Sixty-four South Florida artists are now at work on a new creation — their lives as successful artist entrepreneurs.
The 64 are now alumni of the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI), presented each summer by the Broward County Cultural Division. Since 2007, the institute has graduated 377 artists from across South Florida from the visual, performance and musical arts.
From painters to playwrights to puppeteers, many of the artists have day jobs but dream of making their art a full-time venture. Some struggle with mixing their art, which is deeply personal, with business. Others want to hone their skills in a particular area, such as marketing. But they all want to learn how to make their passion pay.
“The most important thing to do is do what you love — but make money too,” says banker-turned-artist George Gadson, one of AEI instructors. His large commemorative bronze sculptures have been commissioned by Super Bowls, companies and philanthropic groups — including the 12-foot-tall monument at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale.
The Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute is just one of a growing number of local programs designed to promote the creative economy. There are art incubators, artist lofts, marketing workshops, an art-education directory, networking groups and grant and micro-credit programs, all designed to spur the growth of an artist ecosystem and keep artists creating in South Florida.
Efforts have been paying off. Broward County’s arts and culture industry grew by 50 percent from 2005 to 2010, generating $230 million in economic activity, according to a study by the national nonprofit Americans for the Arts released in June. This total number supports 6,402 full-time-equivalent jobs, the study said. In Miami-Dade, the industry grew by 17 percent in the same period and generated almost $1.1 billion in economic activity, supporting 29,792 jobs. The study, Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, included 182 communities across the nation.
James Shermer, grants administrator for the Broward County Cultural Division and the passionate force bringing together AEI every year, explains that the institute uses a successful curriculum developed by The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, a national nonprofit based in Cleveland, Ohio. In October 2006, seeing the need for entrepreneurial education to help promote the emerging arts community, the Cultural Division brought in a leader from The Community Partnership nonprofit to present a workshop for local artists and meet with artist groups. In 2007, the Cultural Division piloted the first program, with the help of Community Partnership faculty.
“We wanted to help support the creative industries,” Shermer says, adding that the Cultural Division estimates there are about 10,000 artists living in Broward. “Artists are essentially small businesses and an important part of the economy, but there was a lack of services to support them. We wanted to help the individual artists.”
Artists attending AEI spent four Saturdays — about 32 hours in total — learning about writing a business plan, creating a product mix and pricing, copyright and trademarks, business structures, identifying target markets, marketing, social media, raising capital, distribution, accounting and more. There was homework, too.