Sunday, September 21, 2003

Creative Capital launches new workshop on "Strategic Planning for Artists" 

"The hardest thing about being an artist is not the money, it’s the on-going struggle to maintain the faith to keep making work." This message was at the core of the presentation given by Esther Robinson, program director at Creative Capital, a NYC-based group which funds individual artists.

Unlike other granting agencies, Creative Capital takes a "holistic" approach to funding artists. "We want to know where this project fits in your personal and professional landscape. We want you to become an artist with a lifetime of projects, somebody who is going to make art for maybe 60 years. We want to assist artists with the larger trajectory of their work," said Robinson.

The staff at Creative Capital understands what it’s like to be an artist because everyone who works there, except their full-time director, is a working artist who spends 20 hours a week in the office and the rest of their time pursuing their own artistic careers.

Artists who receive funding are required to make a realistic budget so that they know how much the work is really costing including line items like babysitters. Once the artist has this real budget, which Robinson admits can be painful to make, the artist can ask: Is this sustainable? Usually the answer is no. But, that’s not necessarily bad news. It’s just news that the artist can work with to make changes to how they create their work.

The kind of changes artists must make include keeping track of their time and billing more per hour, making goals, a five year plan, and getting the resources they need which varies for each individual artist. For example, some artists need to hire a public relations firm, some need to purchase essential equipment.

Creative Capital encourages artists to change the way they look at the money they spend making work. For example, an artist might be complaining that over the last two years, she’s spent $50,000 on making her work. Creative Capital looks at it a different way. They see an artist who has acted as a granting agency and has made two grants of $25,000 over the past two years. Okay, the grants may have been made to one artist, but this encourages the artist to look at the money she’s spending as an investment in herself, her work and her career.

Based on their experience helping artists, Creative Capital designed a two-day workshop for up to 20 artists to learn strategic planning. Working with a local arts organization, like PICA, Creative Capital provides the curriculum and six teachers – all working artists — and the local organization provides 20 hand-picked participants who are ready to apply strategic planning to their own artistic careers.

The workshop focuses on marketing, public relations, fundraising and strategic planning. Artists learn how to talk about their work, how to make goals, prepare press kits and work samples, deal with the media, track their time and do financial planning.

The workshop also provides a way for artists to meet each other which solves the debilitating problem of isolation. "More important than getting money is finding an artist who inspires you so that you can stay excited about making work," said Robinson.

Meeting other artists also helps because sometimes all a creative person needs is for another person to say to them: "I recognize you’re an artist and a good one," she said. This kind an affirmation can get you back to the studio and making work in a joyous way.

The small class size means lots of one-on-one attention for the participants. Then, Creative Capital does a three-month follow-up with all participants to find out where individuals are getting stuck.

"We’re interested in moving artists from a poverty mentality to an abundance mentality," said Robinson. "We want artists to record their hours and expect to get paid for them."

"We are looking for an abundance model, not a scarcity model," she said. "There is money in the world. We work on how artists get access to it."

Robinson warned that not every artist is ready to do this kind of work and how important it is to be ready. "For the people who are ready, this can be life changing," she said.

The power comes, she said, from naming what you do and owning what you do and changing your relationship with money, with yourself, even with the second job you might have to take to finance your artistic career.

"Some artists need to have a second job. This isn’t a personal failing, it’s just the system. But manage that relationship between the second job and your art-making. Make your second job work."

At the end of her talk, many participants wanted to know how Portland could get Creative Capital to come here and offer this workshop. It’s takes money, a local institution to support it and a community to be ready for this kind of work.

How do we get ready? Many of us wanted to know. "Don’t get ready for Creative Capital," said Robinson. Because Creative Capital can only work with a small number of artists, Robinson encouraged us to get going on our own. The workbook from this Professional Development Workshop will be available for the general public from Creative Capital’s website.

"Be an artist who can sustain a lifetime of work. Make a five year plan, make goals, schedules and a budget and stick to them."

"Get out of the cycle of being a dynamic crisis manager. You have to name where you want to go and the work will take you there. Goal setting doesn’t limit your choices. The structure gives you a system that helps you embrace change."

That’s the paradox: by applying more structure in the form of sound business practices, an artist can find the joy in making art and be able to financially and psychologically sustain a lifetime of making work.

"Can you make work and feel joy? That’s the question," said Robinson.

-- Gigi Rosenberg

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