TOPICS > Economy

Artists Learn Art of Business to Brave Tough Economic Times

July 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
In the classical performing arts, more and more artists -- ever more highly skilled -- compete for fewer and fewer jobs, ever more poorly paid. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on how artists are learning to fine-tune their entrepreneurial skills in order to help them design their own careers in an unsure economy.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: teaching the art of business to artists trying to make it in a changing economy.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story, part of his reporting on “Making Sen$e of Financial News.”

PAUL SOLMAN: The economic state of the arts. If you think the economy as a whole is on shaky footing, you should look at what’s going on in the classical performing arts, more and more artists, ever more highly skilled, fewer and fewer jobs, ever more poorly paid.

So, performing arts schools, including the most famous of them all, Juilliard, are taking a new approach.

MAN: Support our friend Peter.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, don’t panic. Juilliard isn’t hitting you up for money, nor is PBS interrupting this story with yet another pledge drive. Yes, Bill Baker, former president of New York’s public television station, WNET, is a pitch man, but since retiring from TV and knowing a thing or two about raising money, especially for the arts, he has taught Juilliard’s very first course in the basics of business for performing artists.

WILLIAM F. BAKER, Former WNET President: It’s like suddenly trying to teach them Chinese. They had never thought of numbers being associated with what they do.

PAUL SOLMAN: But is their attitude toward business also that it’s kind of …

WILLIAM F. BAKER: Dirty. Yes, there is a little resistance to that. And when I say the performing arts is a business, a number of my students recoil. A business? This is art. And I try to explain that, yes, it is an art, but it also is a business. And they have to understand that if they’re going to make it. It’s that simple.

PAUL SOLMAN: Juilliard now gives out grants to promote entrepreneurialism. At this meeting, last year’s winners were coaching the current crop of applicants.

JOHN BRANCY, Operation Superpower: There is some sort of connection that you can make, and that’s networking.

PAUL SOLMAN: John Brancy and Tobias Greenhalgh are founders of Operation Superpower, an opera for kids with an anti-bullying message that these two are marketing as a school assembly program.

TOBIAS GREENHALGH, Operation Superpower: Our superpowers are opera singing. And we teach the kids how to discover their superpowers. So, everybody’s a superhero. That’s our message.

PAUL SOLMAN: Give us a snippet of the superhero opera?

JOHN BRANCY: We heard your voices, a call for heroes, a cry for hearts of courage.

TOBIAS GREENHALGH: A hopeful message.

JOHN BRANCY: Hearts of courage.

TOBIAS GREENHALGH: A hopeful message.

JOHN BRANCY: That’s just a little bit of it.

PAUL SOLMAN: And though the anti-bully boys are a hard act to follow, Kristin Olson stands out with what well may be a first for a Juilliard grad: a manufacturing business, 17th century manufacturing.

KRISTIN OLSON, Reed Lizard: I specialize in historical oboe reeds for people who are interested in baroque oboes and other types of older oboes.

PAUL SOLMAN: And how much money can you make in a year?

KRISTIN OLSON: Millions and millions of dollars.

PAUL SOLMAN: What would be a more realistic guess?

KRISTIN OLSON: I mean, paying rent is a pretty good goal, and so far, it’s pretty close.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, of course, it’s not exactly news that musicians moonlight to support their art. Bach doubled as a church cantor. Berlioz wrote music criticism. Brahms performed in bars and brothels, and virtually every famous musician you ever heard of has taught.

We live in a much richer world, however, and Juilliard is more selective than Harvard. Yet, gone are the salad days, when its students could graduate, sign with an agent and expect the gigs to just roll in. Instead, the best young performing artists in the world are now expected to create their own jobs, fashion their own careers.

Can you make a living these days as a musician without significant entrepreneurial effort?

DIANE WITTRY, Conductor, Allentown Symphony: I don’t think so.

PAUL SOLMAN: Conductor Diane Wittry:

DIANE WITTRY: But the challenge is how do you balance, you know, doing marketing for yourself and all these other things and still keeping up your art form. How do you make a website? How do you make a demo tape for an audition? I think that schools are now beginning to expand the training and realize that entrepreneurialism is the answer for the future.

PAUL SOLMAN: Easier said than done.

WOMAN: It is a little bit disheartening. Even if you do have that job, there are so many different things you have to do.

PAUL SOLMAN: But at Juilliard these days, they don’t have to go it alone.

ALEX LIPOWSKI, Talea Ensemble: I came to Juilliard as a high school kid, you know, wanting to play new music. My goal in life was just to play new music.

PAUL SOLMAN: To percussionist Alex Lipowski, that’s classical music being written today. So, Lipowski got together with like-minded students.

ALEX LIPOWSKI: And it soon became evident that we weren’t just starting a band. To be successful in this, we soon realized that we were starting a business.

PAUL SOLMAN: A business now called the Talea Ensemble, which performs contemporary music concerts here and abroad.

Lipowski was one of Bill Baker’s first students.

ALEX LIPOWSKI: That sort of fire was lit, and before we knew it, we were a full-blown business. It’s all we — all we do now. We used to practice six hours a day and e-mail for two. Now, maybe we e-mail for six and practice for, you know, two.

MEREDITH MAX HODGES, Executive Director, Gallim Dance: Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard for resources currently controlled.

PAUL SOLMAN: Meredith Hodges isn’t an artist herself. She worked in finance, went to Harvard Business School, where an MBA retails for a cool quarter million. She’s now executive director of Gallim, a small modern dance company based in Brooklyn whose weekly salaries are firmly lodged in the three figures. But Hodges thinks her business education was worth what she paid.

MEREDITH MAX HODGES: I use, today, the things I learned every single day. Sometimes, it’s soft skills, negotiation, personnel, and sometimes it’s really specific frameworks for opportunity selection in terms of how to make the company grow, grow quickly, grow sustainably. Cash management and those kind of entrepreneurial and startup skills that we learned at school, I would be lost running the company without it.

ANDREA MILLER, Gallim Dance: Yes, it’s like a startup.

PAUL SOLMAN: Even company founder and choreographer Andrea Miller can now sound more like a business major than the Juilliard dance student she once was.

ANDREA MILLER: I think I have the skill set and the discipline to be able to do things outside of this artist box, because what I’m asked to do in building this company, fund-raising, development, marketing, this is a business to me. I’m building a small business.

PAUL SOLMAN: But just as in the days of Bach, Berlioz and Brahms, today’s arts institutions need patrons to keep them afloat.

MEREDITH MAX HODGES: You can never make enough with ticket sales and touring alone. Even at these low salary rates for the company, the time it takes to make a new work of art is extraordinary and the cost of the production elements are extraordinary.

PAUL SOLMAN: In other words, while these new businesses may have a lot in common in with other startups, at the end of the day, they’re strictly not-for-profit. And that means perfecting the art of the pitch.

WILLIAM F. BAKER: I try to explain to them that if they go to an event or a party and they perform and everybody applauds, and then they go back exhausted into their dressing room, that’s a big mistake. They have to come out and associate with the people that were applauding to them.

PAUL SOLMAN: It is then, says Bill Baker, who ran WNET for 20 years, that an economics mind-set can make all the difference.

WILLIAM F. BAKER: Mostly because even a billionaire can’t fathom someone who is that disciplined, who is that gifted. And that’s where the magic comes in. That’s what these students don’t often realize that they have magic.

PAUL SOLMAN: And that they can translate that magic.

WILLIAM F. BAKER: They can translate that magic into support.

PAUL SOLMAN: In this day and age, perhaps even more than in a very long time, they had darn well better.