Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Art Hive Magazine.
When Grace Cho was a little girl, she dreamed of becoming an artist. Her parents, however, had other ideas.
“They said art is a hobby not a profession,” Cho says now, looking back.
For more than 25 years, she lived the life her parents wanted for her, reaching lofty heights in the corporate world and gaining experience in the financial services, media and entertainment as well as private equity industries while working for companies such as GE Capital, NBCUniversal and Nielsen – but her passion for art never dimmed.
Now, as the founder and CEO of Artrepreneur, an online platform designed
to provide artists with the kind of tools and resources they need to succeed as entrepreneurs, Cho is busy applying the skills she learned in the business world to help artists live their dreams.
There’s no reason art can’t be a profession as well as a passion. You should be able to pursue the career that you really want.”GRACE CHO
Artists have a number of hurdles to clear if they want to be successful contributors to the creative economy, though. And attitudes like those held by Cho’s parents are just the beginning.
“I have two degrees in art and I never learned how to make any money off of my talent or how to create a business,” says Erin Bassett, a fiber artist in Ft. Lauderdale. “My MFA taught me how to create art, not how to make a living.”
James Shermer, grants administrator for the Broward Cultural Division, believes business classes should be part of the curriculum in art school. “The way we describe it, it’s another color on the palette,” he says. “It’s something you have to learn how to use just as skillfully as the other techniques.”
In 2016, Bassett enrolled in the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute offered by the Cultural Division, a four-weekend course that the Cultural Division and ArtServe oversee that is designed to assist artists develop the business skills they need to successfully manage their careers. Since 2007, when the Cultural Division first offered AEI training, more than 700 artists have completed the program. A new session is scheduled to begin June 1 at ArtServe in Ft. Lauderdale.
“The Artist as an Entrepreneur course was really vital in the things that they talked about,” Bassett says. “It’s really a great foundation.”
And that’s where Cho hopes Artrepreneur can help.
“Our core is really about education,” she says. “It’s geared towards the visual artist to help them build their brand, build their business and connect with the right people in the industry.”
After creating an online profile and portfolio, artists can sell their work, apply for jobs and access a wealth of information through Artrepreneur. There is a Pro version, available on a monthly subscription basis, but Cho say most artists will be able to find everything they need with the basic free membership.
(Modest fees may be associated with certain marketplace situations. One-onone access to experts, including portfolio reviewers, is also available for a fee.)
“Artists themselves are naturally entrepreneurial, they hustle, and theyGRACE CHO
make every dollar count. I’ve never seen a group work more diligently. But the system is such that they haven’t had exposure to some of the fundamentals of building a business.”
Not being familiar with marketing principles or a profit-loss statement is just one reason why artists can be reluctant to embrace the entrepreneurial aspect of their careers. In what may be a 21st-century spin on the myth of the starving artist, financial success can carry with it a certain superficial taint. “That is what we have to kill off,” says Cho, who is making it her mission to empower artists and lay the starving artist to rest once and for all. “There’s no shame in making money.”
Virginia Fifield is a successful artist known for her super-realistic charcoal
drawings of animals. But, in 2008 when she signed up for AEI, she was struggling to make a living. Her work was represented by two galleries, but she was still working a part-time job to make ends meet. “[My career] really wasn’t doing much until I took this class,” she says. “Then all the doors opened.”
Fifield and two of her fellow AEI graduates – LeeAnna Yater and Jacklyn
Laflamme – were eager to put the lessons they’d learned to work. They also
wanted to express their gratitude to the Broward County Cultural Division
for providing the course. The best way to accomplish both goals, they decided, was to organize an exhibition. They called it “Doing Business as Artist Entrepreneurs” – “DBA” for short – and invited their fellow AEI graduates to participate.
“DBA: Textured”, which marks the 11th annual installment of the event, opens on June 10. Bassett, who participated in the 2017 show, serves as curator.
Cho will be the featured speaker at the show’s Closing Forum on June 20.
Her background as an artist combined with her business acumen gives her a unique perspective on the evolving art markets and what is needed to succeed in them.
“Determining what is creative success is a very personal exercise. Everyone’s notion of success can be different, especially for artists and designers,” she says. “The one thing every creative needs to realize about this industry is to know that it is a creative economy and understanding the business of are and design is critical to defining success.”
Cho wants to encourage artists to be fearless. Many of the artists she meets
through her work with Artrepreneur lack the confidence needed to excel in
the entrepreneurial arena. “If you don’t know about business,” she says, “don’t be afraid. Learn!”
On display at ArtServe from June 12-28
Thursday, June 13 from 6-8 pm
Be Fearless: Artrepreneurs Can Master the Business of Art & Design *
Thursday, June 20 at 6:30 pm
Featuring guest speaker: Grace Cho, CEO and founder of Artrepreneur
*Seating is limited and RSVPs are strongly advised for this free event: