This week has been an interesting one at business school. The suits and industry types have been in a somber mood, sometimes punctuated with gallows humor. There are people in our class whose full-time job offers are now officially kaput, and numerous others who have to wait longer than anticipated to learn their fate. A scheduled session with the Finance Club called “What is Investment Banking?” that was to have been hosted by Lehman Brothers was, for obvious reasons, canceled.
- On the other hand, I know a couple of Forestry double-degree kids who are probably snickering a little on the inside. As the estimable Jerome a Paris writes at Daily Kos:
After years of deregulation, of promotion of greed and assertion of the superiority of the market, and in particular of financial makrets to decide how to run the economy, it appears – nay, make that: it is now blatantly, in your face, obvious – that none of this worked. Worse, the people that have mocked government throughout, as wasteful, inefficient and incompetent are now counting on the very same government to bail them out from the hole they have dug.
Ouch! This might be a great time to remind folks that the arts are a great diversifying force in an economic downturn.
- Continuing on the finance theme, Matthew Guerrieri over at Soho the Dog looks at the possible effect of the recent uncertainty in the bond market on arts and culture capital projects. Matt also has a roundup of his recent economics-related posts.
I hereby propose that, from now on, any banker who disparages government arts funding as unfairly rewarding organizations that can’t make it in the free market gets the business end of a broken beer bottle.
- Maybe this is one reason why, according to Kamal Sinclair of Fractured Atlas, artists lack business skills because they don’t trust business people.
The majority of respondents to our March 2008 survey agree, business is a necessary and mandatory part of any artistic career. However, many of our respondents also expressed some resistance to actively learning business concepts and skills. Here is a summary of the comments:
- Business skills are counter-intuitive for artists
- Directly selling your art erodes humility, goodness, or purity
- Artists are not passionate about or motivated by business
- Artists are intimidated by business
- Artists are suspicious of “business” people
- Business has nothing to do with art
- Business takes time away from creating art
- Talent, not business skills, will lead to success
- Fear of expensive scams targeted at artists
I want to highlight in particular the perception that “business has nothing to do with art.” I have to say that before I came to business school I did not fully understand the vast chasm that separates the worlds of art and business. It goes way beyond mere cultural differences and income levels, which is what I thought was at the root of most of it. They are really two completely different ways of thinking about and viewing the world. I am reminded of this twice a week now when I attend my choral conducting seminar and concentrate my energies on staying on the beat and figuring out what Mozart meant by that A-flat in bar 6 instead of whether XYZ Corporation should outsource its barcoding operations to Mexico. I consider myself a synthesist by nature, more than most people I know, but this one is a challenge even for me. All of which is to say that I’m not surprised by these results. On the other hand, I do feel that a lot of the intimidation factor comes from a simple lack of financial literacy, which is why I’m glad that efforts like Basic Finance for Artists from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists from The Field are popping up in New York and elsewhere. The more that artists can learn to let the workings of business empower rather than victimize them, the better off they’ll be–financially. I can’t say that it will make their art any better, though.
- And finally, some happy thoughts. Amanda Ameer over at Life’s a Pitch has a great idea for helping up-and-coming artists get publicity:
Would a free publicist help? Before I took the label day-job and started blogging my little heart out, I had planned on asking for applications and offering a season of free publicity for the artist who wrote the best essay on how to save classical music or whatever. There would have to be requirements: the artist has x number of concerts per year, makes under a certain amount of money, has a manager (so the publicist wouldn’t become the default manager), has an interest in bettering the industry as a whole…I hadn’t thought it all through, but you see the direction. Then I would have a committee ((my friends)) from the management and presenting arenas help select the candidate. Now, however, I’m thinking that for next season, 09-10 (gah!), it might be interesting to recruit other publicists – all the classical music publicists in New York, for example – to each take on a pro bono client for a season, and also serve as the selection committee. Artists would be selected and then assigned to the publicist who best fit their needs.
Amanda deftly pinpoints the “winner-takes-all” curse that haunts the performing arts field (“The artists who can afford publicists don’t need them (well, they do but they don’t – you know what I mean), and the artists who can’t, do”), and comes up with a solution involving a commitment to pro-bono service in her profession, the way that such a commitment is de rigeur in the legal field.* It’s a beautiful thought, honestly; my only quibble is that the requirement for the artist to have a manager excludes an awful lot of people unnecessarily. (How many people have a manager but not a publicist?) It seems to me you could just make clear upfront that managerial duties will not be included in the free service and leave it at that. Also, an essay contest? Wouldn’t listening to their CDs or going to their concerts be a better way of judging this? Those details aside though, I’m thrilled with this idea. It warms my heart when the nonprofit and for-profit sides of the classical music industry realize that they’re all in the same boat.
* For more on this concept, check out the Taproot Foundation.