Herein lies a bit of Shakespeare, a reference to Ayn Rand, some Disney-like wishing trampled by a one-off reference to the Health Care debate, and goose noises. Enjoy.
It’s easy to translate what we WISH were so into what we think MUST be so. But it’s not reality, and not necessarily even good for us. Life would be simpler, wouldn’t it, if someone would pay all our business expenses while we just did work we love. For every artist who says “that’s how it should be”, I think, “why YOU and not the WELDER? Why not the ship builder or the baker or the chef or the creator of digital technology?” In the end, I don’t personally believe anyone has a claim on the superior profession that is more worthy of being insulated from market forces and freed from the burden of having to think strategically and run a business. I don’t think I’d extend that even to the priest or the prophet, but that’s personal attitude, and you’re free, of course, not to share it.
The fact is our economy simply does not tolerate an entire class of people who are protected from having to sell persuasively, market effectively, and cater in part to demand. Yes, we do have them. In fact, only ONE class of people gets that–we call them bureaucrats. Ayn Rand said, “every bureaucrat has larceny in his heart, or he wouldn’t be feeding at the public trough.” Whether one agrees with Rand or not, the point is that even THAT priesthood of public-funded professionals are not having so easy a time lately. Economic realities have dealt them some pretty harsh blows.
When the market permits individual freedom, it also deals out individual responsibility. This is a time of unprecedented opportunity for individual entrepreneurs to enter, shape, and determine the market. This is the age of the side hustler, the start-up, the contract professional, and the return of the shopkeeper. It’s a killer time to be an artist, even despite significant public funding cuts. But what comes with it, like it or not, wish fulfillment or not, is an unprecedented need for working artists to acquire entrepreneurial skills. Staying in the studio, being ‘pure’ until the business either slows to a halt or plods on at a pace that doesn’t keep up with outside market forces, is as detrimental to ART ITSELF as any Pollyanna approach is to economic realities. As with health care, it’s “harder” than some people think, no matter how much it “ought” to be easy. Wish vs. reality: we choose where we live.
So CHF’s Business Accelerator Program is NOT a glorified vetting system for determining who gets a free ride, as the world of free rides is declining. We’re not sitting on the edge of the apocalypse of something for nothing and handing out the last remaining crumbs. We’re not engaged in wish fulfillment. Instead, there is one primary reason for this program–to equip working artists with the business skills needed to PROSPER in an economy that is increasingly demanding (and finally allowing!) utter self-sufficiency, independence, and direct creative engagement with the market.
We’re smart enough to know, of course, that there’s no such thing as ABSOLUTE independence. And that’s why one of the HALLMARK purposes of the Accelerator program structure is to promote artist COLLABORATION and collective organization. Think of it like the beginnings of a federation of independent artists who SIMULTANEOUSLY maintain their own freedom and self-determination, branding and access to their public, control of their career and financial destiny AND ALSO collectively strengthen each other by exchanging insights and wisdom, strategies, plans, and tools, and collaborative opportunities like events, mutual promotion, and so on. This is one reason we started encouraging working artists to form local or regional groups (we took the first step toward this in Denver), and created TheArtistFederation.com as an initial landing page to offer CHF’s strategic and consultative support to anyone wanting to form such a group in their city or part of the country.
In fact, we think many of the CHF Accelerator Fellows are prime candidates to do that, precisely because they HAVE been contributing so heavily and effectively in the groups already formed in the Accelerator Program. They’ve earned the respect of their peers, learned from their input, gained new relationships, built accountability, and contributed to one another’s business planning and implementation. Why stop? Why ever stop? Why not push a little farther and make it a thing?
So, we think the purposes of CHF’s programming are pretty unique, and the opportunity is pretty unique. It’ll never be the square peg of traditional programs aimed at working artists, because the new economy is full of round holes that require CEO-like skills for working artists and collaboration between them. That’s not fulfilling a wish, but fulfilling the realities artists are needing to face.
I felt it was important to distinguish between these two directions. Sure, there are days I wish someone would just pay my rent, buy my meals, and renew my subway pass, and let me do the fun parts of my business. But I realize I’d never get that without giving up control, without a loss of self, without setting aside that critical thing that has driven all artists and entrepreneurs since the beginning – the nexus of internal and external pressures – the spur of creative fire in the belly and the countering spur of the need to thrive (or at least exist) financially. We prefer “thrive” of course.