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What is Creative Entrepreneurship?

I was recently asked to give a talk at the UEA London Campus on what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. I thought I’d post the talk here, as most people still seem to have trouble with the concept of arts and business intermingling.

This is only my personal account of the course, and is fairly anecdotal, but it sums up what I think I gained from this excellent MA, and how I got to where I am now.

It’s a bit like therapy when you start out. Hi, my name is Andrea Michael, and I am a creative entrepreneur. It feels a bit strange when you first tell people that, and we certainly spent enough time on the course examining the root of that word, ‘entrepreneur’, and what people think when you say it.

 

I can tell you this:

 

I do not look like an entrepreneur. I do not wear designer suits to get attention, you cannot judge me by my watch. I, like most other graduates, still live at home. In short, I am not Alan Sugar.

But I am a businesswoman. And an artist. And that merging of two amazing worlds is what I’m here to talk to you about. Because I think getting a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship has been the most important thing I’ve done so far, and I’ve been an ambassador for merging business and art ever since.

I am a writer. I write novels. Mainly for adults, but also for teenagers and children. I write poetry, blog posts, articles, reviews, web content, comedy and outraged letters. And still, after doing this for years, even after graduating from UEA’s highly respected BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, I still walked into my first lesson on this MA, unable to call myself a writer.

 

I studied, I practiced my craft, and I was actually pretty good. But I still didn’t have the confidence to proclaim myself an artist. I had a excellent degree from a distinguished university and  had absolutely no idea where to go next. I didn’t even know it was possible to be a full time writer! I certainly had no business skills. All I had was my writing, my passion and a desire to never work a nine-to-five in my life. I like to think it’s my enthusiasm that got me accepted onto the MA, and the skills that I gained there that got me to where I am now.

 

We learned about all the things that my academic degree had failed to give me- an understanding of how to do things for yourself. How to market myself, to analyse my strengths and weaknesses, and work through, or around them. To use budgets, understand self-employment and tax. To set up a website, apply for funding. How to best use your ideas, and your art, to benefit you and others.

 

Traditionally, art has been seen as almost a polar opposite to business. But if there has been anything I learnt on this course, it is this: Art has two types of value. The first is the obvious, the aesthetic. The first reason an artist creates: to speak to an audience. To express passion or ideas, to create something meaningful and send it out into the world. But the second is monetary value. Art is worth a lot. And like all things, it has a price.

An artist may be creating out of love, or hatred or politics, or whatever drives them. But that artist also has overheads; tools to pay for, travel expenses and labour costs. Why shouldn’t that be viewed in terms of business? An artist has goods and services to sell. There is no shame in combining artistry and money. Good art is not made through starvation. It is made through understanding your own value.

That, above all, is what I prize most about this course. It gave me a sense of my own value. It made me confident enough in my skills to stand before you today and call myself a writer.

There are many other benefits. Being surrounded by like-minded people from different artistic backgrounds, ages, parts of the world, all of whom want to do the same thing- make a living from their art. With the course being so intimate, you create a support network, one which I still rely on today. My course-mates are talented and passionate professionals, and we still stay in touch, passing on work, bouncing ideas. We created a sense of identity on the course, we became artists who understood the importance of creating our own revenue, not depending on grants or funding from outside sources.

Similarly, that network expanded to include the specialist advisors and guest lecturers who gave lessons in their fields, whether that was how to write a press release, how to identify your selling points, or how to use social media to your advantage. Like the business world, the arts world is also all about who you know. And this course introduces you to all the right people.

 

Traditional scholars may tell you that art is sullied by business. But we are not living in a world where the cliched whimsical artist is provided for by a patron. Art cannot afford to be blind to value. Artists cannot afford to ignore how their talent can be used. There is no reason that when I call myself an artist, people should assume that I am not a businesswoman also. Companies seems to search for creativity amongst their employees, and the artist has this in abundance. Knowing how to apply it is the key. Creativity is not a weakness. Don’t I have to work to deadlines? Search for new clients? Imaginatively problem solve? Appeal to my target market? I can do these things, and now I realise how much they are worth.

 

 

It has been a year since I graduated, and in that time, my life as a writer has taken tremendous leaps forward.

A large part of the course is creating an Arts Plan, a guide for how I plan to steer my creative career over the next five years. It is a collage of aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, contacts, business plans, account details and a constant reminder of how far I have come, and how far I have to go. I ‘check in’ with this document, update my plans, maybe change things, but having it there to look at helps me push forward. And I am going places.

 

My first novel (which was a coursework piece) is being considered for publication, my second novel has just been finished, and the third is in the works. Various articles on the intermingling of arts and business, as well as fiction, have been published in magazines, and I’ve gained some great contacts in the publishing industry, as well as winning a few prizes along the way.

