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CCI schools artists on business basics.

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BY LAUREN HORWITCH

For many artists, intimidating terms such as "budgeting," "strategic planning," and "tax preparation" bring to mind mountains of indecipherable paperwork and unfriendly IRS auditors in dark suits. However, Los Angeles' Center for Cultural Innovation recognizes that such practicalities are necessary if artists want to support themselves by doing what they love.

To help artists of all disciplines learn the necessary business basics, CCI established its Business of Art: Entrepreneurial Training for Artists program two years ago. The program consists of two all-day retreats and two evening sessions, during which business experts give artists the lowdown on subjects such as marketing, financial planning, money management, and legal issues. The next sessions are set to take place Oct. 20 and 27 and Nov. 7 and 14 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo, in downtown L.A.

Nancy Hytone Leb, CCI's director of training, said the course—limited to 25 students—always fills up with artists from various disciplines, including at least two or three actors. Four hundred artists have been trained in the program so far. "It's always a diverse group of artists, from performing artists to visual artists, photographers, and fashion designers. It's a pretty interesting and unique mix," she said. "I think the class works best when we have this mix of disciplines; students really learn a lot from each other."

According to Leb, the workshop is about "approaching your own art as a business" as opposed to setting up side businesses or getting a day job in the corporate world. "It's about how to be more sustainable. It's very much about finding yourself, finding what works for you as an artist, and how to be more successful in that," she said.

She noted that the Business of Art instructors make a point of explaining concepts simply and effectively. It also helps that many instructors are artists—such as accountant-comedian-writer-actor Stephen Benjamin, who teaches "Tax Tips for Artists," and orchestra musician–attorney Greg Victoroff, who leads the "Copyright, Collections and Contracts" class.

Hope Tschopik Schneider, who teaches the strategic-planning session "Planning, Plain and Simple," said many artists who enroll in the program have come to a crossroads in their careers. "It's for artists who are often rethinking their lives," she said. "One of the options that they're assessing is the likelihood of their ability to secure part of their living by doing something related to their work."

Schneider said much of what she teaches is how to shift one's thinking from artist to entrepreneur—two types who are more alike than they seem. "It's showing [artists] that it's not so complicated and also showing them that it is a very creative thing to do. That it's not boring. When we think about budgets, for example, we're not thinking about accounting, per se. We are, but it's so much more creative than that," she said.

Actor and former Business of Art student Virginia Schneider (no relation to Hope Tschopik Schneider) said the program was very useful, but she cautioned potential students that it is intensive and somewhat advanced. "If you get involved in this course, you'll know right away if you're not ready for it," she said. "I would recommend it to people who are very seriously minded about being an entrepreneurial businessperson. Everybody in the room was really committed and very serious about being an entrepreneur."

Virginia Schneider, who currently serves as the publicist for Los Angeles' Circle X Theatre Company, said the information helped her feel less alone in forming her personal business strategy. "It isn't like starting a company where you've got a team of people. You're going out on your own and selling yourself and your work, and that's a totally different thing than when you can kind of hide behind four or five other people," she pointed out. "It takes a lot more courage to do that, and you can feel a lot more lost that way."

Though she appreciated and has made much use of the practical information, the best thing she gleaned from the classes was more personal: "What was really important for me was being able to walk away with the sense of 'I can do this.' "

Registration fees for the Business of Art program are $185–$210. The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center is located at 244 S. San Pedro St., L.A. For more information or to register, visit www.cciarts.org/workshops.

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