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Do You Have Business Sense? The Art World Needs You
Success in the arts requires a talent all too rare in the field: the ability to practice business. Often creative people ignore the value of practical knowledge until it’s too late. You can make that work to your benefit.
Acquire the business skills your arts colleagues more often than not are lacking, says playwright Gregory Farber, a lecturer in English and Media Studies at Bentley University. You’ll be able to keep creative endeavors afloat and that, in turn, will pay off for all involved.
As a theater producer, Farber knows firsthand that success or failure in the art world can pivot on a strong business sense. Here’s why they need you — and, of course, what’s in it for you.
1. Artistic tunnel vision is bad for business
“People in the liberal arts often believe you can go do this pure thing that’s unsullied by the corporate world. For most of us, that’s not really true,” says Farber. “You have to engage with the rest of the world.”
Here is a case in point. Two of Farber’s colleagues are award-winning actors and playwrights. Years ago the pair started a theater company. The only problem was they had no practical idea how to run a business.
“These were fantastic actors and writers. They produced their own stuff and were great at creating work,” says Farber. “But when it came to paying the bills and managing the theater, they had no idea. It was not long before it collapsed.”
2. Blend business skills with arts — and you’re good to go
While Farber ended up a playwright and fine arts lecturer, he started out, at Bentley University, by taking two years of marketing and accounting. He finished his degree as an English major but those business courses served him well in the fine arts.
“In graduate school, I was one of the only people in my cohort with any sense of how to think about things from a business perspective,” he says. “We started a small theater company when I was in graduate school — Playwrights on Campus — and I was in charge of the entire business side of things. We were able to successfully provide a space for writers to workshop their plays and launch full productions.”
After graduation, Farber went on to use his business skills for grant writing and tracking creative budgets, and acted as director of development at Theatre on Fire in Charlestown. The blended skills sets worked in his favor.
What’s more, says Farber, the benefits flow both ways: cultivating creativity also enhances your business skills. He teaches writing to students at Bentley and tells them, as has been proven in surveys, that creativity is truly valued in the business world.
In an Association of American Colleges and Universities report, “Raising the Bar: A Survey Among Employers,” 70 percent of employers say they seek employees with the ability to be creative and innovative.
3. Just be sure your business know-how includes writing skills
In today’s workplace, writing is a threshold skill for hiring and promotion whether you work in the art world or a business corporation, says Farber. Another AACU survey, which included 120 major corporations employing nearly eight million people, found that writing skills are vital for professional opportunity, he adds.
“In most cases, writing ability could be your ticket in . . . or your ticket out,” says one respondent.
Indeed the extensive survey by the AACU makes it clear why you should take writing seriously. According to survey figures from more than 60 human resource directors:
- Poorly written job applications are a figurative kiss of death.
- People who cannot write and communicate clearly will not be hired or are unlikely to last long.
- Two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibilities.
- 80 percent or more of the companies in the service and finance, insurance, and real estate sectors — the corporations with the greatest employment — assess writing ability during hiring.
- Half of all companies take writing level into account when making promotion decisions.
- Estimates based on the survey returns reveal that employers spend billions annually correcting writing deficiencies.
Farber says that such studies matter because students of all kinds resist learning how to write well until they see the point.
“Arts students often have no sense that writing is going to be helpful or necessary,” he explains. “Later on, they realize it’s useful for grants and proposals. Business students don’t think it matters for their career but learn that it does when it comes time to write reports and memos and many other things.”
So as you can see, says Farber, the answer is simple enough. Develop your business side for the art world and your creative side for the business world. Call it the optimal blend for success.
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.
Alison Davis-Blake, the former business school dean at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, was inaugurated as the eighth president of Bentley University in a ceremony attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the extended Bentley community.