Every summer I look forward to the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh’s big art event of the year, where hundreds of artists and performers come to show their best work.
Last week while visiting the Festival, I attended a talk by Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University – “Women Artisans to Entrepreneurs.” Her point was that many women artists (and men as well, in my experience) neglect the business end of things. “I don’t understand all that business stuff, and I don’t have time for it. I’m an Artist, and if I create great art, people will seek me out.”
So the question my business coach, Suzanne Evans, would ask you is “Are you a HO or a BO?” In other words, are you a Hobby Owner who creates art but doesn’t effectively monetize it? Or are you a Business Owner, serious about growing your market and making a real living? Essentially, if you don’t see your art as a business, you’re probably indulging in an expensive hobby instead of creating a viable livelihood.
There’s a lot of competition out there. So if you want to break out of the pack, you have to leverage your talent with sound business practices to make a real living doing what you love.
First, you need to think of yourself as a professional… you’re the owner of an art business, even if you’re still paying the bills by waiting tables or telemarketing. That means you should be studying everything you can find about your industry. You need to have a website and a social media presence. You should always be thinking about building your portfolio and actively looking for opportunities to promote yourself and your work. That means networking at least once a week and attending events where you can expand your connections.
Don’t quit your day job (yet): Obviously the plan is that someday your art will earn enough to support you. But the fact is, most artists or performers I know who are on their way up have a day job – a Good-Enough Job or a side gig that pays the bills. Think of it as a “business loan” for your art business.
Always be looking for multiple income streams: Something that you enjoy doing that hopefully fits in with your creative work and what you want your life to look like. You could offer lessons to others… start a podcast… write a book… or sell your work to a greeting card company. Use your imagination! Start small with just one or two “alternative profit centers,” then add more if you want to. If one doesn’t work out, you can always bag it and try something else!
Create your personal brand: What do you want to be known for? What’s your niche? You could be like Linda Barnicott, a pastel artist whose claim to fame is beautiful nostalgic paintings of Pittsburgh scenes. Or you might become famous as the photographer who creates those distinctive images of newborn babies, post-industrial landscapes, or maybe even dressed-up Weimaraners (it worked for William Wegman!). When you have a recognizable brand or niche, you become more memorable.
I’m hosting a workshop this fall about The Business of Art where I’ll go into much more detail on this topic. More details to follow!