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Fine artists build business skills, community through Artist INC

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Above image credit: Musician Kasey Rausch plays with The Naughty Pines at Westport Saloon. (photo by John McGrath/Hale Center for Journalism)

The business side of a fine arts career is complicated: the process of filing multiple tax forms, writing grant proposals, building websites and marketing often falls on the shoulders of the artist, most of whom don’t hold degrees in business. These processes are complex, time-consuming and often difficult to navigate for the uninitiated. Without these elements of business, however, artists often cannot make money from their creations.

Artist INC helps to bridge the gap between fine art and business through a series of workshops where artists learn about technology, law, finances and the like. The core seminar, Artist INC Director Diane Scott said, is Artist INC Live, which is eight weekly, three-hour sessions. Admission is competitive, and only 25 artists are accepted for each section.

All sorts of artists enroll: writers, visual artists like ceramicists, painters and illustrators, musicians, dancers and filmmakers all participated in the last session.

This representation of different types of fine artists is crucial to Artists INC, Scott said.

“Artists do better when they have a good cross-disciplinary group of other artists to work with,” she said. “Musicians approach things differently than visual artists, and filmmakers approach things differently than either one of those, and if they all work together they can really help one another.”

Scott contrasted these workshops with the training that students receive in a typical business school setting.

“Traditional entrepreneurial training isn’t enough,” she said. “Traditional entrepreneurs are looking at the market, they’re finding a need, and they’re filling that need…. Artists aren’t doing that. They create the thing, and then they work in reverse to find people who are interested in the thing.”

Scott gave the example of local flamenco guitarist Beau Bledsoe.

“He’s a world-class flamenco guitarist,” she said,” but there’s not a gigantic market for flamenco guitar here in Kansas City.”

To earn a living through his art, Bledsoe employs what Scott calls a “portfolio career”: multiple streams of revenue that work in concert with one another. Bledsoe performs solo and as part of various ensembles, represents a flamenco guitar manufacturer in Mexico and is an Artist INC peer facilitator (this means he leads Artists INC workshops). He also teaches, but not just to locals: Bledsoe uses Skype to teach flamenco guitar to students across the U.S.

Jose Faus has a similar portfolio-based career. He is a poet and visual artist, but makes money through consulting, teaching, traveling and doing poetry readings and selling art. He laughingly remembered filing around 15 1099 forms, which are for miscellaneous or freelance income, with this year’s taxes.

The power of community

Artists learn about concrete legal concepts like taxes through Artists INC, but they also learn about the power of community, which Faus and other artists agree is the most important part of the program. Scott said the five years of Artists INC classes have lead to over 400 alum in the Kansas City area.

“When you lift somebody else up in your community, you’re lifting yourself up with them,” musician Kasey Rausch said. “The connections and the community are as important as the actual lessons.”

“Man, I’m collaborating with people like you wouldn’t believe,” Faus said. “One you’re thrown into this mix of all these different art disciplines, you kind of see that, at base, we’re all dealing with the same issues, we’re all trying to respond to a certain calling.”

Faus is currently working with a classical musician to compose a suite of music to accompany some poems Faus is writing about the Blue River. He was able to use knowledge gained in Artist INC to apply for funding for this venture.

Kasey Rausch, a musician who writes, records and performs Americana-rooted music, knows that the community she gained after participating in Artist INC is invaluable. She said she learned how to reach out to other artists for collaboration and how to support other artists in a more tangible way.

“When you lift somebody else up in your community, you’re lifting yourself up with them,” she said. “The connections and the community are as important as the actual lessons.”

Rausch recently called upon mentors gained through Artist INC for help with a grant application. She wants to create a Greater Kansas City Music Directory, which will contain information about musicians, record store owners, recording studios and the like. She said bigger music cities, like Nasville, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas, have directories like this, and Kansas City could benefit from access to this resource.

Her mentors were very helpful in assembling the grant application, offering feedback on drafts and advice on the overall process, Rausch said. Unfortunately, the idea for a directory came to fruition too close to the grant deadline, so the deadline wasn’t met. The group plans to try again.

Scott said Artist INC also recognizes the power of community through its various workshops, like Artist INC Live.

“We know… that just the knowledge isn’t enough,” she said. “We also focus on helping them create and utilize really strong peer networks so they can help each other.”

She explained that each artist is assigned a small group, consisting of five artists, during the workshop. The small groups work together over the eight weeks, and many stay in close contact after the end of the workshop. Scott compared these small groups to small business roundtables in the traditional entrepreneurial community.

Art is essential

Scott sees Artists INC as an essential service to the artist community of Kansas City.

“Most of my artists work because they are absolutely compelled to do so,” she said. “They would be making art no matter what. They have to make art.”

The program gives artists the abilities to practice the art they love while also gaining financial and career success. She notes that this success looks different for everyone, as not every artist is looking for the same outcome, but hopes that lessons learned in Artist INC can be applied in different ways to achieve varying results.

Cory Imig’s installation “Slow Release” is one of her time-based pieces featuring balloons. (photo from CoryImig.com)

Artist INC alum Cory Imig makes large-scale art installations with “time” as a theme. Balloons are a large part of her creations, and, as the balloons deflate over time, the shape and size of her installations change. She also works at Artists INC as program coordinator and teaches in the fiber department at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Imig was working in a restaurant before she participated in Artist INC and was only able to focus on her art after work. Now, since her jobs all revolve around the art community, her mind can be more art-focused, which allows her to spend more time thinking about and working on her art.

Similarly to Imig, before Rausch participated in Artist INC, she was completely removed from her fine arts practice and working at a grocery store.  Before the grocery store, she had been overworked, playing almost every gig that was offered, even ones that paid little or were held in shady locations.

She took a break from music for three years, which made her just as miserable as playing less-than-ideal gigs.

“I’m a fourth generation music maker… I was raised with music,” she said. “When there’s not music in my life, it feels like a family member is missing.”

Artist INC taught Rausch to be more selective about accepting gigs. The program taught her to value her art and ask for what she needed out of a gig, instead of just accepting every offer that came along.

“I was more in a mindset of: if I can play, that’s good. Exposure is good,” she said. “(Artist INC) taught me to seek the work that I want… I’ve now got this philosophy that if I’m not supporting my family when I’m out making music, then I need to be home supporting my family.”

Three weeks ago, Rausch filed for her own LLC, June Light Music.

“That’s something I didn’t really know was possible until I took Artist INC,” she said.

For more information on the artists featured, visit their websites: Kasey Rausch, Jose Faus, Cory Imig and Beau Bledsoe

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