When is Profit a Dirty Word?

In the arts, I bump into people all the time that cannot handle “Art” and “Money” being spoken in the same sentence.

What I suppose these individuals don’t understand is that artists have a market as well, which is also ruled by profit.

“Money makes the world go round”, the cliche goes–and it is true.

For performing artists, we are in the entertainment BUSINESS, with “business” being the operative word. Entities such as performing arts venues, galleries and studios would cease to exist, if there is no money available to keep the doors open.

Why such a focus on business? Well, one must focus on the business of the arts, as we all want to make a living from our creativity.

Creating art for arts sake has its place, but so does providing for oneself and a family.

Creative people have active imaginations. Imagine creating for others in society, as well as for oneself. There is no reason one cannot do both.

In fact, as an arts entrepreneur, who serves as an independent artist, or an business of one, very often, must have their hands in multiple projects at once. For example: One who directs, choreographs or paints may also have talent as a photographer. Makes sense, as such artists work with composition. Having multiple talents enables one to do multiple things. We need only learn the new tools of the medium. But art all comes from the same place–a self awareness of one’s internal life and a bringing it outward to serve as an experience for another or others.

Today’s artist entrepreneur or arts entrepreneur, who is independent, will often need a wide array of skill sets, as jobs often pay a lump sum and when they do pay, one job is typically not enough to live on for a year or more. Thus, artists have to take on the jobs that both interest them and those that pay the bills.

For those creative artists who do not necessarily seek to change the world through a nonprofit structure (and let’s not forget that nonprofits can still make money), can apply their skills towards a profit endeavor.

Robert DeNiro cleverly negotiates his film contracts to get as much as he can. Picasso understood what value he was creating and priced his work accordingly, while alive. Dali did the same, as did Shakespeare, Meryl Streep and so on. So, we are in good company.

When creating a for-profit structure, one’s pursuits certainly can have a chief goal of profiting. But one can also have a focus of contributing to a better world.

There is a trend in social entrepreneurship to serve as a for-profit business, while simultaneously addressing a social need or a “gap”. Ex. Toms Shoes.

So, why do “Art” and “Money” receive such conflicting views in the same sentence?

The short answer is that they do not need to.

This is, from my perspective as an artist, antiquated thinking. One can easily conjure up the image of the starving artist, which many artists romanticize. However, there is nothing romantic about starving. Starving sucks any way one looks at it.

At SMU, in the department of Arts Entrepreneurship, where this author serves as Director of the Arts Entrepreneurship Program, within the AMAE Department, we are actively working to address and overcome this stereotype.

Profit does not always need to be associated with corporations. Profit is not a dirty word. It is an expression of communal value for what you offer or have created.

Jim Hart is the Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University (www.smu.edu) and is founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.

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