KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Elaine McMilian's artistic entrepreneurship is flourishing underneath the star of the Czar Bar in Kansas City. McMilian's star shines brightly with the help of an MU Extension program in the Small Business & Technology Development Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The program — Artist, INC — gives artists the business chops to hone their art into a career. It has helped McMilian, a singer/songwriter, expand her repertoire beyond being onstage herself and move into the art scene full time.
"Society tells us that an artist can't possibly be successful on a financial level, that you have to cut off your ear, live in a one-room flat on a mattress on the floor, and that's not at all the truth," said Diane Scott, the professional development program manager at the UMKC SBTDC. "We're doing things differently than anywhere else in the country by using local artists to teach local artists about how to succeed on the business end of art."
McMilian experienced that difference. After participating in Artist, INC this year, she started Elaine McMilian Enterprises, a booking agency. The business helps find venues for budding singer/songwriters in Kansas City.
"I'm a musician, so what I really want to be doing is writing music, playing my guitar, singing and having band practice. That's what I love doing," she said. "But it's a fact of life that we have to support ourselves and be wise about that for our families, and it helps to have the tools and resources to do that."
By the end of 2010, more than 125 artists will have completed the eight-week course, which is coupled with a mentoring program with established artists in Kansas City. The program allows artists in a variety of fields-from singing and curating to filmmaking and painting-to bolster their confidence in the business side of art.
"It was just so great to go to the workshops every week with my artistic contemporaries to create something and have people come in to tell us how to do our taxes, to keep track of our finances, to write our bio and resume and put together our promo pack," McMilian said.
The SBTDC developed Artist, INC after the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City and the Charlotte Street Foundation came looking for help. The result is a program that exposes artists to specific business knowledge, provides a direct mentor and creates a closely connected network of peers they can turn to for advice.
Painter Joel Schlotterer acknowledged how important that network can be. Schlotterer started Guerilla Curating after graduating from Artist, INC last spring. His business works with photographers, painters and visual artists to showcase their work on the walls of local restaurants and venues like Room 39 in midtown Kansas City.
"It's a multiplier because you get a lot out of sharing e-mail addresses, sharing publicity and growing your community," he said. "All of a sudden you have access to this huge network that you never had before, and if everyone's working together you can pool all that to create a synergy."
Scott noted that artists aren't much different from other entrepreneurs she helps.
"Artists are really just entrepreneurs who get to dress cooler," she said. "The primary difference is that we encourage artists to diversify their stream of revenue more, whether it is through performing, teaching, selling art online or different income sources."
Scott said for every dollar put into Artist, INC, the state's economy collects multiple dollars in tax revenue. She hopes that the program will put to rest the misconception of the starving artist, and said that artistic success across the city creates an economic ripple effect to industries beyond the arts.
"We've had a number of residencies, a number of grants and have seen an overall significant increase of the revenues and profits of artists involved in the program," she said. "If artists can make a living they are more likely to continue practicing their art, stay in the area and not leave for places like New York or California."
Learn more about Artist, INC by visiting www.KCArtistLink.com/ArtistINC or contact Diane Scott at the UMKC SBTDC, 4747 Troost, Suite 107A, Kansas City, Mo. 64110; phone (816) 235-6063.
- Roger Meissen, Senior Information Specialist, MU Extension Cooperative Media Group. Video provided by Kent Faddis, Cooperative Media Group.
This story was featured in the October 2010 newsletter.
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