Artists as entrepreneurs

When I left my career in non-profit social justice work to become a producer, I was very set on creating a for-profit company to produce live entertainment. I knew this would limit funding resources available to me, but I also knew it would increase the flexibility I would have in my approach to running this company. I have not regretted that decision, though I have been shocked at how few supports there are for small businesses in this country, especially considering that we employ about half of U.S. workers.

One of the greatest pieces of advice I gleaned from a blog I follow was to subscribe to Entrepreneur magazine. I am so glad I did as it opened a new world of perspectives different from the traditional non-profit approach to producing live performance. What I get each month are stories about different folks who have an idea and decide to turn that idea into reality and try to make a living doing so.

Artists are entrepreneurs. We have an idea and we figure out how to turn that idea into reality. The next step is to figure out how to make a living at it. As I have been attending various sessions in the Chicago Cultural Planning process, I continue to hear people talk about the need to sustain artists. I wholeheartedly agree with that. However, that sustenance is not going to come from the government. We just don’t live in that society or those times.

What we have to figure out is how to work the systems in which we live to create the living we would like to have: demand higher wages when we can; actually read and negotiate our contracts; find new, unconventional sources of funding and producing (thank you, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo); add our pay into production budgets; invite businesses into the creative process; cultivate new donors and work in-kind contributions.

Lacy Campbell, an artist I love and respect is doing just that. She is doing whatever it takes to create The Story Story, and I respect her immensely for that. In fact, our new project, Chicago Lab and Urban Retreat is all about figuring out how to support arts creators like Lacy in the creative process. Start with what you have and open the gates for others to join in.

We are doing that with The Scooty and JoJo Show’s GoGo Legit Campaign. In order to keep doing these shows that we created – Alien Queen, Carpenters Hallween, and Mollywood, we need to get the rightsholders to agree to let us do so. It’s an intellectual property issue – a vital tool for artists to sustain themselves. It is going to require a lot of financial resources to make this happen, so we are starting with the assets we have – a supportive and loyal base of fans and performers. We opened the flood gates and invited people to join us in this process. Thankfully, people are responding with such support and generosity. Stay tuned as we continue this process. It is going to be a big learning process.

So, as we move forward, the question I have is: in what ways should we continue to rage against the machine and in what ways should we learn to operate that machine?