Why is The IAE Relevant and Necessary? A Case for The IAE

A Case for The Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship


Founded in 2008, The Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship (The IAE) is a Chicago-based 501c(3) organization committed to helping artists create sustainable artistic careers through achieving self sufficiency. Our mission is directly tied to the belief that artists have an extraordinary amount of yet-to-be-realized value they can provide to society, especially in these economically challenging times, if they can be taught to apply their artistic capacity in new ways to allow their talents to become relevant and necessary.

The 2009 Artists and the Economic Recession Survey created by Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) demonstrates how financial difficulties can impact an artists ability to sustain a productive creative life:

  • Artists often have to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet – 66% hold at least one job in addition to their artistic practice, while 21% hold two or more additional jobs.
  • Two-thirds reported their total 2008 income was less than $40,000, including nearly one-third who earned less than $20,000.
  • Artists have experienced a decrease in sales of work (48%) or a need to lower fees/rates charged for work (44%), both of which suggest the arts are experiencing the contraction in consumer spending as much as many other industries.
  • More than a third of artists reporting a decrease in the monetary amount of grants (37%), the number of awards granted (36%), and the number of grant opportunities available (35%). More than a third of artists report that compared to 2008 they have fewer bookings scheduled (38%) and fewer opportunities to exhibit/perform/present their work (35%). About three in 10 say there are fewer services available by nonprofits (31%) and fewer teaching (30%) and artist residency (27%) opportunities.

And yet these financial challenges pose more than the obvious problems they reflect in an artists ability to create their art or deliver quality cultural experiences to their audience. It is the belief of The IAE that the economic stability of artists, or lack thereof, has not only significantly contributed to the erosion of the demand for cultural and artistic expression in general but, in today’s economic environment, has put at risk the very need for it to exist entirely.

With roughly 100,000 fine arts majors graduating each year from institutional arts programs around the country, and no decline insight of prospective students who want to study art, the fact that only 2.1 million tax payers in the US report that they earn a living as artists demonstrates the attrition rate after graduation is quite high.

While the romantic stereotype of the starving artist to a young artist/student initially often serves to only further fuel their artistic imagination and desire of what life can be like living a bohemian lifestyle, comments from family, friends, employers, colleagues, and distant admirers as to their career prospects as an artist, once he/she graduates, creates both external and internal pressure to embrace a profession that assures stability. After all, even the bohemian lifestyle of an artist gets old when you can’t afford your car payment, let alone buy a house and raise a family which an annual income, at best, of $40,000 a year income does not provide.

The IAE believes that the rate of attrition of post-graduates has contributed to the decline of the creative sector. The value of the full-time work these artists could have been doing has never been realized inside the communities they would have served. And the communities in which these artists began to work experienced, on some level, these artists inability to survive — reinforcing the lack of relevant value the arts must hold, despite their patron’s attraction to them. Thus the notion of the starving artist syndrome continues. And as we know, perceptions create reality. And as such, over the course of a 40-year career span, the impact those artists could have made, we believe, has had a slow, steady and now significant and measurable impact on society’s view of the need and relevance for consuming cultural experiences in daily life today.

Henry Fogel in a speech he gave to the National Association of Schools of Music in November 2009 said this: Any careful examination of newspapers across America over a fifty-year span, will demonstrate dramatically the shrinking of arts coverage. Fifty years ago, every small town newspaper had an arts critic, sometimes more than one. Now, many smaller communities have let that lapse completely, and even many large cities have offered buyouts to retire their art critic, and chosen not to re-fill the position. Look at Public Television if you want further proof of the decreasing importance of the arts in America. Public Television was started precisely to broadcast programming that would have too small an appeal for commercial TV. (Never mind that in my youth, classical music was seen regularly on commercial TV, the Ed Sullivan Show, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s concerts, the Voice of Firestone, the Bell Telephone Hour, and live operas on NBC). Now, PBS considers Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, or Andre Rieu to be highbrow programming. The number of symphony concerts, quality jazz, dance, and even staged operas, available in this country on television has been declining at an alarming rate.

Specifically, as a result of the absence of proper training to ensure more artists who graduate from art school can fill needs in their communities and financially afford to remain in the creative sector, we believe society has been left with little choice but to be unable to perceive the impact, value and relevance of the arts in their daily lives as a whole.

According to a 2003 major study, Investing in Creativity, completed by The Urban Institute and financially supported by over 38 foundations, only 27% of adults think artists contribute “a lot” to the general good of society, far fewer than recognize the social contributions of teachers (82%), doctors (76%), scientists (66%), construction workers (63%), and clergy (52%). The public perceives the contributions of artists in much the same way it perceives those of elected officials (26% say they contribute a lot to the general good), and just slightly better than it perceives the contributions of athletes (18% think they contribute a lot).

