Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Living off your art

Convener: George Mann
Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:
Following the session "How can artists run good businesses that earn them a living and are sustainable?" held on the 25 February 2012 I changed the name of this follow up ‘action’ session to the above.

Core Issues?

I began the session asking to identify the ‘core issues’ that make it difficult for artists to run successful businesses and make a living in order to get the ball rolling, they were deemed to be:

1.     State of Mind

-Young professionals finding it hard to ask to be paid and finding themselves in cycle of unpaid work that’s difficult to escape –like attracting like…  they feel unprepared when leaving education and that there’s no support. Doubt as to just how true this is, we collected more info about organisations, books, etc that offer help. See below…

-Business is a dirty word: it was felt that many find it difficult to accept that making a living off your art involves business, and prefer to think of it differently, some even to deny the fact –but we agreed it shouldn’t be like this.

-The myth of the poor artist and that this is the way it should be, a romanticised way of life (when in fact many professional artists in many professions are highly successful and comfortable financially or, quite frankly, rich).

The three ‘issues’ identified above are considered to be part of the problem facing artists and perhaps behind the statistic 50-75% of artists end up leaving the profession after five years because they cannot make a living.

2.     Education

-There are not many well-known organisations offering support to artists running self employed / company businesses providing training in business management, or access to different business models available. This point, it was argued, is not entirely true, there are many orgs out there, ITC for example, but perhaps we haven’t done the research to find out? Or perhaps they’re not well known enough.

-Uni’s and drama schools etc., can do more to prepare –educate – guide their students towards the information we’ve discussed and collected through these two sessions. Only one or two actually do this for their students.

-It was felt that although some know about business help –courses, training, info such as books, access to the help mentioned above requires money and although we recognise the above cannot be run/produced for ‘free’, we agreed that they were expensive, more so for students.

-Can the ACE help make this type of training affordable?

-Someone points out that if artists were trained to run businesses properly, efficiently, well, that this would help art thrive. Business can help art thrive, it needn’t be a dirty word or concept.

3.     Lack of protection for companies and artists from bad conduct.

-Theatre’s misbehaving, i.e. not adhering to contractual agreements on marketing support, for example, letting down companies and artists…

-Artists and companies feel vulnerable to political consequences if they voice their concerns about misconduct they’ve experienced in their dealings with theatres –such as repeated bad practice of not putting up posters/flyers etc. For example, by voicing their concern, they may find themselves unable to book tour dates at said venue in the future…

-Artists, it was felt, should come together to support each other, so that concerns and reports of bad conduct can be aired and backed up by the community, this way theatres cannot so easily ‘misbehave’ knowing that there would be consequences, that other people would find out.

-Can ACE do anything to make sure theatres that they fund are doing a good job? We say this knowing that they’ve recently suffered massive cuts, so where these people would come from is anyone’s guess…

What Can We Do?

Talking is all very well, but really, what can we do, what difference can we make, how can we change the status quo?

We felt there were two ways of doing something about this:

1.     Communication

There is a severe lack of communication about how artists can run their businesses, be they self employed, or wanting to establish a company, and if this was improved then artists would know what is out there, and how to find it –as there is stuff out there, even if it’s not ideal…

2.     Promote learning/education

…About how artists entering the industry can run their businesses, successfully. This involves uni’s, drama schools, the ACE, ITC –they could all do more, work together, to help make the arts thrive through good business management.

How can we encourage drama schools/uni’s to make sure they properly prepare their students before leaving their institutions, to lessen the shock of the ‘real world’ to provide access to and guidance about making a living off your art?

The two, communication and promote learning/education kind of sit together, and practically we felt the next steps could be:

There needs to be a site or page, perhaps on the new D&D website (?), that becomes well known, a place artists know about and direct other artists who are starting up or who need business guidance.

A forum?
Perhaps on the abovementioned site/page to ask questions openly to a membership (free) and community of artists who can reply, like a notice board.

Create a D&D Satellite
To raise this issue with people in the arts who have influence and can actually bring about change, high profile critics such as Lyn Gardner, ACE representatives, MPs in the cultural department, Business school reps, ITC reps, Equity reps, BECTU reps, drama schools/uni reps with and without business prep courses, life coaches, Princes Trust, Venues and Theatres and Festivals, etc. Put these issues to them and see what could be done practically, make them give a s**t about it, see it’s importance.

Partner ITC with ACE?
Encourage a dialogue and partnership between organisations such as the ACE and ITC who could make training courses of this nature more affordable and available to artists who need it, be they start-ups or well established artists needing a helping hand.

Who will do this?

I acknowledged along with many others that I don’t have the time nor money to really take on the above tasks, but that there are people out there, the influential people we mention above, who could include these tasks as part of their job description and could be better placed to make a difference.

So we have concluded that what is most important at this stage is:

Organising a satellite D&D to get the right people together, and

Getting this info, which in itself is helpful and a good start up on the D&D website –a place, a forum, a community that exists already and continues to grow.

The right people need to do this

Tips, advice, organisations, & comments that came out of the above discussion:

Helpful Organisations Online:

Creative choices: help with developing your career in the arts, fantastic stuff to help you here…

Free Cycle can help you acquire set, props and costume for free: a grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns.

CIDA: If you’re a creative individual, business or arts organisation looking for support to take your creative business or project further, you’ll find it here, whatever stage you’re at.

Heads for Business: To bring together the top leaders of today and tomorrow to create a better, more sustainable world through the positive power of business.

PANDA ARTS: PANDA’s mission is to proactively support a vibrant enterprise culture by nurturing talent, creating connections and providing an authoritative voice for the performing arts sector. PANDA supports 
Anyone working, or aspiring to work, within the performing arts sector within the NW and neighbouring regions.

