This Business of Art – Key Points for Putting Yourself on the Map from Artpreneur 2016

This Business of Art – Key Points for Putting Yourself on the Map from Artpreneur 2016

Artists and professionals working in the arts are likely familiar with the questions that come up when people learn that the arts are your job: “How do you make money?” “Is that really a smart career?” “Do you have a real job?” Though many people have a high regard for the arts, the idea that someone is pursuing a professional career in the arts can seem unrealisable or unattainable compared to other more common place professions. It can also seem this way to artists, emerging and professional, who are struggling to make a career of their art. This is where the Artpreneur Conference in Ottawa comes in: it provides artists with new ways to think about their practice and career. At this year’s conference two main ideas cropped up in each of the panels I attended:

  1. Art is a business. So, how do we balance business and creativity?
  2. Art relies on engaging with community. How can you find your community, in Ottawa, Canada and beyond, and how can it help your career?

As a writer and professional working in the arts, these two questions resonated for me because I have been asking myself these questions ever since I left university and began trying to figure out my career path.

I often say that I went to university to pursue my studies in the purest sense: for knowledge and art’s sake. I was sure I wanted to be a writer; my family still has a magazine clipping from high school where I publicly announced my goal to be a novelist. I spent four years studying novels, poetry and language, and experimented writing just about every form. I organised student events and coordinated a poetry reading series. At the end of a four year degree though I had no idea what to do, so I went on to graduate school continued to pursue art, this time through theatre studies. While I was working as a teaching assistant in an introduction to theatre studies course, a professor suggested to his students that pairing a theatre studies degree with business would be a good career move.

“The world is only as big as you know,” Adrienne Wong, theatre artist and keynote speaker at Artpreneur 2016, said and until that moment no professor had given me any guidance about how to make a living from my art or education. Surrounded by academics, I had just assumed a PhD was the end goal.

I left my MA with no idea about how to apply my knowledge, unsure about theatre and frightened that I had failed as a writer. But what I did know was organising arts events was something I enjoyed and was good at. So I got a job in a hotel and reached out to an arts organisation I had volunteered with before and managed to get some part-time work doing social media. For a while it worked out well for me, but eventually I realised I didn’t want to be working in the hotel or service industry forever. The decision to leave led me straight into business, and I realised that between my service industry experience and arts work, I had been working in business pretty much my whole life. Like visual artist Jinny Yu said during her keynote address, I too am “learning how to hustle” now that I am setting out to pursue an arts profession full-time.

The biggest challenge for me is figuring out how to apply and market my diverse skillset, and I am not alone. Finding ways to make art a business is one of the biggest struggles for artists. As singer-songwriter Lynn Miles said in her keynote presentation, “I feel like I lived in the golden age and now that age is over.” Where there were once many levels of arts infrastructure and many kinds of arts administrators, artists are now expected to fill all these roles on top of being an artist. So how do we navigate this tricky business of art? How do we make the connections we need to make art and make a living? How do we turn our craft into a profession? While I don’t think there is any one answer, Artpreneur’s 2016 conference presented a variety of ways to successfully put your career on the map and to balance creativity and livability.

Keep an eye on the Artpreneur blog for more insight from the Artpreneur 2016 discussions, and on our events page for information about the Artpreneur Chats series.

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.