And yet, as noted by John Cimino, Creative Leaps International, scholar Thomas Homer Dixon says the space between problems that arise and our ability to solve them- the ingenuity gap- is growing today at an alarming rate in business, scientific research, education, the environment and world affairs. And innovative thought leaders like Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink and Richard Florida are helping to create a mindset that the arts, and artists, are capable of offering so much more to society. Author Ken Robinson proclaims we are Out of our Minds to have sidelined creativity and the arts when every layer of American society from elementary education to supply-side economics is starved for more imagination, more original thinking, and more creative intelligence. According to business writer/entrepreneur Daniel Pink, “Artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers“ can now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.  Economist Richard Florida argues that artists and other members of the “creative class” are vital to regional economic development.  He suggests that they comprise the vital cultural core essential to attracting and developing workers for knowledge industries, which are increasingly important to the U.S. economy.

In these economic times, innovation is a critical tool that can grow revenue like never before and catapult our largest companies and newest start-ups to new levels of international competitiveness and profitability that we truly need to not only save, but redefine how we achieve our future economic vitality. Certainly the arts offer, with training, fertile ground to devise new ways to contribute and become vital, integral and again relevant to society.

After all, the visceral nature of the arts provides a unique barrier breaker -a unifier- regardless of race, religion, gender, age, status or income across all sectors of society and industry. No matter what the subject matter, using the arts in new interdisciplinary ways can bring people to new levels of understanding and simultaneously create new sustainable financially viable career paths for artists.

According to the Investing in Creativity study by The Urban Institute, their research suggests there is a substantial demand for artists in hybrid markets and yet few programs exist to support their development. Artists are involved in art and community development, social services, education, health, civic engagement, and youth development, among other areas through arts-based organizations such as Project Row Houses in Houston, Street Level Youth Media and Little Black Pearl in Chicago, Cornerstone Theater in Los Angeles, El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, Life Pieces to Masterpieces in Washington, D.C., Zumix and Troubador in Boston and many more examples can be found in every one of LINC’s case study sites.

Although many artists do important work primarily in the context of conventional cultural markets, LINC found scores of examples like the ones listed above.  Investing in Creativity research suggests that many artists work in all of these sectors, either at the same time or switching from one to another. Their field research in fact highlighted this pattern.  It also reveals that artists seem to benefit when there is a wide range of different sector opportunities in which they can engage.

And yet demand for what artists do is not fully conceived or well articulated, in large part because the formal validation mechanisms in both arts and non-arts contexts are relatively narrowly developed.  For example, if an artist is working at the intersection of arts and community development and making contributions in both areas, it is very likely that the full extent of those contributions will not be recognized or valued in either the cultural realm or the community development realm.  Moreover, adequate language to describe such practice and contributions currently does not exist. The IAE seeks to bring clarity to the value of these hybrid roles to the community by focusing on the development of self-sufficient career paths for artists who will be motivated to illuminate the value of their hybrid roles to society.

Additionally, arts administrators, researchers and analysts, funders and policymakers tend to view the public, commercial, nonprofit and informal sectors as separate realms with little connection to each other.  Often artists seem to be categorized as “nonprofit” or “commercial,” as if those categories were mutually exclusive and as such funding sources are difficult to obtain and not rising in priority as demand, and need, is growing because of the cross pollination that occurs in a hybrid artistic role.

Respondents to the Investing in Creativity study emphasized the critical nature of peer-to-peer and mentoring relationships for training and professional development across the discipline spectrum and how important these relationships are to successful career transitions. Artists working at the intersection of arts and other fields, such as community development, education, health, justice, or other areas noted that the public validation and training programs needed to sustain and advance these practices is generally weak. Furthermore, many artists feel they lack the skills to market themselves to the wide range of realms where they could potentially be successful.  Our own survey indicates similar results. Over 83% of all respondents have said they would undertake a two year course of study to increase their skills to earn a living as a self-employed artist.  Additionally, LINC’s research revealed that many higher education and training institutions for the arts are not proactive in developing markets for artists or teaching them the business skills they need to succeed and that funding for such programs is virtually non existent.

The IAE believes that by helping artists imagine and create new innovative career paths we can play a significant role in helping both artists and the community rediscover new ways for artists to be recognized as contributing a lot of good though the development of self-sustaining hybrid careers that can become relevant to the communities these artists will serve. As such, through our programs at the IAE, we seek to helps artists grow their artistic imaginations about what is possible, while teaching them tangible necessary skill sets to give them the assortment of tools they need to turn their creativity into self-sufficiency.

The IAE seeks to make it possible for artists to develop a business arising from identifying gaps in the market place they can uniquely fill with a form of their creative practice. These businesses will be varied and may relate directly to a product, societal problem, service or process, a form of expertise, consultancy, or their values, beliefs or knowledge. IAE training will provide the means for artists to understand how to create the infrastructure and environment for new creative opportunities to be realized.

Although there are increasingly quality arts entrepreneurship courses and programs in colleges and universities around the country, given the attrition rate of artists exiting the field, the need for more quality programs is self -evident. Furthermore  The IAE knows of no other school focused exclusively on the development of self-sustaining hybrid career paths in the arts leveraging the strengths of ongoing one-on-one mentorship and experiential learning across all artistic disciplines. The IAE is committed to bringing artists and their creativity into the center of economic activity.

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