepreneurial skills “Some” or “Very much.” In total, the difference between these responses was 45%, leaving a substantial gap between the reported need for entrepreneurial skills and the number of alumni who feel they attained entrepreneurial skills at their institution.

Some higher education institutions are responding to the need — and demand — for entrepreneurial coursework. The study, A Landscape of Arts Entrepreneurship in US Higher Education, asked the question, “What is the state of arts entrepreneurship education in the United States in 2016?” Organization representatives were asked which topic areas, from those in which they currently offer training, have had the highest demand over the past three years:

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The study confirmed the need for artists to learn entrepreneurial and business skills given the changing support structures for artists: “Early on in their art school education, artists need to learn skills to manage the business side of their creative practice, often approaching their practice as an entrepreneurial endeavor, particularly as public funding for the arts has declined and funding for individual artists is especially difficult to find.”

The 2013 SnaapShot found that professional practicing artists in the field agree on the important skills and competencies in their profession or work and life:

Teaching Artists and Designers to be Creative Entrepreneurs  |  Art Business Journal

Preparing for the Business of Art

Art school faculty, career development staff, and administrators want students to be successful —- to live creative lives and have creative careers. Entrepreneurial programs and professional practice coursework are necessary to teach artists the business, financial, and organizational skills needed to succeed. These include business and career planning tools, strategies to market and sell their work, basic budgeting and financial management, legal requirements for protecting creative works, and networking tools to thrive in the digital world. In addition to rigorous requirements to develop artistic techniques, these skills help artists understand and articulate what they need for the successful implementation of their creative endeavors.

Artists are keenly aware of the statistics: few of them will be able to survive solely as working artists waiting to be discovered. But they are uniquely situated to create a return on their educational, financial, and artistic investments. By broadening contexts, markets, audiences, and applicability of their work–and be redefining what it means to sustain a creative life–they can put themselves in the driver’s seat. Institutions responsible for the education and training of artists must help them chart their course, avoid roadblocks, and keep moving forward to succeed as creative entrepreneurs, whatever that path may be.

Did your art or design degree program teach you to be a creative entrepreneur? Should these programs be responsible for providing this training? Tell us what you think!

About the author

Jenifer Simon

Jenifer Simon's mantra is 'Art Always in All Ways." She is Artrepreneur's Director of Business and Content Development and editor of Art Business Journal. She's dedicated her career to helping artists sustain their creative careers and holds an M.A. in Arts Administration from Columbia University and B.S. in Studio Art and Art History from Skidmore College.

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