Teaching Artists Entrepreneurship and Self-Promotion
By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
Entrepreneurship is all about one thing: marketing. At least, it is if you are asking Michele Plante, Instructor and Coordinator of Career Services at the College of Fine and Applied Arts.
While it may sound like an odd coupling, Plante’s course for the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership marries Entrepreneurship and Self-Promotion in the Arts. Drawing on 17 years of marketing experience, Plante effectively introduces students to a marketing mindset with which she contextualizes independent business ventures. The class focuses on tailoring written and verbal presentations to a variety of audiences; students explore case studies of self-supporting artists, create partial business plans for arts-related ventures, build self-promotional packages, conduct job searches and apply for arts-administration or design positions.
“Artists need to know how to promote themselves…they need to know how to pitch to their audience with a kind of resonance,” Plante said. “It is incredibly important that they be able to speak in a language that their audience understands or they will never get the funding and support that they need to succeed.”
Plante was inspired to create her course in 2008 when she recognized a need in the College of FAA.
“At the time I didn’t think there were enough courses for artists covering the material [that my course does],” she said. “Thankfully now there are more courses in the college that address those things. “
Plante views herself as an enabler for entrepreneurial thinking, but has high expectations for her students. Typically, she assigns a writing exercise upon the class’s first weekly meeting and leads the class in group revision and discussion upon the second.
“There are different goals to keep in mind in self-promoting and the class is a first step toward achieving those goals,” Plante said. “I open the door and take my students a few steps into it but it is up to them to do the rest…Before the course they might not have even known the door was there.”
But it’s not all live promos and visual displays in Plante’s FAA course. Experts in copyright law, grant writing and tax issues for the self-employed are utilized in the course’s guest lecture series to give students insight into the logistics of running a business.
“Some of my students were surprisingly resistant to things like making a budget,” Plante said. “I think there was an emotional roadblock that formed around having [the less glamorous parts of arts entrepreneurship].”
To different students, she explained, different parts of the course have been considered valuable, but the class cannot function as a catch-all. In the next iteration of FAA300, Plante will narrow the focus of the course to best address the specific needs of performing and fine artists.
“The range of students in my class has been enormous up to this point,” Plante said. “What my students have valued in the course has been totally dependent on their majors…some people have found the things directly applicable to their majors to be important while others have liked everything.”
When it comes down to it, though, Plante knows what she is talking about. Illinois Art History Alumna and former FAA300 student Alyssa Venere recently contacted Plante to thank her for her excellent insight into the professional world.
“[My experience in Michele’s class] gave me so much to feed off of in my professional endeavors,” Venere said. “Thanks to the work I completed for Michele, I found myself much more prepared and confident as I began my master's degree in visual arts administration at NYU last fall.”
Venere found the hands-on aspect of Plante’s class to be the most beneficial.
“We weren't just completing readings and talking about arts administration and entrepreneurship,” Venere said, “but we were meeting people from all areas of the field, crafting elevator pitches and marketing materials, and compiling entire business plans to get an actual feel for what entrepreneurship and self-promotion in the arts really entails.”
“To me, that was why this class mattered,” Plante said. “It is just as important to know how to promote yourself as an artist as it is to be good at your craft.”
Entrepreneurial course taught by Professor Plante
FAA 300, Building Careers in the Arts
This course—created for emerging artists in design, studio, and performing arts—will explore what it means to be professional in arts-related contexts. Its goal of providing the tools students need to succeed artistically and financially. Students will explore entrepreneurship, innovative career paths, collaboration with various constituencies, and approaches for speaking about arts to those outside the arts world. Class discussion will be supplemented by readings and lectures from established performing and visual artists, designers, arts administrators, marketing professionals, and business consultants. This class also introduces tools of the trade such as marketing, grant and proposal writing, artist statements, presskits, and resources for creating career opportunities.
Visit Course Catalog website for course availability
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About Professor Plante
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