The Artist As An Entrepreneur

By Rafael Cruz, Regional Director, SBDC Fort Lauderdale

entrepreneurWhen you hear the name Michelangelo, what do you think of? The magnificent sculpture of David, the glorious Sistine Chapel or one of Michelangelo’s many architectural triumphs? What most people do not think of is what kind of businessperson he was.

An article in The Guardian sheds some light on his wealth
“Michelangelo, the Renaissance artist and sculptor renowned for his stinginess, was much richer than his rivals and may have been one of the wealthiest artists in history, according to a new book by an American academic. During a long career, Michelangelo accumulated a fortune which would be worth more than $44 million today. The estimate has been calculated by Rab Hatfield, a professor of art history at the University of Syracuse in Florence.”

The old masters like Michelangelo had to have formidable negotiation skills because they did business with wealthy princes and powerbrokers like the Pope. They also hired and managed laborers to execute their artistic vision and managed budgets and inventories of supplies. These things sound a lot like business skills and nothing like artistic skills. Yet, in the past, it was taken for granted that any successful artist had to have an understanding of these things. Somewhere along the line, we lost sight of how important these skill sets are to artists, and artists have suffered financially ever since.

A Business Solution for South Florida Artists
To address this critical gap in skill sets for artists in our community, our very own award-winning Broward County Cultural Division has hosted the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI) program at ArtServe, on Sunrise Boulevard, for almost a decade now. Considered a rare program of its kind, AEI teaches all types of artists how to make profits on their art and/or creative ventures. The program welcomes artists of all disciplines like dancers, musicians, painters, graphic designers and more. Artists residing in any county are invited to attend.

The Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI) was founded in 2003 by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) Cleveland, Ohio, and the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE). Both were interested in helping artists to build viable small businesses in the community.

Every participant in this exceptional program spends four intense Saturdays during the month of June absorbing effective strategies that many artists know they need to get their careers to the next level but few have had the focused opportunity to learn until now. Business planning, branding, pricing, operational accounting,
paying taxes, and protecting your rights are just a sampling of the key areas covered in the AEI course.

Artists enrolled in the Institute come to a key decision point during the process; they must realize that they enjoy their art as a serious hobby or they are awakened to a more practical and broader way of thinking about art, as a business.

Since its inception in 2007, the AEI program has had a steady enrollment. To date, 506 students have successfully graduated this intense program. The AEI program features in-depth business modules presented by experts in their field who have a love and passion for art. Year after year, the program continues to draw artists of all types as they seek to gain a better understanding of the disciplines and principles involved in developing a successful business in art.

Success Stories
Graduates of AEI continue to make strides in effectively creating fresh and profitable artistic endeavors. Virginia Fifield, Jaclyn Laflamme and Lee Anna Yater are graduates of the very first AEI and together founded the “Doing Business As” art exhibit. Today, “Doing Business As” is an annual event where up to nearly 60 AEI graduates have participated. The planning and execution of this exhibit gives artists an opportunity to practice the skills they learned during the AEI program.

As a complement to the AEI program, Regional Director Rafael Cruz of the SBDC Fort Lauderdale (Small Business Development Center) launched the Creative Entrepreneur Development Program (CED), a one-on-one at no-cost consulting service available to all arts/creative economy-related businesses. The CED program is led by George Gadson, a certified business consultant who was formerly a banker and presently an accomplished, nationally recognized artist. The SBDC is the state of Florida’s designated principal provider of small business assistance and has helped hundreds of thousands of businesses throughout Florida during its 40 years of operation. The SBDC is the go-to resource for those in the know.

Many lovers of art and culture realize that the Broward County arts community is going through its own Renaissance. The county’s Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute and the SBDC’s Creative Entrepreneur Development Program make sure that our artists have the business skills they need to successfully realize their creative visions. With SBDC, ArtServe, Inc., the Cultural Division, and CPAC’s assistance, an entrepreneurial road map is being created for Broward County’s creative sector.

If you want to know more about the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute or the SBDC’s Creative Entrepreneur Development Program, please contact the links below:

The 2015 AEI program link:
See: The Starting Gate; Miami Herald:
The SBDC Website :

The Artist As An Entrepreneur