The Invisible Artist
Artists have a great, long-term economic and cultural impact on our society that many overlook. They are urban explorers; they invest in rundown, underfunded areas in which no one has invested in years through living and working in these spaces. As a group that gives freely, is open to collaboration and undervalues its skills, these are often the only areas artists can afford. Over time, area changes revive the culture and organically attract community growth. Real estate developers take notice of this activity and start developing, or re-developing, these rundown areas that have been renewed. Artists are not scaling alongside these communities, and are financially forced out of areas they created or helped to revive.
One example is New York City's Lower East Side. Artists turned into squatters, moving into abandoned buildings to which the city had cut power. These squatters created communities and, over time, rebuilt the area. In 2003, a deal was made between the city, a non-profit, and the people who had lived in this area for decades.
Beacon, NY was transformed by the Dia:Beacon Museum, which brought $121M in tourist expenditure over eleven years. The arts industry in the U.S. brings over $700B to the economy per year, which is more than tourism, agriculture, and transportation. In fact, this is happening in Syracuse, NY right now; I’m basically living in a case study.
The conversation about creativity and perception of artists in our society needs to change. The artist is the business, and this group needs to be provided the internal and external tools in order to scale their work as a business alongside growing communities.
Without creativity, we wouldn't have culture. How do we emphasize the role of artist?
Emphasis has been placed on the external product of the creative, whether it's the art itself or the culture this group creates — and the role of artist is lost. Pinning a person’s internal value on external structures or products is one that permeates all of society. Unfortunately, education is not directed towards cultivating internal skill areas, such as emotional intelligence or creative thinking. (These areas are, in fact, often stifled from an early age.) The "arts," an essential role in most projects, is neglected or entirely omitted from educational programming. While STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is an important education, STEAM — integrating the "A" for "arts" — is a necessary component for an individual who aspires to go beyond role of worker.
Studies have shown that U.S. high school students who have taken four years of art classes score 100 points higher on the SATs than those without — expanded in this 100-page document, here. Unlike a fact-based test or applied science with quantifiable outcomes, art is subjective and systems for studying the impact of art on a student is hard to quantify. Therefore, government funding for school programming isn't often provided for the arts — and these are the first courses they cut.
Over the last decade, new studies have shown quantified data confirming the positive cognitive and psychological benefits of creating art for those with anxiety, depression, Alzheimer's, and its impact on general well-being. When a community’s people thrive, so does the economy.
Artists often don't realize they are, or have the propensity to be, entrepreneurs — and vice-versa. In an endless cycle, they undervalue themselves or their work because our society has done so for decades. There is resistance from both sides. Artists are often resistant to the "mainstream" way of doing things, yet this way of doing things would allow them to scale their work into businesses. Those in the corporate sphere tend to undervalue creative skills and, yet, this is the most in-demand skillset in the business world. (They like to call this "innovation.") Again, this is because emphasis is placed on external skills from childhood. Why don’t more people talk about integration?
Technology also comes into play here. Resistance to technology is often a resistance to the idea of “doing things the easy way” — automation, mechanical reproducibility — of being inauthentic or “going corporate.” Many see technology as robbing the artist of authenticity and skill. Understanding of technological and business tools would only benefit an artist's growth, however, and the key is to use these tools so they aren't using you.
It all comes down to integration. Not only do we need to integrate the arts into education, work roles and conversation — but we need to integrate external and internal tools in order to see the individual beyond the product.
External tools and ideas already bombard us on a daily basis; technology is just one common, concrete example. The key is to integrate personally beneficial external tools into our lives and work. Understanding how an external tool can benefit an artist or, for that matter, any individual, is the key to adapting to external changes in our society to align them with internal goals and frameworks. An individual must first identify their own goals and path; this way they can see which external tools and ideas help them to achieve sustainable success.
When you value yourself, you project this value and others can see it, too. Placing value on more “abstract” things such as your time and those internal goals will allow you to express, and even quantify, your external value. An “artist” is more than the sum of its parts; you are a valuable individual beyond what you can provide others. First, you must provide for yourself.
I'm not going down the route of Richard Florida, economist, educator and speaker on the “the creative class.” While I present information on the economic impact of the arts, I will show others how to harness this power; I emphasize personal development and internal work. Focus is placed on altering perception and actionable steps that people who self-identify solely as “creative” can take to see — and realize — themselves as “entrepreneur.” I also aim to guide those who identify solely as “entrepreneur” to look within and develop internal tools, allowing them to see their value beyond external factors.