 

My comedic blog, Cafe Disaster, about the trials of working as a highly educated but minimally paid barista in Kensington, now has thousands of hits a week, a dedicated fanbase, and various advertising offers. This started as a creative outlet on the course, to amuse my friends and classmates. It’s now taken on a life of it’s own and is being seen as an example of the problems facing the graduates of the recession generation.

 

I started my own business, The DumbSaint Project, which provides creative writing workshops for children, teenagers and adults. It’s gained a great reputation at festivals and is expanding on target. I have since been able to quit my job as a barista and focus solely on my writing and workshops. My readers are worried that the blog will suffer.

I cannot recommend this course highly enough, and I have friends who joined the MA after me, because I pointed out that they had perfected their craft over the years, but were strangers to the life skills needed for their career. This course equips you with the tools you need to carve out a life for yourself as an artist. It allows you to find your own path, your creative niche, but also gives you the chance to experiment before you’re thrown out into a world that doesn’t always recognise the value of artists.

 

I can now legitimately call myself a writer. Because that is what I do. I write, I advertise, I arrange a business, I network, I do my accounts. I apply my skills in ways that allow me to live. I use my ideas to survive. And that is what being an entrepreneur is.

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Time to Grow Up?

I’ve spent a lot of time wanting to be an adult. As a petulant teenage moaner, I used to insist that whilst I was thirteen, I clearly had the mentality of a thirty-year-old. Not only is this not true (was I desperately crying that all my friends were married and my job wasn’t what I wanted? No. Did I care about interior decorating or what type of wine to take to dinner parties? No. Was I a rampant, yet acceptably charming, alcoholic? No.) it was a waste of the opportunity I had to be a whiny thirteen-year-old.

And now, as the Walrus said, the time has come. Not to grow up entirely, but to perhaps embrace that grown-up responsibilities (whilst horrible and stressful) are the signal of a new era in life. I knew this mindset had occurred when I started craving matching tableware.

What signalled this thought process about accepting responsibility? Watching Clerks. Clerks, if you don’t know, is an absolutely awesome film about two guys who work in rubbish jobs. That’s kind of it. Which is why I identify with it, as should any graduate. You’re doing shift work? You get called in at random times? Your customers are morons? Weird stuff happens and you’re never entirely sure how to deal with it? This film can be summed up in these words: ‘I wasn’t even supposed to BE here today!’

image by deanfenechanimations

No, no, you weren’t. But you are. And you’ll have to deal with it, until you can figure out what the hell you’re going to do with your life.

That’s why the film is comforting. We’re all in the same position, in a moment of transition. Are you going to university? Do you want to change jobs? What are you going to DO with the rest of your life? Assuming it’s going to be long, do you want it to suck this much forever?

That’s fine. We’re all working these jobs to get by, to be able to afford rent and alcohol. As long as you’ve got your friends with you, it’s all going to be okay. And isn’t that nice? I can deal with my life being like Clerks.

It’s when your life is like Clerks 2 that you realise everything you hoped and dreamed of has already passed you by, and it’s time to panic and DO SOMETHING. Forget all that ‘Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes’ crap, you need to wake up and realise your life is awful, and you may have already missed the best parts.

In the sequel, the characters are older, and have traded their jobs at the video and convenience stores for a Maccy D type existence. So, things have only gotten worse, then. Oh no, wait! One of them has a fiancee! So everything must be alright! Because that’s a symbol of responsibility, right? Yes, yes it is. Unless you’re MAKING A TERRIBLE MISTAKE.

The point here, if I’m not mistaken, should be ‘If you have a shit job, at least enjoy the rest of your life’. But they’re not, because they’re spending the rest of their lives moaning and worrying about the fact that their jobs suck. And yet aren’t motivated enough to change it.

I don’t particularly need to worry about this. I have a Five Year Plan. And a Ten Year Plan. And a special addendum on the plans that allow for specific amounts of spontaneity and frivolity per annum. But it does make one wonder. Are we able to just bumble around day to day, year to year, until we shuffle off this mortal coil with nothing more than a couple of hundred in the bank, and high cholesterol from the free food at work? Should we even be prescribing to this existence?

This is the daily grind, and we take what we can. If you’re living as an artist, you’re going to be doing these kind of jobs. And it’s the art that makes it worth it, makes you something beyond your shitty shift work. Which funnily enough, was the whole point of Clerks. The film itself was made on a teeny tiny budget, and was based around the creator Kevin Smith’s job. So, that’s comforting, right? The banal and frequently rubbish times spent working in a convenience store can become a work of art.

So…time to grow up. Or, maybe don’t grow up, just start making art about it. Yeah, maybe that’s a better plan.