Business Boot Camp

Business Boot Camp
by Daniel Grant

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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In a nutshell, there are two things that artists need most: money and information on how to earn and manage that money. Sometimes, one thing is needed more than the other--how many sculptors are ready to show and sell new work, but can't pay a foundry? Likewise, how many have artwork at the ready, but no idea how or where to reach an audience?

Such needs are long-standing, but luckily for the arts and crafts community there are several organizations that can help.

1. Assets for Artists--(http://assetsforartists.org) is a five-year-old organization based in North Adams, MA that helps artists (crafts, visual, and performing) on both fronts by offering financial and business training, as well as grants up to $2,000. The program is free to participating artists, although qualifying applicants must have low to moderate adjusted gross incomes of no more than $22,340 for a single artist, $30,260 for a couple, $36,000 for a single parent with one dependent child, $41,000 for a couple with one dependent child, $46,000 for a couple with two children, and $54,000 for a couple with three children.

Assets for Artists has two components, the first being educational workshops. According to founder and director Blair Benjamin, the workshops consist of one, eight-hour "financial boot camp" and two, four-hour business training sessions. The eight-hour workshop discusses the "psychological and practical aspects of managing money," said Benjamin. Among the practical issues are how to create a business plan, how to budget, how to repair and improve one's credit rating, where and how to borrow money, and the value of creating an emergency fund. The psychological issues focus on "the baggage people bring to managing their money ... based on what money has meant to their families, artists' fears of selling out, and using money as a symbol of what you hope to be or what's wrong with the world rather than as a tool to be used."

Artists who have completed both training regimens are eligible for the second part of the Assets for Artists program--a matching grant of up to $2,000 based on earned income that the participants have placed in a business savings account. (Benjamin noted that earned income need not come solely from the sale of artworks, crafts items, or performances and may involve other sources. He cites that between one-third and one-half of the program's participants are employed full or part-time as teachers in their fields.) That matching money, which comes from a variety of sources including the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Rockefeller Foundation's Cultural Innovation Fund, the City of Portland, Maine's Creative Portland fund, the City of Providence, RI, and the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, may be used for the purchase of equipment and other work-related expenses. Artists also may use the matching grant to help them purchase a home.

Instructing artists how to earn and save money is the principal goal of Assets for Artists, as most of them have needed to learn how to operate their own business by trial and (plenty of) error.

Anne Lilly, a kinetic sculptor in Somerville, MA who took part in the Assets for Artists program in 2011, is planning to use her $1,500 matching grant to purchase a welder and rewire her studio. "I didn't know what I needed, but I knew I needed something," Lilly said, referring to her previous lack of clarity about handling her finances. Maybe what she needed was self-confidence. "Not long after I completed the program, I got a call from a Midwestern gallery that was interested in having a show of my work," she said. "That sounded great, but I told them that I needed some support for the crating and shipping. They offered $300, and I knew that wouldn't cover much. In the past I would have just gone into debt to have the show. But this time, after some back and forth, I told them that I couldn't do it. A week later, I got a call back and was told that they would pay $1,000 for the shipping. I didn't need to compromise financially, and I know that I wouldn't have stuck to my guns before" taking the financial boot camp.

So, what about artists living outside Massachusetts? Good news, in 2012 the program expanded into other areas of New England and even New York State.

2. The Center for Cultural Innovation--Assets for Artists is unique in combining a business training component with a grants program, but there are other organizations that have separate business workshops for artists and grant programs to which artists may apply. The Center for Cultural Innovation (www.cciarts.org) in Los Angeles, CA offers both a workshop series ($15 per session) and an eight-week long "Business of Art Boot Camp" ($250) that focuses on a variety of subjects like grant writing, marketing, social media, tax tips, and time management, in addition to two grant programs--one for the purchase of equipment (up to $6,000) and another to spur artistic innovation (up to $10,000).

3.Creative Capital--Perhaps a bit closer to the Assets for Artists model is the New York City based Creative Capital (www.creative-capital.org) which assists a limited number of artists with professional development consulting and grants to pursue and complete specific artistic projects. Creative Capital also provides full-day and weekend workshops in fundraising, marketing and promotion, strategic planning, and organizational management (the day-long workshops charge between $7,150 and $8,150, while the weekend program costs between $22,400 and $25,400, divided between the number of artists in attendance).

4. Lower Manhattan Cultural Council--Another organization in New York, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (www.lmcc.net) offers free, five-day professional development workshops for artists in a range of disciplines from budgeting and cash flow to targeted marketing, taxes, creating a business plan, financial planning, and communication skills. Separately, the Council operates a Fund for Creative Communities that makes awards of between $750 and $5,000 to artists working through a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization to create local arts projects and programming.

5. Springboard for the Arts--Some groups that hold professional development classes and workshops have no funding programs. The St. Paul, MN-based Springboard for the Arts (www.springboardforthearts.org) holds ten, free Business Skills for Artists workshops at libraries throughout Hennepin County and focuses on such topics as recordkeeping, fundraising, art and the law, pricing one's work, time management, and career planning. In addition, artists may sign up for one-on-one consultations with artist career counselors ($45 per hour).

6. Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston and Montserrat College of Art--Yet another option, the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston (www.artsandbusinesscouncil.org) and Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA (www.montserrat.edu) have teamed up to create a nine-month long program called The Artist's Professional Toolbox. This program provides information on business, tax and legal issues, as well as financial management ($1,500 per participant). Artists receive a professional development certificate at the completion of the program.


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