If good entrepreneurs are money-motivated, great ones know that it’s going to take more than that to be successful.
In contrast, artists oftentimes develop a “love-hate relationship” with money. As anyone who has seen a “starving artists” moving van can attest, an artist’s passion doesn’t always lead to food on the table.
The program on Thursday celebrated its one-year anniversary with a panel of three local artists discussing challenges they face with embracing fears, versatility and marketing. The conversation aimed to help fellow artists monetize their crafts.
Kansas City poet Jen Harris shared with the panel her ethical challenges with selling her art. Also the founder of the KC Poetry Slam, Harris said that she had to dig deep into her own fears about what it meant to receive money for art, and that it required mental, emotional and spiritual work on herself in order to better understand her own value.
“The only people yelling ‘Sell out!’ (at other artists) are broke,” she said. “I don’t work for free, so my path of financial betterment through art has really been self-empowerment.”
Harris recently reached a $7,000 goal on Kickstarter for a national slam poetry tour, a spoken-word album and a book. She said she owes the success in part to her relationship with fans, which she cultivated through a robust digital presence with a marketing approach that was congruent with her brand.
“The only people yelling ‘Sell out!’ (at other artists) are broke…I don’t work for free, so my path of financial betterment through art has really been self-empowerment.”- Jen Harris
Harris also offered tips on business operations for the audience. She stressed the importance of creating contracts in order to protect yourself and to maximize business opportunities. Harris added that it’s important to balance budgets for projects without compromising your value.
An alumna of Artist Inc., musician Molly Hammer shared lessons from her career transition from the folk genre to jazz. She shared with the panel the importance of versatility, and told attendees that even though jazz may be her favorite genre, it’s impossible to make a living solely as a jazz singer. Hammer has adapted by singing at weddings, and occasionally singing in a group.
Hammer said that to be successful she had to force herself out of her comfort zone. In doing so, she met people who introduced her to new opportunities.
“Go into it unembarrassed,” Hammer said. “I had to force myself out of my apartment and out into the world. I think a lot of artists have social anxiety — it’s fairly common.”
Hugh Merrill, a Kansas City Art Institute professor and printmaker, has had successful shows at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and Cranbook Art Museum. He reinforced to attendees that marketing is an everyday occurrence for every successful artist, and not an abstract concept.
“There is no silver bullet,” Merrill said. “Those who persevere will win.”
Founded in 2015 by Susana Bruhn, GUILDit aims to support the interconnection of art and business in the Kansas City area. The forum meets twice a month and features two artists who speak for six minutes each before a 20-minute question-and-answer session. While 1 Million Cups focuses on emerging businesses, GUILDit focuses on mid-career established artists and asks them to share their experiences.
An artist and 1 Million Cups fanatic, Bruhn was inspired by the forum’s pragmatic advice.
“As an entrepreneur and an artist myself, I know that there is no proven pathway to success,” Bruhn said. “Artists are solo entrepreneurs — they are on their own more. Some of them don’t look at the business side as much and think that as long as they keep on going, money will come. But you have to look at business strategy as well as pour love into your art.”
Bruhn noticed that artists often have the same challenges as traditional businesses as they have to market themselves to potential customers. While the business community has a plethora of resources like KCSourceLink and Kauffman’s FastTrac, Bruhn noticed resources for art entrepreneurs were lacking and hoped GUILDit could fill the gap.
“As an entrepreneur and an artist myself, I know that there is no proven pathway to success.”- Susana Bruhn
Bruhn said that Kansas City is a cocoon of creativity ready to burst.
“When I do art, I set my own agenda,” she said. “I don’t conform to clients expectations, I conform to my own and that’s what I like. … It’s a peaceful time where I don’t have any demands on me and I create my own space”
GUILDit in May received a $25,000 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to build on its programming. Bruhn said that GUILDit is currently forming a board so it can officially become a non-profit. The GUILDit team is also launching an alumni program this fall, in which experienced presenters will meet socially once a month and facilitate growth in the community.
GUILDit forums are at the Uptown Arts Bar every second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. and at Kemper Museum every fourth Thursday at noon.