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Passion and Problem-Solving: Artists as Entrepreneurs

Passion and Problem-Solving: Artists as Entrepreneurs

“Making art is a lot like quitting smoking,” said RISD alumMac Premo 95 IL.

“Making art is a lot like quitting smoking,” said RISD alum Mac Premo 95 IL. “You have to do it and no one really cares if you do it. No one’s going to do it for you. So, you have to figure out a way how.”

Figuring out how to forge a creative career path was the focus of the RISD Career Center’s first-ever Entrepreneur Mindshare, held on Saturday, November 12. The all-day event was designed to get RISD students and alumni energized about creative entrepreneurship and help them start thinking about what form their own path might take. Billed as part TED conference and part boot camp, speakers ranged from the pragmatic to the inspirational, and included RISD faculty and alumni in fine arts, design and architecture; Rhode Island entrepreneurship and small business agencies; and a range of other organizations such as Quirky and Etsy whose mission is to help artists and designers turn their ideas into successful businesses.

Though art and business may at first seem like uneasy bedfellows, it’s precisely this juxtaposition that makes them such a good fit. “Making art has all the trademarks of entrepreneurship,” noted Premo. “It requires tireless work, a clear vision, a devotion to execution and an intensity of purpose.”

Many speakers throughout the day echoed the sentiment that successful businesses are born out of a strong vision and a passion to change the world – ideas that feel right at home at RISD.

Vanessa Bertozzi, Director of Community & Education, Etsy

Alumni Nina Maxwell 06 PR and Andrea Starr BArch 06 of Providence’s Fertile Underground spoke about the passion for urban gardening that led them to launch a Kickstarter project to fund a natural food store on Providence’s west side. “We wanted to use our creativity and skills to build a community of like-minded artists and gardeners,” said Starr. “It’s a way for the community to connect through food in an urban setting.”

Vanessa Bertozzi, Director of Community & Education at Etsy, also emphasized the importance of community and networking, and encouraged students to take advantage of RISD’s abundant resources. “At RISD, you guys learn the art of critique from friends who will be honest with you. Take that feedback, digest it and keep improving. We are all making this up as we go along,” she said, “But we have each other.” She added, “You also have to love it. There will be lots of all-nighters.”

Jessica Brown MID 09, founder, Let’s Just Make That

Jessica Brown MID 09, founder of DIY show Let’s Just Make That, agreed that it’s all about networking. “Network until your socks fall off,” she advised. She added that her experience at RISD also helped develop her critical thinking, presentation skills and problem-solving abilities. “RISD taught me to try 10 different ways [to solve a problem],” she said, “And when those don’t work, try 10 more.”

Join RISD’s networks

As part of RISD’s ongoing commitment to entrepreneurship, the support doesn’t stop there. Three students or alumni who took part in the day’s activities will receive funding for their work through Etsy and Kickstarter, funded by philanthropist Edward Merrin.

One student will receive a $1,000 award toward a Kickstarter project and two students will receive $300 each to support the development of an Etsy shop. For more information on how to apply visit or contact the RISD Career Center.

And if you’re a student or alum who’s already on Kickstarter or Etsy, join the club! The Etsy RISD team page has over 850 student and alumni members, and Kickstarter has over 25 RISD projects that have successfully raised over $140,000.