Making a Living by Making Art

There’s a classic struggle among artists to find a part-time job that will afford them enough

money to pay the bills and enough time to make their art, but won’t suck the soul out of them.

Another classic struggle is justifying the pursuit of money, when, as an artist, passion, creativity, communication, love, light, colour, and form are the important things in life. So while most artists don’t have plans of making it rich, everyone needs to pay the bills.

Michele Emslie at the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) thinks artists will do better financially if they start to think of themselves as running a small business.

And, like with any small business, there are skills the business owner can develop to help strengthen the revenue stream.

While this isn’t the talk one usually hears around the snack table at an art opening, it’s a realistic approach to making a living by making art.

Emslie is the community program director at YAC, and she has coordinated a two-day workshop for artists to strengthen their marketing and entrepreneurial skills — whether they are pursuing visual art, music, or any other genre.

The workshop, called How Does Art Work, is now full, with 20 artists from Dawson City, Haines Junction, and Whitehorse signed up.

Emslie says people who have signed up range from emerging, to mid-career, to established — which speaks to the need that many different artists have.

“It’s really hard to be an artist — to do the creative part, but also to do the business side,” she says. “This workshop is about developing your skills — to make yourself more marketable, to develop a strategic plan, and decide where do you want to go from here? Do you need to take an accounting course? Do you need to look into social media?”

The Internet has changed the game for musicians in a big way, Emslie points out, impacting how consumers find and purchase music. This is about marketing and sales, and there are similar opportunities for visual artists, too.

“With the Internet you have to be out there, you have to market yourself – and the tools are in your hands, now,” Emslie says. “It’s not necessarily the fun part of being an artist. But what I’m seeing is a change in the attitude — to become a business person.”

Emslie points to the success of a couple of artists in the territory — Heather Horton and Nicole Bauberger — who are using the Internet as a virtual gallery, selling their work online, and landing commissioned projects.

What’s key is a strategic plan and putting resources to work.

“The better your plans are, the better your resources are, the better you will do,” Emslie says. “Having a career in the arts is not going to make you rich, that’s for sure… you go into the arts for passion. But if you become more successful as a small business, it will help you towards becoming a practicing, working artist.”

The two-day workshop, which is already full, is called “How Does Art Work? Developing and Managing Your Art Career.” It takes place at the Yukon Arts Centre on Feb. 15 and 16 and is being offered by the Yukon Cultural Industry Training Fund and Yukon Economic Development.

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