The Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute

Business-Minded Artists Get Ahead

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 19, No 1 (Spring 2008)

Mary A. Becht and Megan L. Van Voorhis

In June 2007, the Broward Cultural Division and the local arts incubator, ArtServe, Inc., implemented the first "The Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute" (AEI) in South Florida. Presented on four consecutive Saturdays, the AEI offered eighteen classes during three full-day sessions and an extra half-day Business Plan Clinic on the final Saturday.

Designed by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC), Cleveland, Ohio, the AEI is a comprehensive, artist-focused course of study designed to help artists in all disciplines (literary, performing, media, and visual) cultivate and advance their business skills. The curriculum was developed in response to a series of artist dialogues and the early research findings from the Urban Institute's 2003 report, Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists, in which Cleveland and eight other cities played a major role.

The faculty was a mixture of CPAC, the Foundation Center, Florida Craftsmen, and Florida Atlantic University Small Business Development Center instructors, along with leading business representatives, legal practitioners, and artists. The program was well-received by the fifty-three participating artists, and was subsequently covered in an article in the business journal Florida Trend Magazine.

The institute was the successful result of a journey that began in 2004 at the GIA conference, Dancing with Different Partners, in Cleveland, when CPAC and COSE (The Council of Smaller Enterprises) presented a session on their AEI program.

Several participants at this GIA workshop expressed an interest in the AEI program for their communities, and so began the dialogue with CPAC on how to convene a local version of the AEI for Broward County. Funders continually work with an eye toward meeting the needs of the creative community with new services, while at the same time following a learning curve appropriate to launching such a program.

The AEI came at an auspicious time. In 2006, the Broward County Cultural Council set a goal of establishing an artist micro credit program. This revolving loan program was based on the premise that "gaps" in traditional lending markets might result in creditworthy artists and their artistic businesses being disqualified for financing.

To assure that the artists and the micro credit program succeeded, the micro credit funding was linked with the AEI capacity-building repertoire to help the artist community better understand their enterprise and their markets. The AEI initiative, now gaining momentum in Broward County, was the perfect complement to the Council's parallel micro lending initiative.

Since no similar Urban Institute research of artists' needs had been done for this area, Megan L. Van Voorhis, CPAC vice president, was invited to Broward County in October 2006. She presented the AEI concept in a Creative Conversation workshop for the Micro Credit Committee, artist guilds, and ninety-five South Florida artists and cultural community members who were asked to help determine the future placement of the program.

The workshop revealed that a genuine interest did exist and that the needs of Broward's artists were not too different from the framework of artist support described in the Urban Institute's findings.

With CPAC's assistance, an entrepreneurial road map is being created for Broward County's creative sector. In addition to grantmaking efforts, the AEI curriculum may be an initiative that other funders may wish to consider adding in order to support their local artists with business development.

The annual GIA Conference provides a valuable connection for funders and the artistic field through new knowledge and relationships.

Mary A. Becht is director, Broward County Cultural Division, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Megan L. Van Voorhis is vice-president, Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, Cleveland, OH.