Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Exploring the Portfolio Career

The following is a definition from the website bnet.com:

A "portfolio career" is a "career based on a series of varied shorter-term jobs either concurrently or consecutively as opposed to one based on a progression up the ranks of a particular profession. The portfolio worker is frequently self-employed, offering his or her services on a freelance or consulting basis to one or more employers at the same time. However, a portfolio approach can also be taken to full-time employment with a single employer, if the employee chooses to expand his or her experience and responsibilities through taking different roles within the organization.

To critics, the portfolio approach to career development may appear unfocused and directionless. However, it is an excellent opportunity to experience the many different avenues available in modern life. It is important, in general, for the portfolio worker to maintain some overall sense of purpose or strategic direction in the work they undertake, and to view their portfolio career as a unified whole rather than a collection of "odd jobs."

Source: bnet.com

I first heard the term "portfolio career" last weekend during my trip to the University of Madison Wisconsin. Although defined above in the business sense, these two words have real implications for those of us trying to balance artistry with work. Let's face it, as artists, we look at that definition and say, "Yep, that's pretty much what I do every day of my life." Many, if not most, of us who identify themselves as "artists" strike a balance between teaching, creating and administering, effectively drawing from each of these in order to make a living.

So why am I dedicating an entire blog post to this concept? The fact is that most artists entering the workforce today who are interested in carving out a career in the arts should probably be thinking about several "mini" careers that make up their full time job. It is not unreasonable to think about a career in which you balance a private teaching studio, perform in several small chamber ensembles, work as an administrator for a small arts organization and have that "side job" to round out your work!

The truth is that if you are a person who is passionate about your art and you would like to continue to create on a regular basis, the portfolio career may give you the opportunity to have that artistic outlet. Would your art be the "breadwinner" of your portfolio career? Possibly, but what is more important is the fact that this approach allows you to continue to create.

I'd like to think of the Portfolio Career as a "freelance" career on steroids. To me, being a freelancer means that you are focused primarily on your art as a means of sustaining your career while those seeking a portfolio career are balancing their art with jobs that feed their creative passion. This subtle, but important, difference allows 21st century artists to develop careers that are not completely reliant upon their art, essentially allowing them to continue to create without the stress of piecing together a career of gigs/exhibitions that are not necessarily "in the bag" from year to year.

It's worth mentioning that, as artists or creative beings, our portfolio career can consist of jobs that still capture our creative passion even though it may not be creating a work of art in the studio or on a stage. In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argues that, “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people...will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

The time is now for artists to bring their creative abilities to the workplace as one spoke on the wheel of their portfolio career. Whether it's working in a creative fashion to streamline a company's day to day operations or it's collaborating on a team in the spirit of true entrepreneurial business start-up, artists now can have a seat at the table with their business counterparts. The words "business counterparts" should not be viewed as a four letter word by artists. The truth is that we have a lot to learn from each other and if we each bring our strengths to the table, both sides have a greater chance of achieving true wealth in our lives.

What is exciting to me is the fact that if we assign a name to this type of work (portfolio career), we can also articulate a way to achieve the career goal. The most logical place to begin to explore a portfolio career to me would be at the university level where students can explore this mindset with little to no risk.

Interested in launching a portfolio career? Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Check out this blog: Starting a Portfolio Career
  2. Create a portfolio career exploration group consisting of artists, business people and educators. This cross-disciplinary, collaborative effort, will help you gain the tools necessary when launching this career.
  3. Join the Arts Enterprise network of chapters. Arts Enterprise is student run so YOU can bring the ideas that you would like to explore forward and create opportunities to develop your own portfolio career.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Art as Business as Art at UW-M

Last Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a class being held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called "Art as Business as Art." Comprised of about thirty students from across the campus community, this class "explores the dynamic interplay between artistic life and business strategy, and features compelling national figures who cross that line everyday."

Co-teachers Stephanie Jutt (Professor of Flute) and Andrew Taylor (Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration) have designed a class that "explores the productive and creative interplay between artistic intent, business practice, and community connections." This class is particularly exciting to me because it builds upon the Arts Enterprise at Wisconsin-Madison chapter launched by Professor Jutt. Jutt started the third official Arts Enterprise chapter last year behind the University of Michigan and Bowling Green State University and has worked to develop a thriving student group as well as a curricular outlet for students in the spirit of Arts Enterprise.

Using a loose interpretation of the Arts Enterprise Central tagline—The Art of Business. The Business of Art—Professors Jutt and Taylor have designed a class that is a logical next step in the AE movement. At its core, Arts Enterprise is an organization dedicated to extra-curricular, student-run chapters designed to enhance each student's degree path. However, it is important to note that this type of class greatly benefits the Arts Enterprise movement as it shares many of the ideals that the chapter organization is based upon and gives students a launching pad for their work with the student organization.

During my time with the class we explored the idea of divergent thinking in an effort to help the class develop ideas for an end of the semester project. Using an exercise called "mind mapping" I guided students through a process of creating word webs with the goal of moving as far away from the original idea as possible. Mind Mapping is "the process of using unrelated stimulus to help students think divergently in the development of a truly unique idea/product." (Jack Stamp)

Here's how it works.

  1. On the board, draw three circles.
  2. In the middle of each board write one unrelated word. For example: one color, one action, one famous person
  3. Ask students to think divergently about the words on the board and then shout out words that make them think about the word within the circle. The goal is to get as far away from the word as the center as possible.
  4. When you have a rich list of words, instruct the students to divide into groups.
  5. In their groups, have students develop an idea/product using one word from each of the three circles on the board. This can be for fun, or it can have real world implications.
NOTE: You can either give them the topic for the idea ahead of the divergent thinking exercise or after. Each will have different but positive results.

Upon completion of the class session, I had the great fortune of being interviewed as a guest of the class. (The interview can be found here: Zeisler Interiew.) Additional information about the Art as Business as Art course information can be found here.