How to Become a Successful Arizona Artist? ASU Toolkit Paves the Way

Rehearsal for ¡Habla!AZ, a student-initiated arts enterprise developed through ASU's Pave program.
Rehearsal for ¡Habla!AZ, a student-initiated arts enterprise developed through ASU's Pave program.
Courtesy of Linda Essig/ASU Pave Program

The interplay of art with commerce has long been a controversial topic in the arts world. Artists fear that the business side of things might somehow stifle their creative muse, and yet they lament the fact that their artworks aren’t in higher demand. It’s sometimes tough for artists to strike the right balance between creating authentic work and being responsive to audience demand.

Most artists want to both make great work and get paid well for it. Many learn the nuts and bolts of being an entrepreneurial artist only after years of trial and error, if at all. So having tools that connect the creative and business sides of art-making is a good thing.

For Arizona artists, there’s something called the Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Tool Kit. It’s a collection of information, resources, and how-to guidelines created through the Pave program at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Getting a peek at the Pave toolkit during January's Art Tank event at Chandler Center for the Arts.EXPAND
Getting a peek at the Pave toolkit during January's Art Tank event at Chandler Center for the Arts.
Lynn Trimble

Created with Arizona artists and arts professionals, it’s designed to serve as “both an instructional guide and aggregation of resources that independent artists and small arts organizations can use to support the business operations of their creative practice.”

Its philosophical underpinnings include two key beliefs: that artists can be entrepreneurial without being profit driven, and that artists who have a basic understanding of sound business practices have more control over their professional lives.

The Arizona Arts Entrepreneurial Toolkit comes in the form of a flash drive, so artists can simply plug it into a computer to access practical tips and templates related to several aspects of being an entrepreneurial artist.

The 60-page tool opens with a consideration of what it means to be an entrepreneurial artist. Think proactive, persistent, resilient, and creative. Simply making art isn’t enough. Turns out, artists also need skills recognizing opportunity, communicating clearly, acting strategically, and actually getting all that fabulous work out the door.

Specific topics covered include planning, budgeting, finance, public relations, legal issues, and public art. A final section provides additional resources. All reflect industry best practice while sharing resources specific to the Arizona arts environment.

“We want to provide local artists with Arizona-specific resources,” says Linda Essig, a faculty member with ASU's School of Film, Dance & Theatre who heads the Pave program.

Most helpful are sections dealing with business plans, finances, and public relations. 

Linda Essig, ASU faculty member and head of the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship.EXPAND
Linda Essig, ASU faculty member and head of the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship.
Courtesy of Arizona Commission on the Arts

Pave recommends that all artists and organizations using the kit review the business planning section first, which alerts users to the key elements in a business plan, provides examples of effective mission statements created by local artists, offers guidance for conducting a needs analysis, and shares information on local organizations that support small businesses including non-profits.

The finance section offers practical strategies and resources in several key areas, including earned revenue, grant writing, and crowdfunding. Artists eager to learn more about securing grants will find information on who is giving and getting grants, and the actual grant writing process. It’s a nifty bit of demystification for those who feel such things constitute a foreign language.

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The public relations section also addresses marketing strategies such as creating a website, blogging, sending newsletters, and using social media (Facebook and Twitter). Tools for working with the media include a press release template, so artists can simply plug in their information and run with it, and a roster of Arizona media outlets. Pave updates the media list annually, and sends it to those who have the toolkit. But your best bet is updating it far more often on your own.

Other topics addressed by the toolkit include incorporation, copyrights and trademarks, requests for proposals, calls to artists, pricing, and many others.

The toolkit was developed through one of the first Art Tank grants awarded by the Arizona Commission on the Arts. It costs $75, and is available from the Pave program online. All proceeds from sales of the toolkit help to fund the Pave Arts Venture Incubator, which supports nonprofit and for-profit student-initiated arts-based ventures.

So far they’ve funded more than 20 ventures, including ¡Habla!AZ, Higher Level Games, Vivifi Events, SciFilms, [nueBox], and Honest Words, Open Minds.

Cover for the Pave Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit.EXPAND
Cover for the Pave Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit.
ASU Pave Program

Pave also offers arts entrepreneurship classes, and public programming including a biennial symposium and workshops featuring experts in business planning, marketing the arts, legal issues in the arts, and small business accounting.

Find more information on the Pave section of the ASU Herberger Institute website.

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