Innovating Through Artistry

Do You Say Whatever?

In ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 13, 2007 at 10:33 pm

One of the most interesting things about starting a venture of any kind is watching how others treat you when you start. Most ignore you. Some pause and listen. Others embrace you and few sign up for your mission–at first.

It is human nature to sit back and watch before risking your money, time or energy in supporting a mission, idea or venture. Customers do it, grantors do it, family and friends too. After all who knows what will happen? Our big ideas must become more real and grow for others to believe we are serious and that we have something real to offer.

But where exactly is the tipping point? When do things start to take off?

This week I met with the head of The Coleman Foundation, Michael Hennessy. The Coleman Foundation supports and funds a number of causes including entrepreneurship education. I asked to meet with Mike to learn more about his views on entrepreneurship in the arts.

Mike and I talked about how difficult it is to have others come to embrace the concept. We talked about how much work it is to find the right ways to promote entrepreneurship in the arts inside a higher education system that has too many other things they are focused on, or who have simply ignored the concept, turned their back, closed their doors and largely have refused to even listen.

On one level it was a relief to hear yet another voice who feels as I do, and on another level it was difficult to understand why the last twenty years- my career span and roughly Mike’s at The Coleman Foundation- has yielded only a very small shift, in the last few years, towards embracing what seems like an obvious important part of teaching artists how to make a living inside their art.

My own passion for this cause has come from being intimately involved with artists that I have hired, taught and worked alongside. I have helped as many as I can through my business ventures and have come to recognize that we need a lot more helping hands.

Plain and simple our education system is failing those who graduate in the arts. Artists are graduating without being able to read and write or think like others do who earn other degrees. Learning to wiggle your fingers, sway in synchronicity or walk the runway is not enough of an education. Playing lotto, to win a job, does not require a college degree.

Artists are working everywhere but largely not full time inside the arts. Artists often are working at minimum wage jobs for music stores, art supply stores, for retail clothing stores, as cafe baritas, or bank tellers, waiters in restaurants or delivering the pizza you ordered for dinner last night. Paying your student loans easily, if at all, working any of these jobs is nearly impossible.

It is time the burden, to help artists thrive, be squarely placed back on the system that has failed us. But will educators ever reach the tipping point? Will the world of education ever come to recognize what they need to do? Or will the denial continue? Do I need to get on Oprah and express my views, with a NY Times best selling book, as a catalyst, to help begin to significantly change what is happening in our education system for artists?

Well, frankly, it would help. Perception and popular opinion matters more than what we know in our heart-of-heart as truth. It is really sad to me that status and popularity and power produce results. It is no wonder that so many in those positions wind up abusing what they control. It is also no wonder that we all seek status and popularity and power on some level- society has taught us that getting on Oprah sells what we have to deliver.

But who cares about any of this really-life goes on, with or without the arts, right?

Where have our values and morals as a country gone? For .99 cents you can download your favorite song and who cares if the artist starves? Every man and woman for themselves- right?

We, as a society, are creating and supporting disposable art. But then again we are a disposable society. Isn’t it the American way to throw it away and get something new anyway?


Maybe it is exactly because we have become a society that too easily says “whatever” that we all need to stand up together and fight for what we need to thrive as artists. A large part of our problems come from the educational system that teaches us. We need to become united to change the lack of interest and incredible ignorance our educational system promotes and supports through their lack of entreprenurial training for artists.

It is time to stop saying whatever.

So what can you do to make a difference?

Ask other artists you know, who care about their future, to start reading this blog. Write letters to your administrators and educators about what is missing in your education, or would have helped you in your education, to achieve a higher vision and purpose from you art. For God’s sake- do something. Say something. Stand up for something. But please, don’t say whatever….


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