Skip to Main Content

Business Smarts for the Creative Arts (October 2014): Economic Aspects

By Caley Cannon

Economic Aspects

The Profitable Artist, edited by Peter Cobb, Susan Ball, and Felicity Hogan, is another comprehensive guide to entrepreneurial thinking and the business aspects of art and design.  It is intended for both emerging and established creative professionals in all fields.  Contributions to this volume come primarily from members of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), an arts advocacy group established in 1971 that maintains a website, administers grant programs, offers professional development resources and programming, and provides professional resources such as space and materials for artists to continue their work.  The resources and best practices gathered by NYFA arts professionals, and offered in The Profitable Artist, are intended to serve as a road map for artists and designers working toward self-sufficient, professional, and profitable careers.  The editors are quick to point out that being profitable does not mean that an artist or designer’s sole concerns should focus on financial issues and consumer expectations.  Rather, the intent is to demystify the concepts and skills used in the business world and use them to establish a framework for stability and sustainability in the creative industries.  Topics in part 1 of this book include strategic planning, mission and vision statements, environmental scanning, SWOT analysis, and setting S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) objectives.  Part 2 focuses on financial issues for artists, defining financial terms and concepts, and creating a cost tree to visualize expenses and build a budget.  The third part offers an introduction to legal issues, such as intellectual property, contracts, and business law, and various business structures and their taxation.  Part 4 covers branding, marketing, and networking to promote a creative business.  The book concludes with a discussion of modes of fund raising and ways to identify, research, and prepare for funding opportunities, e.g., by using the Alliance of Artists Communities website, which provides a list of national and international residencies, postings for jobs and internships, educational programming, and an online library of resources supported by the National Endowment for the Arts website.

Richard Florida has written several best-selling books examining the connection between creativity and the economy in the United States.  In The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, Florida identifies a new social class, the “creative class,” and its role in transforming the U.S. economy and culture.  Florida’s definition of the creative class is not confined merely to artists and designers.  It also encompasses innovators in science and technology, media, culture, and education—individuals who represent, in all, nearly one-third of the United States workforce and nearly one-half of the workforce in developed nations, as Florida indicates in this volume.  In Florida’s view, creativity goes hand in hand with human diversity and building sustainable communities that attract economic development and prosperity.  Although a new global economic society based on creativity is still taking shape, unprecedented growth is already evident in many industries, including technology.  Florida cautions that the new creative age and its economic prosperity can also cause great inequality if a division remains between higher-skilled, higher-wage creative jobs and lower-skilled, lower-wage service jobs, accompanied by a shrinking working-class labor force that once participated in higher-wage manufacturing and agricultural work.  The way forward, Florida asserts, is to “make all jobs creative jobs, infusing … human endeavor with creativity and human potential.”  When all people are empowered as sources of creativity and rewarded for their contributions to global prosperity, transformative economic and social progress may prevail.  Although some of Florida’s theories about creativity and economic development have been criticized as elitist and politically liberal, he maintains that “every human being is creative,” and that creativity is therefore a limitless resource that all people share.  Since creativity is innate, the goal of the global society should be to build a more inclusive creative class that makes effective use of all of the talents of its members.

In contrast to Florida’s expansive definition of the creative class, Elaine Luttrull confines her guide to personal finance to creative professionals who approach their work from an entrepreneurial perspective, regardless of industry.  Her book, Arts and Numbers, provides a clear guide to building the creative economy with the goal of finding self-fulfillment and professional and financial independence.  Creative entrepreneurs strive to balance their creative freedom with financial stability, and Luttrull’s book helps by offering a practical road map to doing so in a thoughtful manner.  In addition to familiar topics such as goal setting, budgeting, and taxes, she discusses the psychology behind financial security and the need to plan for the unexpected.  Through anecdotes, worksheets, and illustrations, Luttrull demonstrates the important role that attitudes toward work and financial planning can play in the success of a creative entrepreneur.  She also identifies useful tools for financial planning, such as 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, a website provided by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that endeavors to promote financial planning and understanding of personal finance among all Americans.

Ilise Benun’s The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money offers tools for those working in creative fields to handle financial issues.  She addresses many common financial questions related to budgets, contracts, small business finance, and setting long-term financial goals.  Benun’s writing on small business management, marketing, and entrepreneurialism has been featured in many publications of interest to creative professionals, such as HOW and The New York Times.  The guidance she provides is applicable to a variety of creative industries.  Each chapter of her book begins with a self-assessment of personal attitudes about money within a particular context, such as budgets or sales.  Being comfortable talking about and managing finances in a confident, objective way is critical to a successful creative business.  Benun offers considerable advice on the subjective nature of setting rates for creative work, whether hourly, by the project, or by the object.  Other topics include establishing credibility, working with clients and customers, communication skills that build trust and confidence, and negotiating contracts.

Securing funds for creative work is the focus of The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing, by Gigi Rosenberg.  The author’s goal is to share her knowledge and experience of successful grant writing with creative professionals who may struggle to reconcile creative practice with bureaucratic requirements.  Rosenberg counsels artists and designers to see the grant writing process as an opportunity to express conviction in the value of their creative work, to explain in detail the purpose and necessity of their work and its impact, and to apply the same thoughtfulness and thoroughness to the application process that scientists would when justifying their work and securing funding.  The grant writing process can help creative professionals clarify their work and goals and revise ideas that are not yet well-developed.  Rosenberg’s step-by-step approach to grant proposals includes assignments at the end of each chapter to reinforce the skills and concepts explained.  The book concludes with a list of resources for identifying grant opportunities and recommended reading for a range of subjects, including writing, creativity, and career guidance.  The author pays particular attention to the psychology of success and to methods for handling rejection and procrastination.  Finally, Rosenberg offers insight into establishing and maintaining beneficial relationships with funders—from matching a grant proposal to the needs and interests of funders to following up at the project’s conclusion to express appreciation for support received.