Every Artist Dreams of Making A Living From Their Work!
May 25 2023
IN-FOCUS ARTICLE: SAMIA WALKER and EforAll Southcoast!
It’s every artist’s dream to make a living from their work. Dealing with the business side? Filing taxes? Not so much.
It turns out artists are a lot like many other business owners, according to EforAll Southcoast’s Samia Walker. “If you work with your hands on anything,” Walker said, “you don’t want to think about a spreadsheet. You don’t want to think what type of insurance you need. You just want to do the basics, like, ‘How can I continue to do what I love?”
“What’s the business structure that I need? And then get me into a business banking account to separate my funding.’ That’s usually all that people come up with because they know that’s a really important piece of it. But to get outside that and say, ‘Oh, but I actually need to know: who’s going to buy this tangible thing? How much do I charge for it?’”
The question of how to value yourself and your work is a huge one for creatives. “I can tell you right now from our experience, artists don’t charge you enough. Because they’re so attached to their work, they’re not accounting for their time. Materials are getting much more expensive. Resources are slim, so how do we put some cushion around you so you’re not feeling like you’re in it alone?”
Fortunately, that kind of knowledge and training—and much more—is available to anyone working with EforAll Southcoast on their creative enterprise. EforAll Southcoast operates in three specific ways. The most intensive is their yearlong accelerator program, which starts with a 12-week period where entrepreneurs attend two business classes a week to learn everything from who their customer is to build a brand to figuring out their pricing.
“We really touch on all the basics that you need to start a business,” Walker said. “But you’re learning it all at once, so the hope is that you’ll take what you need right now and then put the rest in your back pocket. When you’re ready to utilize that information, you now have that education as a resource to support that action.”
That feeds into EforAll Southcoast’s second method of prepping new entrepreneurs—connecting them with mentors who are with them from the start of the accelerator program. “You’re on a team of two to three mentors, all volunteer members of the community, to really help hold you accountable, support you through the curriculum, and be that voice of reason for you where you can brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other. They’re really there to help you make informed decisions.”
Mentors work with entrepreneurs for up to a year, though most relationships last beyond that, because creatives and their mentors form a strong connection. Mentors are prepared to bring their entrepreneurs back to some of those principles they’re keeping in their back pocket but might have forgotten about.
“Let’s just use painting as an example. You’re an artist. Paint is your medium. What’s your end goal? Is it to get your work into a museum? Is it to open an art gallery? Is it to be an art teacher? Is it to open a paint store? And sometimes they don’t know. ‘I just want to paint. That’s what I’m good at. That’s what I love, I just want to do that.’ Getting them to think outside of the box a little bit is always a challenge with entrepreneurs, because everything they do, they’re so passionate about, so anything outside of that feels a little scary.”
Another blind spot: hiring outside help. “It’s hard to envision bringing somebody else in [if entrepreneurs say] ‘I don’t have time to train them. I’ve been doing this all alone for so long, I don’t even know what that looks like to have support.’ That’s almost like a mystery. ‘What do you mean you can hire somebody to help?’
“You need someone to manage your books or do your taxes. But then it’s like, ‘I can’t afford to hire someone right now. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not making a ton of money.’ They miss the part where spending money on this now opens up your ability to spend more time creating or selling.”
The clear point: the more time an artist has to create or get out and sell their work, the more income they can generate. But many have been a one-person show for so long, it’s difficult for them to delegate even the things they don’t like doing.
The third option EforAll Southcoast offers is a periodic public pitch contest, which Walker describes as similar to Shark Tank, but much more community focused. It’s really an opportunity for an entrepreneur to highlight what it is that they’re doing. So if a muralist comes to us and says, ‘I love to make 50-foot murals, that’s my jam. I could paint on every building in the city.’ Great. Let’s share that with the public because you never know who’s in the audience. You might have somebody else [who says], ‘I was just looking for you.’”
At the same time, creatives like our hypothetical muralist may get crucial feedback. “Your goal is to paint 100 murals in 2023, [but] there aren’t a hundred blank walls in New Bedford. What else can we do to kind get your gears moving and thinking? There’s a public speaking aspect of it, speaking your idea out loud and getting feedback from the community.” Regardless of which lane a creative entrepreneur lands in, Walker notes some additional areas that can help artists launch and grow their businesses.
Value your expertise as an artist. “[Creatives] almost can’t believe that somebody would pay to hear them talk. It’s almost like a foreign entity to them, because they already have a hard enough time finding someone to pay them for their work. So they’re like, ‘OK, somebody will pay just to hear me talk?’ Yeah, it might not be a lot of money, but somebody will pay you to do that because you’ve lived it. You can’t undervalue lived experience.”
It might feel weird to brag about your work, but trumpeting your accomplishments helps establish your credibility and reputation. Walker said that it’s only when they list their accomplishments that artists say, ’ Wow, I’ve done all these things!’ The action of them writing them down was a great reflection. You physically see the value because you have a record of it.”
One gap Walker is hoping to bridge in the future is the divide between arts and business. “I think there’s a missed opportunity. People forget that literally every single aspect of business has an artistic twist on it, whether it’s having a retail space—you have to merchandise it, you need an artist. You have to put a mural on the wall, you need to design a logo, you need to design a website—you need artists. How do we bring artists and businesses together? Because art touches every aspect of the business.”
About Samia Walker – As an alumnus of EforAll South Coast, she’s excited to contribute to such an important part of her community in her role as Program Manager, and now Executive Director. Samia’s unique perspective of the accelerator program offers future entrepreneurs the support and guidance to help their businesses flourish, especially through adversity. Native to New Bedford, Samia is invested in helping the South Coast communities reach their full potential through the people who live and own businesses here. Through her community engagement, she has built strong networking relationships that will accentuate her passion for inclusive communities.
Scott is a New Bedford-based singer, songwriter, and sound sculptor. He’s also The Artists Index’s Music & Performing Arts Podcast Host and In-Focus Article writer. Scott’s been creating music under the name Scapeghost since 2016.
Our gracious sponsors invite you to celebrate the art of life and creative communities everywhere.