Listen to Ann Rea's interview with Alex Blumberg, of National Public Radio.
When my intern graduated from the Academy of Art University of San Francisco with an undergraduate degree in Fine Art Illustration, I was appalled. Because she accumulated over $200,000 of student loan and credit card debt to finance her education yet she had no job prospects or any idea how she was going to make a living with her art. Inescapable student loan debt binds her future.
When I asked her what she had learned about how to make a living as an artist, she showed me her "Designing Careers" course curriculum. It was a bunch of handouts slapped together in a cheap plastic binder.
The instructions on how to file a US Copyright application were outdated, a significant misstep. Copyright registration as the primary legal instrument protecting their primary assets, their intellectual property. It is vital that artists understand this, as copyright represents a significant portion of their current and future revenue. She paid $3000, plus administrative fees, for this flawed course and she will be paying compounding interest on it for years.
The Academy of Art University in San Francisco is a for-profit venture. I am all for making a profit except that their reputation is less about the quality of their education and more about their valuable antique car collection and real estate portfolio "the largest in San Francisco". These holdings are indirectly financed with federally backed student loans.
Art students attending the top 42 art and design non-profit schools in North America are paying over $50,000 in annual tuition on average. Tuition at The Rhode Island School of Design is $67,720 per year, more than Harvard at $63,025. Unlike Harvard, art school endowments are underfunded so they offer smaller and fewer scholarships.
I hear from artists who were disappointed that their parents discouraged them from pursuing art. But their parent's financial concerns are justified. There are no jobs for fine artists and craftsmen. Without jobs, it is impossible to build an art career. What artists can do is build a business and join The New Creative Class.
An art professor's job is to teach art students how to make art, not how to make money with their art; it falls outside of the scope of their curriculum and an academic's expertise. It is the same in medical or law school. However, when art students ask their art professors about how they can make money with their art they are typically dismissed, shamed, or told that they should expect a life of financial struggle.
Soon after graduating from art school, most fine art and craft majors, from even the top art schools, must abandon their art to make a living in unrelated fields. Some will pursue a Masters in Fine Art (MFA) with the hope that this will give them an advantage with the art establishment or help them secure a rare teaching position. More ambitious artists will earn their Masters of Business Administration (MBA). However, an MBA revolves around the trade of goods or services - but an artist's product is "emotion."
The sloppy instruction that my former intern received was primarily about how to submit to the scarcity and permission based art establishment. Yet the middleman is increasingly irrelevant to emerging artists and artisans because of social media marketing and eCommerce.
"Every artist is an entrepreneur and every entrepreneur is an artist." -Dr. 'E'
The informal estimates are that over 50% of art galleries in the US have closed since the most recent recession as the business model is broken. Art buyers have always preferred to know and to support artists directly so that they can enjoy a meaningful exchange and relationship. Like the music and publishing industries, the art and craft industry is ripe for disruption.
- It is important to note that on average, small businesses gain about 85% of their sales by way of referrals. However, if an artist is represented by an art gallery they will not receive referral sales because representatives rarely share art buyer's contact information with the artist. That means that a substantial percentage of referral sales are forever lost to artists with representation.
- Art gallerists consign art, they do not buy art. When galleries do sell art, they typically pay the artist 50%, a standard wholesale price split. They often negotiate discounts with collectors and expect the artist to absorb the losses.
- Even if reps play no part in a sales transaction between an artist and their buyer, reps often require the artist to pay them a 50% sales commission.
- Artist representatives customarily demand exclusivity, preventing artists from freely building multiple sales channels. This limits the number of opportunities the artist can pursue without the threat losing their representation.
I did not want to compete with other artists for an opportunity just to show my art, I wanted to sell my art and build relationships with my patrons. In 2005 I moved to San Francisco where I had no contacts. I immediately fired my art representatives. Then I drafted a plan to directly sell over $100,000 of my art during my first year as a full-time, unknown artist. Motivated in part by the high cost of living in San Francisco, I sold $103,426 of my art in 2005.
I began receiving press attention and artists from across the globe started contacting me for business and marketing advice. I began consulting with artists on a limited basis, such as; Colleen Attara, an eco-artist who launched a handmade recycled greeting card line that is selling in over 100 stores and Kate Bradley who developed a strong following as a children’s portrait painter.
I loved watching artists take their power back by gaining self-confidence and focus.
I found myself teaching the same principles repeatedly, so I developed a curriculum and I taught two popular courses on Creative Live. The opportunity to teach a live global audience of artists allowed me to refine my curriculum and create “The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester.®”
Like the art and craft establishment, higher education is under disruption by on-line education. However, on-line courses can leave students feeling isolated. Artists walk a solitary path. This is compounded by a lack of a support from experienced mentors and artist communities that are often filled with jealousy, competitiveness, and snobbery.
My aim is to create a healthy and supportive live global community for artists. My students meet with their "Study Partners", fellow students of their choosing, via live video calls. They can see one another's faces, gain a broader global perspective, and form lasting friendships.
The Four-Part Code© process helps artists own who they are and what they stand for, and what they stand against, understand their creative purpose, their mission, the value that they can deliver above and beyond their art, and the niche they can serve.
The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester® global community is a warm, welcoming, intelligent group of varied professional artists who offer a range of creative talents and experiences such as, a stay at home mother with a Masters of Fine Art (MFA) returning to her art, an Emmy award-winning creative director, and a Harvard MBA.
My vision is to help over 10,000 artists thrive in less than ten years by securing their creative freedom through business savvy. Therefore, I decided to open up a portion of my paid program to guest students who are welcome to attend my live weekly online training on Saturdays for free. I also partner with a number of US Small Business Development Centers, county arts councils, and non-profit arts organizations so that artists can gain access to this
I also partner with a number of US Small Business Development Centers, county arts councils, and non-profit arts organizations so that artists can gain access to this free entrepreneurial training for artists. Organizations that serve artists are welcome to apply here.
I stand behind The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester® by offering a 30-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee.
A student officially graduates once they have earned back their tuition investment, at a minimum, through the sale of their art during their final "Prototype Project." This goal holds students accountable; it tests their offerings and it confirms their grasp of the principles. The results of a student's final project can:
- kick start their fine art enterprises
- test their commitment to sell their art
- or affirm that making art would be better left as a hobby
Ann Rea is a San Francisco-based artist. Her vision is to create a global community of 10,000 artists who thrive in less than ten years. Rea's artistic talent is praised by her mentor, Wayne Thiebaud, an American art icon. She has been featured in Fortune, The Wine Enthusiast, and Art Business News magazines, in The San Francisco Chronicle, in the book Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields, and on HGTV, ABC, and The Good Life Project. Rea is a favorite instructor on Creative Live's "Money and Life" channel, broadcasting to over one million students worldwide where Alex Blumberg, NPR Producer of “This American Life”, crafted Rea’s life as an artist.
"If there is something you really want to do, do it now.” - Ann Rea, Artist Mentor