How to Add $30K More to Your Existing Art School Debt

[“Best of Chicago Art Magazine” re-post. Originally appeared 4/6/10. School has not opened as of 9/1/10]

Mari Espinosa

A “finishing school” for artists opens for business in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood next January.  The Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship will emphasize leadership and marketing skills for artists, said Lisa Canning, its founder and director.

Canning, a professional clarinetist, comes from a family of successful entrepreneurs. She decided to apply the skills she learned from them to her own business ventures, and believes they apply to artists as well. She said she’s seen “a lot of people not able to survive after attending a very expensive art school.”

She also wants to prove that an art-related business can thrive.

The school’s philosophy centers on combining the classroom with the art and business worlds.  In addition to class work, students will be required to actively participate in fundraising, creating web sites, merchandising, publicizing work as well as observing established entrepreneurs. But above all, she said, it will encourage an artist’s immersion in the community.

“An artist education is not complete until they have all these skills, which is why it’s a two-year finishing program,” Canning said.  She compared the training of an artist to that of a lawyer and doctor, believing art degrees should span 6 to 7 years to give the artist the training and experience she believes is required to be successful.

Canning pointed out that while most undergraduates have impressive skills, they have virtually nothing on their resume besides school-based shows and performances.  These students can’t expect to turn around and be a successful artist without these things.

Canning hopes the I.A.E. would give artists the method and the platform to which they can apply their ideas. “I consider anyone who wants to make a living doing their art at some level creating a business,” she said, adding that students would learn to capitalize their artistic vision into a successful business by thinking like an entrepreneur as well as like an artist.

“Maybe the definition of what those [artists] are needs to change, but their criteria for who they want to be does not have to change.  They simply have to embrace and understand their passions and connect those passions to the work they do in new ways which they’ve never been taught to do,” she said.

Canning started her business ventures after she graduated Northwestern University, and since then has owned clarinet retail stores and a musical mail-order instrument rental among other businesses.  She considers these to be extensions of her artistic skills as a clarinetist.

Canning said she made a point of hiring all kinds of artists, but noticed that many of them left to pursue their own careers after learning from her business model.  She said that the I.A.E is based on the idea that experience is the key to success, so the training at the school will reflect this.

Although the I.A.E. curriculum is still in progress, Canning said it will stress one–on-one teaching, and that students will have opportunities to work independently promoting their work.

The I.A.E will also offer different workshops and programs for artists at different levels.  Canning said that school is not just for beginners, but for those who have started a business and want to develop their marketing skills as well.  Tuition for the I.A.E. ranges from $600 for a 12-week program to $30,500 for the two-year (four semester) program.

“Artists have a role to play economically like we have never seen before,” Canning said, but added that without entrepreneurial training they may not get very far.

“There is this thing called survival of the fittest.  Our world changes and people do have to adapt to survive.”

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