The Profitable Artist

A Handbook for All Artists in the Performing, Literary, and Visual Arts

Review by Abigail Guay

Artspire. 2011, 219 pages, Allworth Press and The New York Foundation for the Arts, New York

The Profitable Artist is a landmark synthesis of the skill development strategies and resources included in comprehensive professional development curricula for artists. Published by Artspire, a program of New York Foundation for the Arts, the volume covers five broad topics: strategic planning, financial management, legal rights and obligations, promotion, and fund-raising. The message to artists reading the volume is this: Although profit may not be the goal of your practice, money is an essential element. And a little planning, paired with a little extra knowledge, can precipitate striking change.

The Profitable Artist process begins with strategic planning, a good start for any undertaking. The tool provided for this is the Artist’s Roadmap, a series of get-the-wheels-turning questions indexed with relevant pages throughout the book. Next in line is a classic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis designed to help the reader establish a realistic set of goals and expectations to serve as an anchor when navigating the rest of the manual. The subsequent pages provide resources, outline processes, and encourage reflection on the fundamentals of establishing, bankrolling, and marketing a career in the arts.

This guidebook is not discipline specific and it is always conscious of its presumably non-MBA-holding audience, assuring the reader that “every career improvement that you make will come from refining something that you already do, most likely intuitively” (41). And Artspire keeps things uniformly concise by designing the volume to act as a starting point, particularly in the areas of law and financial planning — Roth IRAs are summed up in one paragraph. The Profitable Artist, like most professional manuals, cannot replace the experience of the workshops and professional development coursework it summarizes — the opportunity to ask questions and share accounts of relevant experiences can both reassure and inspire — but any artist (or operator of a small arts business or nonprofit) would benefit from adding this book to her or his library.