A Call to Action

In its October 9, 2007 editorial, The New York Times commented on the recent move of Altria Group, of which Philip Morris is one of its subsidiaries. Altria is decentralizing its operations by moving it’s headquarters out of New York, and is spinning it’s international tobacco division elsewhere, so it can create new smokers outside the United States. Why this editorial is so important is not that Altria Group is moving, or that Philip Morris is going to focus on international markets. What is important is that Altria is taking its arts funding away.

For four decades, Altria has funneled more than $210 million into the New York creative culture. Nonprofits such as the American Dance Company, Whitney Museum, and Alvin Ailey Dance Company have benefited from Altria’s generous giving. Of course Altria Group is not the only corporation that has used its profits to fund the arts, there are many. Which brings me to why I am writing this.

We in the arts are conditioned to receive money and gifts from benefactors. We are passionate and deeply believe that our creative spirits would be crushed if we focused on our craft as a business instead of this wild passion. For the most part, we cannot balance our checkbooks, work up a business plan, or talk to others outside of our industry as tax paying individuals. We have become slaves to our society. We have actually come to believe that we must ask for donations in order to survive. We have not been educated to look at our craft as anything other than a creative endeavor that, if the gods look favorability on us, will allow us to continue–just one more month, season, performance.

With this mentality, we have limited ourselves. We think, “if only we had funding, we could do this.” Or “we only received this much funding, so we won’t be able to do this.” We have created a patron-slave mentality that has to stop because, good as the funding is, that funding is really hurting us.

I think it is time to take up the MBA mentality and learn that we are, indeed, business people. We have a vision, a mission, and a product to sell. I think it is time for the art schools and universities to not only teach the various creative skills, but to teach how to make money at these various skills.

In metropolitan Portland, Oregon, where I live, there are thousands of artists who do their art part time, or sometime. Their “real job” is waiting on tables, as baristas, or something else that pays the bills, but takes them away from their passion–art. And, silly us, we accept this type of behavior as okay. People in the arts are notorious for having low self-esteem, selling what they make for less than it cost to make, and wondering all the time if someone, anyone will like us.

There are some individuals who are have taken up the task of kicking the creatives in the butt and getting them to focus on their art as a business. One person in Portland, Adrienne Fritze, is focusing her efforts in a course called The Guerilla Exhibitor During the course, Fritze has the students analyze what is holding them back, and has them understand that with a given vision, they can go forward in this profession, as a working artist. She has them focus on marketing, finances, and the legal aspects associated with our profession. At the end, they are given a project that they must complete. This project could be a gallery show, start a school, or something that is specifically associated with that individual. I truthfully don’t know of any other program that is like this one.

Creatives need to think of what they do as a business that makes money, not as an passion waiting for a patron. And to become a business, one has to do what the big dogs do. Think of what they do as a business. It’s that simple.


One response to “A Call to Action

  1. I DO agree we need to think of ourselves as a business and learn how to create new opportunity and make the opportunity we have more profitable.

    AND I think often people mistakenly believe that to do that we have to give up our integrity and our creativity. Not so!

    In addition to being a theatre artist I am also a small business coach, and I have worked with 100s of small businesses that have found a way to make it work without selling out their values. You have to think like a big boy in terms of going after ways to make the $ you need. But you do not have to sell out or think like some of them do in terms of poor quality and false promises to do it.

    I can get my clients to think about marketing and other practical concepts because they trust this fact- but my artist colleagues assume they will turn into Enron by just taking the time to learn how to write a show poster that actually makes someone want to attend the show.

    The schools need to foster the arts as business idea-but every forward thinking artist with a brain needs to foster it too. The new message is that you can do your art AND make money without selling out your creativity or your ideals. The idea that we will not have the time, ability or brain power forward our art if we are also learning about business is just plain silly. All of us have the capacity to learn and do in many areas of our lives all at once or we would all be broken people without friends, family, running water or day jobs. While there are some of those- most artists are pretty high functioning people.

    We need to fully believe in ourselves and in the idea that we can succeed both practically and creatively at the same time. Once we do that we will figure out the specific “how tos” to get there. We are smart people and it IS possible.

    Thanks for bringing up a really important topic.


    (And if you want to jump in on the specifics and share your ideas on how to do that for Theatre specifically go to http://www.tps.org the non-profit theatre collective in Seattle has quite a thread on this same topic.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s