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  • Students Get Down to the Business of Art

    By Eric Sorenson

    March 31, 2009

    The arts are one of the great hidden industries, employing roughly 3 million Americans. In Seattle alone, just the non-profit arts and culture industry generates $330.42
    million a year in local economic activity.

    But say the word “artist” and another word quickly comes to mind: “starving.”

    Kevin News Image Big

    Kevin Maifeld, professor and director of arts leadership in the Fine Arts Department has a pretty good idea why that is.

    “You have very passionate talented people,” he says, “who really just don’t know even the basics about managing their own careers: How to file taxes, how to get an agent, how to negotiate a contract, how to get health insurance, how to manage debt, how to plan for retirement if you’re going to be an artist your whole life. “

    Maifeld’s solution: “The Business of Art,” a fine arts course that teaches the business aspects of being an artist or working in an arts organization.

    “Sadly we lose a lot of very talented people by their mid-30s just because financially they can’t make it,” says Maifeld, who holds an undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s in arts administration. “Part of what I hope to do in this class, although it’s probably a very grand idea, is to help students at least begin thinking about
    these kinds of issues so they can plan for them.”

    Maifeld first taught an art business class at the University of Colorado, Denver, 20 years ago and taught it here in recent years as an elective. Last summer it became a required synthesis class for fine arts majors. The concept is now being embraced by colleges and universities across the country, from programs for music majors at Colorado-Boulder, Rochester and South Carolina to Iowa’s new major in performing arts entrepreneurship.

    “I think it’s a realization by a lot of colleges and universities and conservatories, that if we’re only training our students to be artists, we’re doing them a disservice,” says Maifeld. “We’ve also got to train them to be citizens of the world.”

    Students in the class develop a business plan, including financial projections of costs and sales. They interview working artists and potential mentors and explore various ways of making money, from coop studios for visual artists to self-produced CDs for musicians.

    “It’s a particularly valuable class, especially given our current economic situation,” says Carey Smith, a senior majoring in visual arts who has already put the class to use in running events through the student-run art organization ArtSideOut.

    “I wish I had that training when I was in school,” says Michael Killoren, director of the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.

    Bekka Palmer, a recent graduate in fine arts with an emphasis on digital design, found some aspects of the class particularly eye-opening, like a discussion
    of copyrights that soon had students securing the rights to their work. She now works part-time for a web design firm in San Diego and looks forward to rounding out her portfolio and setting off on her own.

    “After the class I felt more comfortable saying, ‘I can do this,’” she says. “Thanks to Kevin, I know what I need to do and all the separate aspects of running a business.”

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