Artists as Entrepreneurs by Ron Stacy

An entrepreneur is one who is willing to risk their time and money for the opportunity to make a profit. That’s the goal; to make a profit.The average, reasonably intelligent entrepreneur will spend as much time as is needed to make a proper business plan. It will have order,  a linear progression, some cause and effect and, in the end, will provide a wage and a profit on top of that.

For instance, one might consider going into the business of small appliance sales. Research will reveal; a source of supply; a store location; office requirements; a source of capital; target a client base; create projections of return on investment; and form an advertising strategy. Then, by risking some time and some savings, and with some diligence, there is a reasonable chance that this entrepreneur can earn a decent living and eventually expand the business.

If, for any reason, a radical change occurs in technology, a country wide depression occurs or even a bad business plan has been used, a small business person can sell the store, close the doors or go bankrupt and start a whole new business with a different product or service. That’s because they have choice. For the most part it doesn’t really matter to them if they sell water filters, do financial planning or operate a one hour photo developing store. They can learn enough about the thing they’re selling in a short time. The important thing is to be in business and have more money coming in than going out. That’s the measure of success; the accumulation of goods and money.

Most entrepreneurs are small business people. Many of them come to the table with no business education, thinking that anyone can learn as they go with such a simple premise as, ‘buy for X dollars and sell for X-plus dollars’, the plus standing for the wages, expenses and profit. Many of these fail and go out of business. Why? Because they didn’t take into consideration the need for planning, marketing strategies and advertising, and having the resources to wait for the business to build to the point where it is viable. On the other hand, many of these business people are successful and are able to make a good living, providing the things that the public values.

An entrepreneur can expand the business, hire more employees, open new outlets or take on whole new lines of products or services. When they make an excess of money they need write-offs to keep the money out of the hands of the government. This is the time when entrepreneurs become philanthropically inclined. They can show their community spirit by returning some of the profits to their community from whence it came. The community approves of their generosity and the entrepreneur/philanthropists feel good about putting something back into the community that made them wealthy, they pay less tax and everybody wins.

Artists are considered entrepreneurs because they are self employed, don’t belong to a union, don’t have holiday pay, dental plans, workers’ compensation, company cars or coffee breaks. So, strictly speaking, maybe they are entrepreneurs, but they’re at a distinct disadvantage in the world of enterprise. They aren’t in business to make money. The reason they started a business in the first place is because you can’t get a job creating fine art, and even artists need   money so they can keep on painting, sculpting, making music or whatever.

Money isn’t the end product for the artist. They don’t put it in savings accounts or RRSPs or re-invest it in the market, like an intelligent entrepreneur; no, they buy art supplies and pay the rent. And that’s about all they do. In a study done by the Canadian government in 1984, it was shown that the average income of people involved in the arts, is below the poverty level.

Most artists come to a point where they say to themselves, “Well, I know that I need to make art, so I don’t have any real career choices, and I know my opportunities for earning money are slim, so I must divest myself of certain expectations and work hard to be successful as an artist and not concern myself overmuch with economics, possessions and investments for my retirement. Of course, I may get lucky like the waitress who was discovered by a big producer and became a famous movie star…”

I think it’s obvious that this attitude makes for a dismal entrepreneur. They’re in a worse position than the small business person whose business falters, because they can’t effectively change their product line, look for new suppliers or cut back on staff. They can only do ‘not art’ until they can afford to get back to doing art, hoping to get the right exposure or audience the next time.

I’ve known many artists who fall into this category, and I’m happy to note that most aren’t bitter or completely discouraged. In fact I have taught a course called ‘The Business of Art’ where I address the matter of pricing, marketing and gallery contracts. The artists who attend are very eager to make a go of it. The fact remains; they would all be better served if they had agents to work on their behalf, leaving them to work at their artform in their studios.

People in the business community wonder why artists aren’t better at promoting themselves, aren’t prepared to spend what it takes on colour brochures or newspaper advertising, or willing to donate their work to charities. Here’s the reason: most have already done all that many times with little or no result. It’s surprising how many times artists get approached to spend their money, their time and to donate their work in various ways that are supposed to benefit them and don’t. “Think of the exposure you’ll get!” is the buzzword phrase that’s supposed to get the artist to roll over. Most professional artists have learned to be more careful with their time and money, so the artists approached are the emerging artists who are eager to break into the market, and think that any exposure can only be beneficial.

The other thing that the business community has a hard time understanding is the value of the arts and culture community to the business sector. People will always come to see an art show or demonstration or performance. Art draws people from outside the area who come and spend their money in the place where the art is. There was a ten day art show of a famous artist’s work put on by a small gallery in a small town just north of Victoria in the year 2001. About 17,000 people from all over the world came to see this show and buy the art before it went to its planned destination in South Africa. There was a lot of wealth accrued to that small town by the fruits of that artist’s labour.

Every time there’s a play or a concert at the local theatre, the merchants have an opportunity to take advantage of the influx of people coming into the area to participate. Often, the artists who put it on are not paid, or are paid an honorarium. Artists are a resource, like the forest or the ocean, and can be utilized for the good of the community, but it’s the business community that directly benefits from their labours, with the normal spreading around of the wealth as from any resource base. And here’s the thing; no one ever expects a resource like the forest to be more entrepreneurial, so why expect an artist?

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One Response to “Artists as Entrepreneurs by Ron Stacy”

  1. I like the way you think. It seems obvious after you have explained it. Thanks.

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