Art and entrepreneurship: Making it work
Everyone has his/her own ideas about artists and the way they function. Some subscribe to the idea of the artist as a solitary genius who works around the clock, never leaving his or her studio. Others cling to the myth of the starving artist. Regardless of public perception, whether favourable or otherwise, there’s no denying the art world has developed in such a way that it has become impossible to overlook the transformation most artists have undergone since the days of faithful patronage. More artists are now embracing entrepreneurship as a crucial component of their creative practice, taking the work out of the studio and making it more accessible to the public in the process.
The words art and entrepreneurship may seem an unlikely coupling, but recent trends in the art world prove that they may not be so odd after all. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a contemporary artist who isn’t doing it all right now. But this wasn’t always the case. There once was a time when artists were free to focus entirely on mastering their craft without being too concerned with things like audience and market. Those days, however, are long gone and more artists find themselves alternating between two vastly different, yet equally demanding , modes of operation.
So how does one bridge the gap between creative practitioner and business professional? The truth is there’s no single formula to making it work. Every creative professional, when asked, would provide a different list of things that worked in his or her favour. Most would’ve had to go through months or even years of trial and error before finding the perfect balance for their schedule. Unfortunately, even with an arts diploma or degree, there is no guarantee that you would be adequately prepared for life after the student environment. While very few art programmes have moved to include professional business practices in their curriculum, I suspect more will eventually follow suit in an effort to keep up with the art world’s changing pace.
I was fortunate enough to have a professional business practices course during the two semesters of my final year while I was studying in Barbados. But even with those two semesters there was still quite a lot of ground that I needed to cover (and a lot more that I’m yet to figure out). In an ideal scenario, a full course in professional business practices would be offered from the beginning of every art programme in every tertiary institution until the completion of the programme. But since that hardly ever happens, students are either left to pursue a double major in art and business at the university level or register for business courses in a separate institution after completing their formal art training.
Either way, it points to an obvious disconnect in the way art is being taught as opposed to the way it should be taught. The world is rapidly changing and the arts curriculum needs to reflect those changes in order to stay relevant and also justify individual programme costs (the average MFA programme could cost US$30,000 with others going far beyond US$60,000). Then of course there are also those creative individuals who have not been trained in a formal classroom environment. They have instead opted for a more intuitive process of acquiring knowledge of the materials and techniques used to create their works. What happens to them? Where can they turn for support or advice about making their creative practice a sustainable business venture?
The key to balancing creative and business practices is to first understand the position you wish to occupy within the larger picture. What kind of production would you like to employ? Are you interested in producing strictly one-of-a-kind work, or would you rather make pieces that lend themselves easily to mass production? Perhaps you would like to find a way to capitalize on the best of both types of production. Regardless, it helps to understand your work preference, as it will affect your level of motivation and ultimately, your creative output.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Wayne Barrow, Director of Interweave Solutions Guyana Inc., to discuss some of these issues, the developments unfolding that are geared towards empowering local creative entrepreneurs and his organization’s role in facilitating those developments.
“Interweave Solutions Guyana Inc is part of a larger organization Interweave Solutions, essentially helping people get out of poverty in a way that’s not very expensive. Interweave Solutions can be found in Africa, South America and now with Guyana being the headquarters for the rest of the Caribbean. We teach the ordinary guy in the street about business practices. But we don’t just teach business practices. They have to be incorporated into what we call the three circles of success: the business, the quality-of-life plan and the community plan. We see the interconnection among all three.
Our motto is ‘Business with a heart, charity with a bottom line’ because at the end of the day, it’s not just about making money. We have to give back to society. So even when we bring communities together or we train in communities, we still have to mentor them. We want to see them succeed and for that reason we’ve been providing training throughout the Caribbean. We’re an approved training institution for the Ministry of Business’ Small Business Bureau and we’re currently working in collaboration with the First Lady of Guyana to provide training to persons in every region in Guyana.”
Speaking more directly about the recent push to encourage entrepreneurship among creative individuals and groups, Barrow explained how the formation of the Guyana Creative Business Co-op Society became central to any type of progress they could have envisioned for local arts and craft producers.
“Interweave Solutions Guyana Inc is a registered member of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), and GCCI, like most chambers of commerce, is always planning workshops for the betterment of their environment and businesses. Consequently, one of the former presidents Lance Hinds had considered an initiative with the Caribbean Development Bank with a focus on three specific areas: music, agro-processing and arts and craft. This would’ve been over four years ago. It took some time and it has only now happened. So it was quite a while in the working with many drafts and redrafts to accommodate the conditions in Guyana.
It was realised that the CDB would not work with an individual entity. Most of us fall under micro and nano businesses, but we recognised that if we collaborate as we did by the formation of the Guyana Creative Business Co-op Society, we would now be an umbrella organisation for everyone. Now we have agreements with hotels to buy the products of our members. The hotels would never deal with individual craft persons, but as a group we can choose from a variety of categories, whether it’s basketry, jewellery, pottery etc (to meet their demand). More artists can also benefit from training and technical assistance. I think those are some of the biggest advantages of the GCCI asking that this umbrella organisation be created.”
With the recently formed co-op society now in full operation, Barrow admits that he remains hopeful about the future for local creative entrepreneurs.
“I’m an eternal optimist. I think people just need guidance. The artists and craft persons never had great representation. In the past, certain agencies have just thrown largesse in a way that will benefit them and not the craft persons. So the craft persons over the years have become disillusioned with the handouts from government, because mechanisms were never put in place to help support them. But with a vibrant arts and craft association, we can call on the Small Business Bureau. We can call on ministers now and we can make proposals to government and represent them well. Collaboration with the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana and Guyana Tourism Association are now possible.
Two thousand and seventeen (2017) is a watershed year for the arts and craft persons, because they will start to make money the way they’re supposed to make money. I can see persons coming out of the E.R. Burrowes School of Art, the Guyana Technical Institute and the Carnegie School of Home Economics, knowing that they will have a future either working by themselves or with another entrepreneur. So yes, the future is bright for the artists and craft persons. We have to come together as a nation to make this happen. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and we have just started our small step.”
For more information about the Guyana Creative Business Co-op Society, you can find them on Facebook under the same name.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on April 9, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: