The Terrifying Reality of Art as a Business

It's January, so the New Year's resolutions abound. I've already had my two weeks of salad for lunch (leaving me cranky and hungry by 4pm) and the vow that this year I will keep my apartment clean and organized. Why not just add to the list a vow to get my business side in order!

This is no easy task for those of us in the arts. Not only do we think ourselves above the greed and inhumanity of business, we also are constantly barraged with the false idea that we should just do our art for the "love" of it. That, my friends, is total crap.

That's not to say that I won't do projects out of love. I will. But if it's for the love then I'm gonna be doing it with people I love too. And after being in theater for as long as I have, I have made some pretty awesome friends for whom I will always work for free. In those cases we're all in it together and I know that what we'll create is gonna be worth it. I've also done projects that have left me screaming. So if I'm gonna hate it, I at least want money for it to be worth it.

For the last two years I have been reading and learning about starting a business. I've had a few ideas in my head and I've been trying to flesh them out and see where they'll go. I've learned a lot of really worthwhile things that have helped shape my outlook on life, work, business, and art.

First of all, we have to shake our idea of business being anathema to art. It shouldn't be. But we don't have to have the goals of a Wall Street tycoon.  What's helped me is to figure out what I need in my life. One of the business books I read had a great budget worksheet. When you can see the numbers in front of you for the basics in your life you suddenly have a good idea of how to put a number on what you're worth. It's important to remember that you can't pay your bills with love. 

I also went to a workshop this summer though the city of New York on starting an Etsy store. ( It was totally helpful in teaching me how to price my work. You know how you always seem to lose money no matter how much you charge? Well they taught me the formula for calculating how much to charge for individual items. Overhead (rent, electricity, supplies, stuff like this), fees (for Etsy it's seller fees), cost of materials, your time (a "salary"), and PROFIT. It never occurred to me that I'd want to build in a percentage for profit in addition to paying myself. But this makes total sense when you think of yourself as a business entity. The business has to be profitable. 

Second, there's nothing wrong with politely saying no. You can turn down a job because it doesn't pay enough. It's really ok. If they really want you, they may offer you more money. If not, well you've just saved yourself lots of unneeded stress. You are not going to get blacklisted from the business over this. 

Last time I was at the USITT national conference I bought a book called "The Business of Theatrical Design" by James L. Moody. I've just started reading it and it is extremely helpful in explaining all those things listed above in terms of the theater biz. 

So, if there's one resolution I'd like to keep, it's to be more business minded in my art! I may not lose that 5-10 pounds or be any cleaner than I already am, but I'd really like to change how I approach my art and encourage others to value themselves as business people too!


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