Building Business Savvy
RISD Careers hosts a full-day entrepreneurial “boot camp” to help artists and designers interested in making a living through their creative work.
Deb Dormody provides conference participants with the tools they need to painlessly price their work.
RISD Careers regularly presents workshops for students and alumni that teach the skills artists and designers need to make a living making their work. In early November the annual Art of Business Bootcamp drew 175 students, alumni and other Rhode Island artists and designers to a full Saturday of sessions at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence.
“Inviting the public this year was a big step for us,” says Director of RISD Careers Kevin Jankowski 88 IL. “We’re always looking for ways to leverage our resources in support of the greater Rhode Island arts community.”
Although many RISD alumni don’t consider themselves to be small business owners, an annual survey conducted by Jankowski’s office indicates that 90% of respondents freelance after graduating, which means that the skills entrepreneurs need to succeed—marketing, branding, understanding contracts and pricing—apply. “They’re behaving like small businesses even if they don’t see themselves that way,” Jankowski explains, “and freelance work leads many alumni to develop more structured businesses.”
One of the best-attended sessions of the day was a talk by Kickstarter Director of Community Education Stephanie Pereira about using online funding platforms to realize creative ideas. “Stephanie was trained as a fine artist, so she understands the perspective of RISD students and other creatives,” says Senior Career Advisor Scott Malloy.
Inviting speakers with that first-hand understanding and tailoring their presentations to meet the specific needs of artists and designers made the day especially successful. After graduating from RISD Greg Kanaan 02 FAV went on to study contract law, so his talk on creating sound contracts hit all the right notes without confusing participants with legalese.
“As a recent alum, I’m working to shape a few one-off freelance projects into a sustainable studio practice,” says boot camp participant Diane Lee MFA 16 GD. “Two of the most daunting challenges for me are contracts and taxes, but both of these topics were so clearly explained at the conference that they’re no longer sources of anxiety for me.”
Another tricky topic is setting appropriate prices for one’s work. Deb Dormody of the Alliance of Artists Communities explained to participants how to use a mathematical pricing formula that factors in the cost of materials and number of hours devoted to a piece. “It sounds obvious,” notes Jankowski, “but the logic of her system was truly revelatory for most of the people who attended the session.”
Other popular presenters were Alec Babala 14 ID and Bruce Kim 13 FD, two of the founding partners behind the successful furniture startup Greycork. Their session focused on setting priorities and the importance of timing in running a viable business. Brand strategist Emily Rye MFA 11 GD, who teaches in RISD’s Graphic Design department, shared her expertise in the field, as did her co-principal at the Rhode Island-based Design Agency Jane Androski MFA 11 GD.
But one of the best and most underrated benefits of conferences like the Bootcamp, says Malloy, is their ability to build community. “Participants really appreciate the opportunity to talk about their work and connect with other makers,” he notes. And participant Linda Wingerter 96 IL agrees. “Events like this,” she says, “bring together an intergenerational group of RISD students and alumni and remind me that one of my greatest assets as an illustrator is this unique family I belong to—one that continues to shape me as an artist.”
Recent graduate Anna Riley 14 GL speaks about the value of grants and residencies in moving her practice forward.
Four alumni with remarkably different real-world experience came to RISD in late February for a panel discussion called Working it. Making it Work.
With his podcast Hungry, Sculpture alum Otis Gray 14 SC has created a food-centered podcast that blends entertainment and public engagement.