Stop Killing the Creative Entrepreneur Part II: The Murder of Self Worth

by Nathan Lee


Image: Chi King, Creative Commons 2.0

Image: Chi King, Creative Commons 2.0


In my first article about the demise of the creative entrepreneur, we looked the importance of a family support network. The internal challenge of balancing family and validating a creative entrepreneur’s ambition is a legitimate struggle for many of these creative pros. If they survive the dynamics of juggling family and career, then they are often faced with a second nemesis.

Justifying their worth to other professionals not of the creative world.

Creative professionals are beginning to catch the attention of businesses that don’t traditionally use artists in their daily operations. The good news is this is changing. The bad news is many businesses don’t know exactly how to use those who think outside their company’s policies and protocols. While I am, as a creative entrepreneur, appreciative of the strides being made to include the creative class in the workforce, I am still not satisfied with the way professionals from the creative field are treated.

The most obvious disservice for the creative pro is that they are sometimes used as window dressing in events. Artists will give their work to benefits and events, but they aren’t given the proper tools to put their best foot forward. For instance, when I was a part of an event that called for artists to participate, I was told that I could show artwork at the event and perhaps land a patron. Their commission was 50%, which is a fairly typical split for artists at fundraiser events. The problem? There was no infrastructure for the artist to succeed. There was no wall space, only easels. There was no track lighting for the work and the artists were relegated to a place that was away from the event. It was almost as if the coordinator said “There, we didn’t leave you out.”

When you treat the creative professional as an afterthought, you damage his or her resolve to ever work in a partnership that goes outside of the creative realm. You create bitter entrepreneurs who become distrustful of establishments.

Another way we assassinate our creative professionals is refusing to recognize their worth. This is especially disheartening when the creative pro is approached by an outside business for a project, and ends up grossly underpaid given what their services actually cost. I think this is because people not from the creative world lack the awareness of what creatives are supposed to be paid for their service. As a result, creative pros feel minimized. Especially if they aren’t of the mindset to demand fair pay. There have been many times that I have quoted a fair price for for my services as a visual artist and the potential client has attempted to talk me down in price. Do we talk our accounts down in price for acting as our CPA’s? Do we try to barter with doctors about the cost of surgery? Then why is it so appalling that the creative professional demand the same level of understanding and respect? Constant minimization of the creative entrepreneur as a professional is damaging to their outlook. If it happens enough, it can either impede or end the aspiration of these innovative individuals.

And finally, there are those who are from the creative sector that take the very people they are closely related to, for granted. I have been in festivals that are notorious for this. While the majority of my experiences have been positive, there are those events that feel as though they are doing the creative entrepreneur a “favor” by including them. After all, they are providing them the opportunity to show their wares and market their business….or are they?

I saw an event where the invited vendors paid a booth fee but lacked proper accommodations to perform or conduct themselves effectively. The overall attitude was “The vendors should understand, because we are giving them exposure.”

To what, the weather?

There is nothing more damaging to the creative professional than a venue for creatives that treats those it allegedly aims to help worse than the mainstream more conventional businesses, who at least have the excuse that they are learning to work with creatives. They should have growing pains, but those organizations and businesses who openly proclaim to stand for the creative professionals have an obligation to make the experience with those creatives who have committed to the endeavor, positive. As a talented musician friend of mine put it “An art event that wants artists to participate, shouldn’t scare them away in the end.”

Incidentally, while the coordinators of the event felt they were doing him a favor, the truth was, it was the other way around. He and his band are quite successful and he was simply volunteering his talent to help the greater good. Occasionally there are those that take people like him for granted. Whether he performs there or not next year remains to be seen. The experience did not further his desire to participate and if he does next year, it is solely out of love for creative expression. But any place that isn’t out to murder someone’s self worth, should be making an effort to realize that it’s more than exposure for the artist, it’s about building a sense of place and real community.

But in the end, a negative experience like this might jade an emerging creative professional.

We must begin to understand the contributions of this working class of people before we make them so sour that they take their creative game away from our economic and cultural landscape and play elsewhere…or perhaps not at all. Which would be a true shame if our goal was to make this place pop; therefore we need unique individuals to stay and revitalize the community. It’s the golden rule, kids. Treat others like you’d like to be treated. Ask yourself, if you’re a business hosting an event with an arts bent, “Would I take this deal if it wasn’t absolutely fair and professional?”

As for emergent creative pros, don’t let your self worth get murdered. Do your research and figure out what your time is worth and communicate that effectively. Find events and businesses you can trust. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and get your agreements put down in writing. Apply to those with a reputation for professional operations. You, too, can help shape this industry.

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