This article is intended to help anyone that has the passion and desire to become a working artist. You must be willing to put in the time and effort if you wish to earn a living through your artistic endeavors. A certain level of resourcefulness and grit are necessary as you face any obstacles that may present themselves. For those who seek a career in the arts, the following article outlines five steps you can take to become a working artist.
1.) Build a portfolio and have an online presence
A portfolio is a thoughtfully constructed selection of your work. It should be continually in flux and tailored for specific opportunities. Portfolios are useful, and often required, when applying for:
Developing your portfolio can be a daunting task. When organizing your portfolio, consider how you describe your body of work to another person, and make sure that your portfolio follows and supports that narrative. In general, a portfolio is judged by its weakest work. It is better to include fewer works and provide more details about each selection than it is to have a large number of works that are inconsistent in their quality or incomplete.
Once your portfolio is organized, build from it and develop your online presence. This way you have some place to direct interested parties. As a rule of thumb, the purpose of your website should be to inform while the purpose of social media should be to engage.
You can build a well designed and effective site through website builders such as Weebly and Squarespace. Don’t worry if you don’t have previous experience building websites. Both options offer simple templates and tutorials. There is no need to know coding or programming because both website builders utilize drag-and-drop interfaces.
Social Media can cannibalize your time if you’re not careful. The more time you spend on social media the less time you have for your creative endeavors. Utilize tools such as Hootesuite and Edgar to minimize your time investment while maximizing your effectiveness.
2.) Grow your network
Social media is one facet of networking. However, you cannot solely rely on likes, comments, and shares to grow your network. You must also implement in-person networking. Art and cultural events are great opportunities to see who is active in your community. Allow time in your schedule to attend several events each month that will provide you with opportunities to shake hands, exchange business cards, and learn names.
You should also schedule to attend public meetings. For instance, Art in Public Places Committee meetings, which are scheduled for the second Wednesday of every month (12:00 PM until 1:30 PM) at 300 Water Street, Suite 201 (second floor of the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts). By attending public meetings you will receive up-to-date information about current and proposed projects in your community. At these meetings you will also receive insight pertaining to who the stakeholders and driving forces are involved with projects.
Artists collectives and studio spaces are also opportunities to expand and diversify your network. The Arts Collective, The Art Center Cooperative, Mixon Studios, and CoRK Arts District all represent excellent opportunities to interact with artists across a breadth of disciplines.
Look for meetups and gatherings in your area that will allow you to socialize in artistic circles. The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville organizes Every Single Artist Lounge on the second Thursday of every month. This is a casual meet up from 5:00 PM until 6:30 PM at The Volstead in downtown Jacksonville. At meetups such as this you can share conversations with other creatives in a relaxed setting.
3.) Utilize Professional and Artistic Development Workshops and Courses
Creative Capital believes in sustainable success. They offer a full suite of professional development workshops, webinars, and online resources to educate and empower artists. Their curriculum, which is designed and led by artists, encompasses the most relevant ideas and information to help artists thrive in an increasingly complex world. Their workshops address topics related to:
In Jacksonville, Leslie Kirkwood of Urban Dynamics Corporation offers workshops called Grant$ for Individual Artists. Leslie relied on 15 years of grant writing experience when she develop the curriculum, which is broken down in to three stand alone workshops. Topics discussed in Leslie’s workshops include:
4.) Register with CAFE / Monitor and Apply for Opportunities
CAFE is an online application and adjudication system for managing calls for entry. As a registered user you can set preferences and receive updates on local, regional, national, and international calls to artists. Use CAFE to apply for:
CAFE offers step by step instructions on how to apply for opportunities. Before you can apply, however, you must first create a CAFE profile and upload your portfolio. This reiterates the importance of Step 1, Build Your Portfolio…
5.) Say yes to opportunities, but don’t over commit
Networking and being active on CAFE will eventually lead to opportunities. Accepting one opportunity has the potential to lead to future opportunities. You’re not only building your resume when you accept opportunities you’re also building your credibility as an artist. When taking on a new project avoid over promising and under delivering.
Be open minded to various revenue streams. Commissioned projects are great, but don’t rule out web sales through your website. Kevin Kelly wrote a 2008 article titled “1,000 True Fans,” in which he outlined how artists can generate a revenue stream of $100,000 a year. Kelly says that the priority of artists shouldn’t be to connect with tens-of-thousands or hundreds-of-thousands of followers online. Instead, artists should identify and engage 1,000 true fans. Kelly defines a true fan as someone that is willing to spend at least $100 annually on something you create (1,000 x $100 = $100,000).
Make a list of local and regional galleries that would feel right for your work. Determine who the decision makers are at those galleries and make an effort to get to know them on a personal level. Once you’ve connected don’t be afraid to ask if their gallery would be interested in a show. You may be surprised how many opportunities can arise simply as a result of asking.
While it is important to say yes to opportunities, avoid saying yes to too many opportunities. Time is a precious commodity. Spreading yourself too thin can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and resentment. A schedule, whether electronic or of the notebook variety, can help you manage your obligations and time constraints.
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