Artists and Entrepreneurs: They’re Opposites… Or Are They?

Jay-Z

“THE KEY IS TO OVERCOME FUNCTIONAL FIXEDNESS.” -Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

I went to a social gathering not too long ago where I described one of my goals for ART OF HUSTLE – To have artists think more like entrepreneurs.  The guy I was talking to found that really amusing.  Maybe downright crazy.  “Aren’t those opposites?” Traditionally, stereotypically, and unfortunately, yes.  But, I must argue, all the best known artists that have excelled in their careers have done so with entrepreneurial thinking.  Besides, The Arts simply cannot afford to any longer disregard this necessary pairing of skills.  Town hall after town hall and conference after conference, the conclusions come back all the same, if not more dismal this year than the last: We have a problem with sustainability.

Arts organizations are losing their audience and income to the down economy, to newer forms of entertainment, or in the case of classical arts, to death itself.  Season subscribers of the opera and symphony, most of them seniors, are literally dying off and younger audiences are not engaged sufficiently to take their place.  No one returns from these local and national conversations saying, We’ve got an art problem.  Most of the time, the art is fine.  Even superb.  Instead they’re saying, We’ve got a marketing problem.  Or, We’ve got a business problem.  And it’s plaguing every level of management right down to the individual artist.

Further, I don’t believe we should simply leave it up to the very small (in comparison to the whole arts population) percentage of arts administrators to figure it out for the rest of us.  We need as much mind power behind this issue as possible.  All of us as a creative community need to get involved in cutting the keys to our own survival.  The best part is – We already have what it takes, the imagination.  But we are lacking the business acumen (which artists to their detriment have negatively stigmatized).  So, let’s boost our atrophied left brain talents, and then apply our genius as needed.

Does that sound cuckoo?  Am I crazy, really?

Not that it’s a competition but the business world is already WAY ahead of us artists in marrying these two brain hemispheres, actually practicing the holism that we artists only speak about in metaphors.  And they’re seeing HUGE benefits.  Just one example, Google.  Author Daniel Pink mentions Google and a few others in his lecture (below) in describing the growing importance of combining creativity with traditional skills to be able to navigate this era of new technology and economics.  To innovate in the business world is to embrace creativity.  To innovate in the art world would be to embrace business.  So what’s our excuse?  Why aren’t more of us in the art world (with the exception of Hip Hop moguls) also advocating for this bold but totally logical solution – the partnering of our inherent mechanical and cognitive abilities?  Is our sense of daring and innovation just talk?  Are we so stuck on “keeping it real” that we’d rather obsolesce ourselves than evolve?  Perhaps we are simply ignorant.  Or, are we afraid of our own brilliance?  And what do we stand to lose (or win) if we don’t develop our current mode of operations?

As the saying goes:  If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always had.  Today is a day for break-out thinking.  For businesses, it means getting artsy – well, sort of.  And for The Arts, it means getting down to business.  And not “old” business, mind you.  Trust me, the last thing we need is artists acting like corporate tyrants.  Plus, old business is already in effect in a lot of nonprofits.  What I actually mean is NEW business: boutique agencies, social networks, startup cultures, places that value ideas and proficiency, cleverness and discipline, arts and education, experiments and professional development.  This is an exciting time.  What I see is a new type of leadership across the spectrum where every artist and arts administrator may become a contributor, taking charge of the field and reinventing the landscape by way of much needed entrepreneurial savvy.  Are you with me?

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“It means paying people adequately and fairly, absolutely, getting the issue of money off the table, and then giving people lots of autonomy.” -Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation

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What do you think?

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