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A Year of Yes: Why a career in the arts is the best business training you can get

About two years ago, I went to the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit. It was a gathering of about 150 arts professionals, hosted by Yo-Yo Ma, and focused on Citizen Artistry, the idea of using the arts to influence positive change in people’s lives. I was one of the only people there who had worked in an industry other than the arts, and one of exactly two people who had an MBA. Several people asked me why I ever thought about pairing my artistic interest with business training. I told them that art and business are equal partners, not adversaries. In an artistic organization, you need business skills just as much as you need artistic talent. And in all organizations, business people have a lot to learn from artists.

This was puzzling to a lot of people, and that’s when a lightbulb went off for me. How could I bring the arts and business, and more specifically people who work in both disciplines, together to learn from one another? At the end of the Summit, everyone had to create a card to describe their career goal for the year. Here I am with my card:

“I commit to helping artists find the business people within them, and to helping business people find the artists within them.”

My life and my career have never been a binary choice between the arts and business. They’ve always been a package deal for me. And I wanted to find a way to work that mission into my career. I started my career twenty years ago in company management of Broadway shows and national theater tours. It has been a long and winding road since then. In all of these experiences, I say without hesitation that my work in theater has been the best business training I’ve ever had.

I so fervently believe this that when people ask me “how can I enhance my business skills?”, I tell them to go produce a live performance.

Why?

Here are the business skills we wield to produce a live show:

  • Meeting a preset, non-negotiable deadline (that curtain is going up on time no matter what—the show always goes on)
  • Staying below a strict budget, and likely a very small or non-existent budget to start with
  • Intense collaboration with a motley crew of colorful characters who all have different needs wants, and goals—hello competing priorities!
  • Publicity, marketing, media planning, and content creation
  • Financial management and accounting
  • Operations and logistics
  • In-person customer service
  • Bargaining and negotiation, as well as legal contracting
  • Impeccable time, people, and stress management
  • Recruitment and staffing
  • Oh, and then there’s that little matter of the show actually being high-quality
  • And, lest we forget, if any one of those balls drops, you bear all of the responsibility because you don’t have any backup

Are you kidding me? What other industry requires that much of a single person? No other industry. The production of a live show is the epitome of deft business skills in action.

I was beyond fortunate to have this kind of experience in the arts in my early twenties. It has informed and shaped my career and life as an adult, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These skills are transferable to so many other industries, and a variety of roles within organizations and companies. The arts, and our active engagement with them, have many more gifts to give us than we realize.

My great hope and purpose in coming to work at PatronManager is to help arts managers create an environment of financial sustainability that allow your art and artists to shine, and to make your work accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The arts have never been more important than they are today, and our responsibility to produce them has never been greater. If you have ideas for us, please don’t be shy. I want to hear them so that we can help each other bring them to life.

About Christa Avampato

The short of it: Writer. Health, education, and art advocate. Theater and film producer. Visual artist. Product geek. Proud alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (MBA). Inspired by ancient wisdom & modern tech. Proliferator of goodness. Opener of doors. Friend to animals. Fan of creative work in all its wondrous forms. I use my business skills to create passion projects that build a better world. I’ve been called the happiest New Yorker, and I try hard to live up to that title every day. The long of it: My career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, entertainment, technology, and financial services. I’ve been a product developer and product manager, theater manager, strategic consultant, marketer, voice over artist, , teacher, and fundraiser. I use my business and storytelling to support and sustain passion projects that build a better world. In every experience, I’ve used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, programs, and events. While building a business career, I also built a strong portfolio as a journalist, novelist, freelance writer, interviewer, presenter, and public speaker. My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, PBS.org, Boston.com, Royal Media Partners publications, and The Motley Fool on a wide range of topics including business, technology, science, health, education, culture, and lifestyle. I have also been an invited speaker at SXSW, Teach for America, Avon headquarters, Games for Change, NYU, Columbia University, Hunter College, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The first book in my young adult book series, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was acquired by a publisher and launched in November 2017. I’m currently working on the second book in the series. A recovering multi-tasker, I’m equally at home in front of my Mac, on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phineas, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching. I also cut up small bits of paper and put them back together as a collage artist. My company: I’m bringing together all of my business and creative career paths as the Founder of Double or Nothing Media: • I craft products, programs, and projects that make a difference; • I build the business plans that make what I craft financially sustainable; • I tell the stories that matter about the people, places, and products that inspire me. Follow my adventures on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christanyc and Instagram at https://instagram.com/christarosenyc.

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