CounterPULSE’s Boot Camp for Artists

Years ago, my mother told me something that has haunted me ever since. She described the attitude her alma mater, New York’s Pratt Institute, took towards artists’ hopes of professional success, or more troublingly, the notion of even being able to avoid appalling poverty as an artist. It was simply regarded as a thing an artist cannot and should not try to take control of–you were in art school to develop your craft; business skills were something the squares on Madison Avenue cared about and learned. A true artist would embrace the “starving artist” role American mainstream hype had designated for them, and just trust the fates to carry them to renown–but don’t count on it. (This was in the late fifties; for all I know Pratt has gotten much more serious about equipping its students to live and work in the professional world by now.)

I’ve always known that I wanted to work as an artist, but for obvious reasons am repulsed by the idea that I should submit to this pessimistic attitude about the artist’s life. It conflicts with my goal of self-determination and also with my expensive tastes.  Yet I’ve picked up what few business skills I have in other contexts, like retail and Mad Men (and grey wool suits and martini lunches just make me feel warm and ready for a nap, and I don’t look nearly as threatening as Jon Hamm when I squint and clench my jaw). It’s not always clear how I can implement these skills in the fields I actually want to work in, where commercial values, though necessary, are not the primary ones. Many of the artistic “institutions” (if you can call them that) that I’ve worked with have been hopelessly chaotic. Not only were the business sides of things often mishandled or disorganized, there often seemed to be a pervasive suspicion of professionalism, a derisiveness towards an artist’s ambition to entrust their career to anything other than talent and luck. Even the word “career” was uttered through curled lips, accompanied by an eyeroll.

I’m taking the best class right now, from CounterPULSE Artistic Director Jessica Robinson Love, on business skills for artists. The class covers grantwriting, fundraising, marketing, publicity, and production: in other words, all the business-y things you need to know but weren’t taught in your hideously expensive art school’s graduate program. So far the only talent I seem to have in these areas is a promising lack of shame about asking strangers for money, but for the first time in my life I believe I’m learning how to take what control I can in a vocation famously vulnerable to the caprices of fate. Although it’s fashioned for artists working in theatre, the skills are ones an artist of any sort can employ. In fact, I’ll be using the grantwriting elements Love has delineated in my application for the Warhol Foundation’s grant for arts writers (wish me luck).

The class is part lecture, part in-class exercises Love has cleverly designed to reveal how things that seem obvious are in fact anything but–for instance, who knew that when writing a press release for the  project you’re producing and have likely devoted months, if not years, if not a lifetime of obsessive preparation to, the trickiest thing might be to explain why it’s “relevant and newsworthy”? Not I.  There’s also homework of course, and I spent a good part of last week end drafting a budget, which requires not only minimal math skills (read: more than I thought I had) but the counterintuitive simultaneous chutzpah of asking for the money you need based on expenses that are set in stone, idealistic figures regarding artist payments, modest estimates on what you’re likely to get, inventive re-assigning of expenses coverage over several potential funders (which in itself involves alternately brazen and timid guesses on what kind of figures you think you can make up in ticket sales and from facebook friends and through kickstarter or indiegogo or bald-faced begging), the realization of your laughable naiveté when you find your income total exceeds your expenses total, then the arbitrary 2am “because f***you, that’s why!” inflation of your expenses to balance it out.

It was an exhausting week end, and I’m pretty sure JR Love is too tactful to write “LOL” and “BWAHAHAHAHAHA!” all over my grant’s budget sample, which is probably what it merits. Nevertheless, I think I’m learning skills that will keep me working, and preferably for myself.

Love leads this bootcamp periodically and I recommend it to anyone involved in arts and non-profits. I even got a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, which offers monthly funding for artists to produce work or study (and has a very easy online application), to cover the tuition.

Get on it, hippies!

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This entry was posted in ART, classes/workshops, damn good, San Francisco, theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to CounterPULSE’s Boot Camp for Artists

  1. Ms Archer is a wonderfully, sophisticated writer and with a perfect subject “CounterPulse BootCamp” taught by our JR Love…well…learning in the SF art world doesn’t get better!!

  2. weblink says:

    Thanks for composing CounterPULSEs Boot Camp for Artists |
    Writhing in Apathy, truly enjoy it.

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