Putting Yourself on the Map: 3 Tips for Building an Arts Career

Putting Yourself on the Map: 3 Tips for Building an Arts Career

Getting out there and becoming known is one of the biggest hurdles emerging artists face. The next challenge is staying visible. So how do you get on the map and stay there? This was what Artpreneur’s 2016 keynote panel addressed as three professional artists at different stages of their professional careers took the stage: Jinny Yu, Adrienne Wong and Lynn Miles.  During their discussion three main points for mapping out an arts career emerged.

  1. Value your creativity.

With over 30 years of experience as a singer and songwriter, Lynn Miles made a point of emphasising the importance of value. “When you are making a living as an artist it’s not just about money it’s about value,” she explained. “If you aren’t charging what you are valued at you are doing a disservice to yourself by telling the public that you are worthless, and this impacts other artists too. Going in I always know what the money is. That’s how I made a career as a musician.” Miles pointed out that this is especially important today because so much art is free and people are willing to do anything to get out there, but if artists continue to do this they perpetuate the idea that art is free.

Creativity is the bread and butter of the artist and it needs to be treated as something that is productive and valuable. While some might think of creativity as something that comes naturally, it is one of the most challenging aspects of art. “Art making is a way of making sense of being human,” said theatre artist Adrienne Wong. “I am most afraid when I am creating. It takes courage and that is when the deepest part of me is speaking…when I said f*** the form and did what I needed to do, that’s when it worked.”

So if it’s about value and creativity how do you make it work? “The biggest learning curve for me,” said visual artist and professor Jinny Yu, “was learning how to divide my time and find a balance between business and art.” This means finding a kind of work which allows you to be both creative and make a living. For Yu that meant taking a job as a university professor because the work involves research that feeds into her creative process.

  1. Find your community.

Artists are often regarded as working in isolation, but being involved with creative communities is an essential part of many artists’ careers. Having lived in Montreal, Toronto, Venice, New York and Seoul, among other place, visual artist Jinny Yu moved to Ottawa for work but also found a community that suited her creative practice. “Ottawa is great in that the community is very supportive of each other, and small enough that there are not enough things going on that I suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out),” she explains. “Without the FOMO I get a lot of time in my studio to make art. If I am comparing it to other Canadian cities, I think people in Ottawa are very open minded to the world more than in other cities probably because of the diplomatic corps that is around. A lot of the friends have I met here opened up my horizons because of the discussions we were having about what is happening in other places of the world.”

Being part of Ottawa’s music community helped Miles get her career off the ground when she started teaching music at the Ottawa Folklore Centre. “Time is everything for artists. You need time to think, to get bored, to meet with other artists. Arthur Macgregor at the Ottawa Folklore Centre knew artists needed time and space to do this, to tour.” Deeply rooted in the music community, Macgregor gave Miles the time and space to develop her career as well as the opportunity to meet other artists. Miles continues to pass on this support by working with local musicians, artists, producers and others to make when she makes an album. “As a community we need to make decisions to support each other,” she says.

While community is important, it’s important to note that barriers can exist for some artists. This is something Wong encountered when she moved to Ottawa from Vancouver for her partner’s job, and gave birth to her first child. “If I didn’t have a kid it would have been totally different. I could have gone out to art openings and events to meet people. But being home and taking care of him meant that it has taken me three years to get integrated into the community.” Her new state of life kept her in the home sphere and forced her to look online for artistic community.

  1. Find new ways to be creative in your career.

Getting yourself on the map is the first step, but to make a career as an artist you stay on people’s radar as both your life and the creative world changes. For Wong, whose physical location radically changed, this meant drawing on her with multi-media experiences.  Lacking connections in Ottawa, Wong began creating online projects, such as Landline, which use digital space and communication as a tool for collaboration. Through the digital Wong was able to transcend her isolation and create art with people outside of her community.

Though she is based in Ottawa Yu says “It is important for me to remain open to other possibilities outside of this city.” Yu continues to maintain her past connections: her primary gallery is in Montreal, she recently had a show in Berlin and she is rebuilding her relationship with Seoul. “You have to know the map and shift it from time to time when it is necessary,” she explains, “It takes courage, but I continually try to incorporate, combine and stretch my own field.”

Miles has adapted a lot throughout her career.  Seeking out new career opportunities led her to work as a music producer and to teach at Carleton University.  “Joni Mitchell calls it crop rotation; you’ve got to do other things in the farm, try growing other crops. I think it’s good for the brain to do different things. It’s part of my creative process.” For the moment she says she is sitting quietly and writing music, though she may not put out another album. She is watching to see what the music industry will do next and working collaboratively with a few other people on some new projects. “I want to keep moving forward I don’t look back.”

What was most surprising throughout the keynote panel was that each speaker brought up the idea of fear; when it comes to talking about money and value, building new networks and even creativity. “There is no courage without fear,” said Miles, and so it seems that at every stage of their arts careers, courage is necessary for artists to continue mapping out their creative journey.


Want to hear some of this year’s speakers? Click below to register for ARTPRENEUR 2017!


Nina Jane Drystek is a writer and content creator working in marketing and arts administration. She coordinates the Art Place program for AOE Arts Council and is the Social Media Manager for the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Previously she worked in public relations. Nina Jane is also a writer of miscellany such as poems, musings and fiction.