Late last year, I decided that the time had come for me to focus on professionalism. I wanted to make a plan that would lead to more financial stability, but had no idea how to jockey my creative endeavors into something sustainable. I found C4 Atlanta on-line and signed up for their Ignite class [an eight week course, once a week, for three hours]. The class was small, diverse, and friendly. Joe Winter took us through a detailed process of preparing a business plan from scratch; it definitely boosted my confidence and demystified the business of art in the 21st century. Jessyca Holland and Joe Winter run the show.
Karley Sullivan: Let’s begin with your mission statement…
Jessyca Holland: C4 Atlanta connects arts entrepreneurs to the people, skills and tools they need to build a successful artistic career in metro Atlanta.
KS: C4 opened its doors in 2011, and has grown steadily since then. I loved that in class we called this “finding your blue ocean.” So, how did it all begin?
JH: Ah… the beginning! Joe and I worked together for five years at an organization called the Atlanta Coalition of Performing Arts. That organization hit a financial wall, and Joe and I were laid off. After receiving our notices, we ended up at Midway Pub, and there, over tator tots, we decided to give our own entrepreneurship a shot.
Joe Winter: As soon as we decided to start something new, we began an environmental scanning process. We knew that there was a large vacuum to be filled in services to the arts community, but we took about six months to meet with people both in Atlanta and in other cities to get a better understanding of what value we could provide to the community. We officially incorporated C4 Atlanta exactly three months after the layoffs.
KS: And what were the specific issues you [originally] wanted to address?
JW: It was important to us, in establishing the organization, to make sure we offered services that were valuable, and not [already] adequately offered to the community. During the environmental scan, the question we were asked the most was, “How do you differentiate yourself?” Simply put, we focus on providing training and resources for business development in the arts.
JH: We found that there are plenty of programs in the area that teach artists how to make art, but there wasn’t much to help them as they try to build a professional career. Our hope is that we help artists succeed financially by using their creative skill sets. It’s an ambitious goal, but if we can change the way artists view themselves in the Atlanta market, than hopefully, we can change the way the community values art. I recently heard Jane Golden of the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia say during a keynote speech (I paraphrase): “It is great to show off the work of artists. It is better to pay them for it and demonstrate that we value their contributions to the economy.” I believe that. I don’t think C4 Atlanta can change the status quo alone, but we want to do everything we can to equip artists with the skills necessary to be successful.
KS: I came to C4 because I heard of your partnership with the Kaiser Permanente Bridge Program. Can you talk about how you are able to help artists get affordable health insurance?
JH: Once you join the C4 community and take the Ignite class, you are eligible for affordable health insurance through the Bridge Program. There are already over 250 artists receiving insurance through this program, and it’s growing. Healthcare for artists is important to us. It’s often one of the last things a healthy artist thinks about, but health is your most important asset as an artist. Healthy businesses, and a healthy economy, are made up of healthy people.
KS: The Ignite Class is the basis of your program, can you tell us about it?
JW: If I were to take it to its core, Ignite is about applying the principles of starting and sustaining a new initiative and applying those principles to arts-based businesses. Traditionally—and by that, I mean in the 20th century—many artists relied on arts institutions to find jobs and earn a living with their creative skill-sets. Today, many of those institutions are struggling to adjust to the demographic and technological changes of the 21st century. Some are even so focused on preservation of their organizations and art forms that they’ve chosen (to their detriment) not to innovate.
For those artists looking to earn a living through traditional means, relying on institutions, many will find themselves disappointed as they compete with hundreds of their colleagues for a single position in a performing company or for representation with a single gallerist. The times are changing. For many people, “change” means “loss”—so it’s easy to look at the situation and see a staggering loss of jobs available in the arts. But under the traditional model, only 35% of the general population could be considered as attending arts events, many of them not even on an active basis.
A recent NEA study shines a light on the opportunity before us: That when we redefine “arts attendance” to also include attendance through the internet, the rate more than doubles to 75%. If we can reasonably assume that greater exposure to the arts leads to greater appreciation for the arts, then what we see is a huge opportunity for arts entrepreneurs: to find new markets for their work.
KS: Speaking of opportunity, C4 works closely with many other organizations; how does this benefit your members and mission?
JH: Working with other organizations helps C4 Atlanta not only expand our reach, but it allows us to connect Atlanta artists to new resources. It’s a win-win. We admire the work of our partners in other cities. Fractured Atlas, for example, has a lot of really great programs that help artists in their professional careers. We are part of their Open Arts Network, which means that C4 members get a free Associate Membership with Fractured Atlas. We also refer artists to local organizations like WonderRoot, Georgia Lawyers for the Arts and more. Our mission is very specific so we can’t serve every need in the community—it is better if we connect our members to other organizations who offer services that we don’t. Alternate ROOTS, WonderRoot and C4 Atlanta also have a cross-membership partnership. That means if you are a member of one organization, than you can join the others for only $10.
KS: Can you talk about Eyedrum coming to share the Fuse Space, how that happened, and how it might work for the benefit of both organizations?
JH: The relationship with Eyedrum was very organic. Priscilla Smith, Eyedrum’s executive director, has been supportive of C4 Atlanta since its inception. She was part of our inaugural Ignite class, and remains a close friend and professional ally. Eyedrum coming to Fuse began with a simple conversation. They needed a home, and we had this beautiful gallery room. Hopefully, we give them a safe, inexpensive place to be, and they bring energy and life into our space. Eyedrum has been a staple in Atlanta arts—they provide an outlet for artists that aren’t mainstream, and C4 Atlanta works with artists who are innovators. The relationship just works.
KS: What’s up with this building? It’s huge and has so many different types of areas! C4’s Fuse Space is here, Dashboard Co-Op held their Boom City Exhibition upstairs, and now Eyedrum’s in the M.Rich Building too.
JH: There is a lot of history in the M.Rich building. This was the original Rich’s department store. I grew up with Rich’s as a metro native. I still have the Richie Bear stuffed animal my parents bought me one Christmas. [laughs] The building itself is over a hundred years old. I love it. I love working inside this building. Every old building comes with its set of challenges, but I think you have to respect that, preserve what you can, and blend it with modern amenities.
The building designer, Jean Lim, has done just that in the Fuse space. It’s great to work inside a space that inspires creativity.
KS: Can you give us a few closing words on why art and entrepreneurship are so compatible?
JW: When you look at the world of new businesses, you’ll find that most fail within the first five years. According to the Small Business Administration, only 44% survive more than five years. Many of those that do not survive, fail within the first year. There are two major reasons why: Some entrepreneurs fail to accurately predict how long it will take to reach profitability, while others will fail for “strategic reasons.” It’s a fancy way of saying, many entrepreneurs fail because they lack the creative skills needed to survive the challenges that inevitably arise.
To be a great entrepreneur, it takes passion, determination, and creativity, among many other qualities. Most artists are already well-versed in applying those qualities to making art. Andy Warhol once said that “good business is the best art.” That’s why we believe artists make the best entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurship is itself a form of art.
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