This is the biggest challenge artists face when bringing their art into the world

For the past 20 years, I have noticed a common theme amongst artists who launch a concert series, ensemble, or organization.

Out of the gate, they undervalue the cost of bringing their art into the world.

I regularly meet with artists who have several years of exceptional creative and artistic output but do not pay themselves for the work they’ve created.

To make matters worse, they pay money out of pocket to keep their creative endeavors going.

The utopian belief that we bring art into the world as a creative outlet without simultaneously considering the fact that we need to get paid to create is something that needs to shift.

Author William Deresiewicz points out that “[w]anting to get paid does not mean that you’re a capitalist. It doesn’t even mean that you assent to capitalism. It only means that you live in a capitalist society.

I understand that it costs time and money to bring great ideas to life, but if you are the person giving both in order to make your ideas go, it will be difficult for you to continue to commit to your ideas in the future.

I don’t pretend to have all the solutions to this problem, however, here are a few ways I’ve helped artists bring their great ideas into the world while providing some financial stability in the process.

1. Less is more

Too often, I see artists try to carry out a massive amount of programmatic activity in one season to validate their ideas. This often dilutes the funding streams available, giving the artists and organizer less money to work with, overall.

Proposed Solution: Condense your programming into a much smaller group of creative offerings and offer a higher rate of pay to yourself and your artists. You may lose some income with fewer offerings, however, you will likely gain more time to pursue other creative outlets.

2. Budget for personnel.

Artists often try to balance their budget by leaving out personnel. Failing to list personnel under-values the cost of doing business, making it much more difficult to find support at a later date when you start planning for the true costs of your creative work.

Proposed Solution: When you budget, include the market rate cost for the personnel involved in your endeavor. You and/or your artists can always balance your budget by offering your services “in kind.” However, showing the true cost of doing business in the budgeting process helps you and your supporters place value on the work.

3. Ticket prices should reflect the true cost of each performance.

I often see that artists who launch their own endeavors are fearful of having a ticket price too high for the community they would like to serve. While I agree that tickets should be set at a reasonable price, I think it is important to help your audience understand the value of the art they are receiving.

Proposed Solution: I would suggest a pay-what-you-can model with a minimum ticket price listed. Right under the ticket price, I would have a note that says something like “We need your support. Only 50% of our costs are covered by the minimum ticket prices for this performance. Any additional payment over the minimum ticket price will go directly to support the musicians you will hear on stage tonight. Thank you for helping us continue to bring great art to this community.”

What solutions do you have to help artists place value on the art they are putting out into the world?

Photo Credit: Mike Giles

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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