On Christmas day of this year, Linda Essig, blogger at Entrepreneur the Arts, posted a piece in response to some questions I had asked her to contribute towards. Linda heads a program of entrepreneurial arts training at University of Arizona.
In her post, she said the following: “Jim expressed a Utopian idea of having many small for profit theatres, privately owned, and risk taking”.
What most popped out for me (in her post) was her use of the word Utopian to describe my viewpoint. I want to give focus to this word, “Utopian”, as I believe Linda’s subtle phrasing points to a larger problematic thinking in our culture.
In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “All Utopian visions have this in common: The mental projection of a future time when all will be well, we will be saved there will be peace and harmony and the end to all our problems”.
What Linda is saying in this sentence is that it is a fantasy notion for artists to build small for profit theatres, which are privately owned and are risk taking.
I will respond to this sentence by saying it is no fantasy, as it occurs now and has occurred (the creation of small, for profit theatre companies who are risk taking and working towards a profit). To assume otherwise, is to not know one’s history. I further translate “taking risk” and working towards profit to mean “entrepreneurship”. To define entrepreneurship in the arts as “Utopian”, Linda’s words conflict with her job (head of an entrepreneurial arts program).
Linda is not alone in her belief. Many people have a schism in their thinking about artists—that art should not have a profit motive or a structure that would lead the artist to reap the financial benefit that sometimes accompanies public appreciation for one’s work. Such thinking is ridiculous. Why should artists be immune to the standard protocol of all other business people—the desire to receive a return for work done?
The standard path in artistry is to follow a traditional approach to job getting. If it us Utopian of me to teach artists how to be more independent, to be responsible for their talents and opportunities (won or lost) and seek to build their visions into concrete realities, striving to make a living in the process…then slather your brush and paint me Utopian.
The technique I teach, The Hart Technique, will be offered as the foundational philosophical approach to our program at Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts. There is nothing Utopian about what we teach and inspire in our students, quite the contrary. We do not look to the future for a better time, we teach our students to dig into opportunity that exists right now and today. We teach them to seize the day and be responsible for the work they get. The standard commercial route has too few jobs and too many players. The market to totally oversaturated and hundreds of theatre programs a year in our country, churn out more and more actors to enter this typical path. The path leads to a bitter end for most of the people on it—under employment and unemployment.
Buddha said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense”. I urge you to ask of yourself, “Does it not just make good sense to be training artists to be more self-sufficient, more independent (of needing others to give them their professional opportunities)”? Imagine the cultural implications as we have more artists—not fitting into line and following others on a path, but creating paths of their own, building their original visions and profiting in doing so. As these individuals build their profit structures, they will, inevitably, create jobs for others. Art has a very real impact on our economy. For every dollar that is spent in a theatre, four go back into the community (restaurants, bars, etc). We need artists to contribute to our economy just as much as other industries and the way for that to occur, is to teach them how in their schools.
At Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, we offer no Utopian beliefs. We offer training, which enables artists to create paths of their own, and to do so out of a deep sense of who they are and from an understanding of what they, personally, want to do as work. The entrepreneurial path is one OF struggle. Entrepreneurs are willing to engage in the struggle, as the work they do is joyful (and joy has a way of transforming work into play). It is the job of the entrepreneur to consistently overcome the obstacles they inevitably face and to persevere under (at times) tremendous responsibility, obstacles and rejection. To build anything, one must “break ground”—literally or figuratively. Paraphrasing Joseph Campbell, you have to crack some eggs if you want an omelet. There is nothing Utopian about struggle. We take on the struggle, as we know that it is necessary to do so and that our struggles may bring us closer to the realization of our desires and goals.
If you want to create a business or structure your artistic expression via an entrepreneurial fashion, you are going to have to go headlong into struggle—like the hero entering the forest at its darkest point. If you are creating your own path, you have to hack away at some forest or jungle first. That is the only way. We do not promise our graduates will succeed via our training, though a large number of them do (meaning they work). To offer success would be misleading and downright impossible. What we offer our artists is a system of training that will dramatically increase their odds of making a living.
I believe it is not enough to articulate a problem, but when we can, we must offer solutions. I have done just this in the building of my first school, The International Theatre Academy Norway, and will do so in the building of Ausitn Conservatory of Professional Arts. Techniques of entrepreneurial arts training, such as we offer at ACPA, need to become a new standard in arts education, as it is a system that creates jobs—with the artists creating the jobs for themselves.
Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, a full-time program, with evening extension course offerings, will open September of 2010. www.austinconservatory.com For more on Jim Hart, see The Hart Technique www.harttechnique.com