Helpful Books:
Screw Work Let’s Play – John Williams (not Spielberg favorite composer)
Sales on a beer mat – Mike Southon
So you wana be a theatre producer – James Seabright

From Tanja Raaste:

I attach the info on the course I'm running at Blue Elephant through 2012. Thank you for putting up the info onto your new blog.  Do send me the link when it's up, and I'll feature it on my resources page (which is still under construction:  click here )

Another resource you might want to put a link to is my newsletter (see links below my signature below) - the newsletter mainly deals with arts business issues – you can have a flick through the past issues (link below).

Kind regards,


Tanja Raaste
07980 619 165

Business Skills for Artists – new course at the Blue Elephant Theatre.  Details here.

Sign up to the monthly Nordic Nomad Newsletter here.  For past issues - click here.

-Actors agents, although work for some, also help distance actors/artists from the reality of business and of money, this can lead to difficult situations, feelings of powerlessness and in rare cases corruption. It’s good that actors know this is not the only route…

-Artists can apply for working tax credit, did you know this?

-Perhaps the current trend of arts businesses being charities and not-for-profit orgs puts pressure on others to follow suit when in fact their business model does not suit this? Again, is it wrong to make a profit? Is it wrong to want to make a living, buy a house one day, be comfortable as an artist…? This probably adds to the perception of the poor artists myth, and the moral stance some take in believing that business is a dirty word in the arts.

-Business is a creative ‘thing’, it can be exciting to run your own arts business

-Business and art engage two different parts of the brain, which is a challenge but also helps us separate and not mix the two where they shouldn’t be mixed.

-There’s an inherent violence and difficulty in the arts, it’s not easy, it is hard work, and no amount of education and guidance will change this fact.

-EVERYTHING is negotiable, no doesn’t always mean no

-Can ACE do things with Uni’s and Drama Schools AND ITC, pairing, arts management courses in conjunction with…?

-NPO’s are not obliged but they are encouraged to mentor and help other artists with their own businesses/companies

-Can someone create a list of willing venues who would help artists, mentor them?

Another useful resource:

26 March: Starting a Performing Arts Company
Former Director of ITC, Mary Loughran leads this fascinating and exciting one day course, providing an overview of the essential skills required for setting up and running a performing arts company.
10am - 5pm at the Albany. 

For more info you can check the ITC website:


  1. cont...
    The two main problems with training seem to be that you usually have to show up in person, and yes, you have to part with some money. However, the money part is largely an excuse. Yes, everyone complains that the ITC and TMA run courses are too expensive, and some even complain that mine (ranging from £15 to £30 for a workshop) are too. Now, £15 is not expensive for someone to prepare material, teach it, ensure you understand it, and take home some new skills. I don’t believe anyone really believes this. So, I’ve come to realise the ‘expensive’ tag is just an excuse. From my years of teaching I’ve learned that there is genuine apprehension and even fear around these topics, and while it may seem like a great idea to sign up to a course, our inner saboteur will take over given half a chance, and we ‘forget’ to follow up, or say we can’t ‘afford’ it. Because this is outside our comfort zone, it is difficult. It is hard to do something new – to show up somewhere, to risk being ‘outed’ as not knowing stuff.

    Over the years I have tested out my courses – I’ve tried different prices etc, and looked at how that affects attendance. Price actually has very little to do with it, but subject matter does. The ‘scarier’ the subject, the less people show up. I usually have lots of free places available on any hands-on negotiation courses where I’ve promised loads of interaction!

    It is always good practice when choosing training to think about where the trainer/organisation gets its money from. If they are charging for attendance – then its fairly simple – they get it from you, the people they train. If they are not charging for the training, then where are they getting their money from? It is not cheap to organise events – you need a venue, you need to market the event – and this is before you’ve even paid the trainer for their preparation and teaching time. So, some will be subsidised, which is great to see, and some others will be selling to you – just disguising it as ‘training’. These latter type of events can be a huge waste of time – rarely, but it does happen, you can also pick up some useful tips from these as well. Just remember to be selective. Your time, not only your money, is valuable.

    Sometimes, its worth paying a little for that book or training course, so you can get on with the task of absorbing the information and make your arts business better. It’s your time, use it wisely!


  2. and finally...

    By now you may have realised I’m rather passionate about this subject. I just see the same mistakes being made over and over again and I find it frustrating to watch so am trying to help shed some light on these topics.

    To become good at any new topic and/or skill, you need to set aside time dedicated to study and to practice. Both are important. What I see is that there is a lot of wishful thinking ‘I wish I was good at business’ but a serious lack of proactivity. This, as well as being just plain old procrastination, is also partly because some of us feel that ‘we shouldn’t have to’ study this stuff – its not why we became artists. Unfortunately, unless you’re a natural at ‘this stuff’, you will have to study it and learn it to get ahead. Those that have a handle on the business side are far more successful than those that don’t.

    Right now, it is kind of OK to turn away from business and to not really engage with this part of things, because so many other artists are doing this too. However, what happens when everyone else starts getting this right, and you’re left behind? This means that you will be on your own, not ‘getting’ business, while everyone else forges ahead.

    My point is that this stuff is not hard and I’m making it my mission to make sure that no artist who has talent and wants to bring it to people will fail due to lack of knowledge and skills. Quitting because you genuinely want to do something else, or go hiking through Australia, or some other valid reason is fine – having to quit because of a lack of a few basic business skills is not.

    www.nordicnomad. com

    PS - I don't think the link above works, so the link to my next workshop at the Blue Elephant is:

    Oh, and the free meetup group is