Art Smarts

Paintbrushes, violins, business plans and press releases-the tool kit of the twenty-first-century artist signals a new merging of art and business.

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For students, the Arts Enterprise and Wiscontrepreneur initiatives are meant to show the wide range of options available to them after graduation--and arm them with the tools to make their interests their career. Perhaps these programs couldn't be targeted at a better group.

While hard numbers don't yet exist to back it up, the emerging generation of artists seems less likely to lay aside their passions for a nine-to-five office gig. They've studied music, art, theater or writing for four years--and often much longer--and feel they need to at least try to make a living from their art, says Morgann Davis, former president of the Arts Enterprise UW--Madison Student Association, who graduated in May with a master's degree in flute performance.

Davis, for instance, plans to continue performing and teaching flute, and she's optimistic about her chances for success, even in a down economy. She thinks many parents will likely continue paying for music lessons for their children, even if they're trimming the family budget elsewhere. "When times are bad, people focus on what they feel is important," she says.

Student artists can gain the skills to make their art their business through the student association or a course Taylor and Jutt, who is also a professor in UW's School of Music, are teaching in the fall. "Arts Enterprise: Art as Business as Art" is cross-listed in five departments--business, art, design, music and theater--and will "explore the dynamic interplay between artistic life and business strategy."

For students who think business skills are superfluous or just one more thing they have to juggle in launching a career in the arts, they'll benefit from hearing new perspectives on the topic.

"Artists have always had it tough," Jutt says. "What's new? It was already like that. If you're driven to do it, you're going to do it, you're going to do it no matter what."

Working Together

The Arts Enterprise Symposium could easily have catered only to student artists, as a supplement to their fine art and music performance training at the university. But artists who had already been working in Madison left the event with tools, energy and a new inspiration: collaboration.

As Jay Rath, a longtime Madison arts writer, walked home from the event in January, he wondered how to keep the ideas presented at the symposium alive and moving.

Rath came up with the idea to form Capital Region Arts, a local arts council that could further members' business savvy, forge connections and also raise awareness and advocate on behalf of Madison artists.

The group has already held a meeting and a workshop, and members chat online through a Yahoo! Groups message board. Rath hopes the arts council will grow in numbers, influence and reach throughout the region.

In addition, at the symposium, individual artists forged connections with other artists, organizations and resources, but bigger ideas began gaining momentum as well. For one, arts organizations have started talking about how they can work together, says Crownover, one of the symposium's organizers.

"Pandora's box has been opened," she says.

Sure, the state of the economy has everyone tightening their budgets and looking for ways to save money. But it takes more than money woes to get arts groups concentrating on collaboration instead of competition, Crownover says.

Teaming up doesn't mean organizations give up their autonomy or specific artistic visions. Rather, it brings a wide range of options, from exchanging fundraising tips to sharing office space or an accountant to combining insurance policies or payroll services.

Even among groups with similar audiences, cooperation is efficient--and not a threat to individual organizations, says George Tzougros, executive director of the Wisconsin Arts Board, a state agency that promotes the arts.

"It's an incredibly important idea at this point," he says. "The audience doesn't care what happens behind the scenes."

Ultimately, the more successful individual artists and arts organizations are, the stronger the local arts scene is--and this adds up to big business in Madison.

When Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton took office in 2003, she "leaped at the chance" to chair the Wisconsin Arts Board. That's not only because of a lifelong interest in music and visual art, but also because studies show the arts are critical contributors to local--and increasingly creativity-based--economies.

An Arts & Economic Prosperity study found that the nonprofit arts and culture industry in Dane County generated $111 million in local economic activity in 2005. Organizations spent $58.8 million and their audiences added $52.2 million in related spending. This accounted for over four thousand full-time-equivalent jobs, generated $69.13 million in household income to Dane County residents and brought in $10.11 million in local and state revenue.

Bottom line, the arts create jobs and bring in money to Madison, and this study tracked the impact only of non-profit arts groups, Lawton says. Commercial artists and groups also play an important role in the economy, and when combined with the non-profits they form a compelling cultural scene. The impacts ripple out from there.

A thriving arts scene helps form a city's image, which in turn prompts people to visit and move here. People want to live in creative communities, Lawton says. And where people go, so do businesses.

"If you're going to attract and retain workforces for the twenty-first century global economy, you need to have a lively cultural heartbeat at the core," she says.

If proof is needed, Lawton points to President Obama, who devoted $50 million of his economic stimulus package in April to the National Endowment for the Arts to help save arts jobs.

"Too often, people think of the arts as enrichment--a lovely thing to do if you have the time and money," she says. "It's not a soft thing."

Again, a shift in thinking is required. People have to regard the arts from a business perspective to take advantage of the economic opportunities they offer. And opportunities are myriad, especially as artists and arts organizations are empowered to improve and grow.

"It's not an industry that's going to go away, but there's incredible potential for growth," Lawton says.

But ask the artists who attended the Arts Enterprise Symposium what's changed since January, and they'll probably share more personal stories. They might tell you they picked up a career-changing idea or made a useful connection. They could say they feel relieved knowing it's "okay" to be an artist, whether full-time, in addition to a day job, supported by teaching or any number of the situations artists establish for themselves in order to keep creating their work. Or maybe they'll explain that they feel validated in wanting to make a living from their art.

And even more importantly, the participants learned how crucial it is to get the word out about what they're doing and creating--to find an audience for it.

As Taylor puts it, playing the violin beautifully in one's home or painting an amazing landscape in the studio is the first step. And it's a vital one. But it isn't enough on its own. Someone seeing, hearing--appreciating--it is the complementary step. And business provides a way of reaching that someone, that audience.

"Creating your work is essential," he says. "But someone engaging it completes it."

Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.
 

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