Not “Just” Artists: Five Questions for Susan K. Schear

Susan Koblin Schear is an arts consultant and founder of ARTISIN, LLC, which offers comprehensive, process-oriented and holistically-based planning and business development, management and implementation services to the arts and cultural sector. After years in the corporate sector, Susan has the unique ability to”translate” business / entrepreneurial skills and practices for artists in order for them to understand and feel comfortable with business ownership and responsibilities.

Susan’s Creative Capital online workshop, Values-Based Goal Setting, explores how your values and guiding principles impact your art practice, and provides a framework for establishing attainable goals that reflect these principles. We checked in with Susan to learn a little more about her corporate experience, her artistic influences, and more.

Hannah Fenlon: I don’t know about you, but we’re really looking forward to the spring season. What are some of your favorite warm weather arts and culture adventures in NYC (or elsewhere)?

Susan Schear: Being a part of the community: going for walks, enjoying random encounters and experiences, meeting and helping people.  As I am always scheduled to the minute and extremely busy in my professional life, I appreciate the chance to enjoy and be more carefree, to be taken by surprise by discovering unexpected arts and performance events as well as finding homey, ethnic restaurants that are off the beaten path. As one who loves, values and truly appreciates high-end craft and design and homemade food, coming upon boutiques/galleries and markets that focus on local and handmade certainly make my day.

Hannah: You’ve worked extensively in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. What are three takeaways you’ve discovered as a result of fusing these two worlds?

Susan: Even though the cultures of the corporate and nonprofit sectors are typically so divergent, there are still similarities.
First of all, both sectors need to ensure sound business practices and bottom lines for continuity and growth, which includes developing realistic plans and budgets. Secondly, much of the corporate sector and the overall nonprofit sector make it a priority to serve and listen to their current customer (or constituent, client, patron, etc.). This is critical to their survival as well as a part of their purpose and/or mission. Valuing and respecting staff & employees, diversity, and accessibility; and maintaining fair and ethical practices are also key priorities (that are often elaborated, but not always practiced).

Finally, many people that work in the corporate sector serve on nonprofit boards and support the nonprofit sector. They find a purpose in being associated with the nonprofit sector if they are unable to find full personal satisfaction in the corporate sector.

And one more similarity for good measure—there is dysfunction in both sectors.

Hannah: Your consulting organization, ARTISIN, has provided business services to artists for 20 years. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while working with artists to incorporate strong business practices into their art-making?

Susan: Most of the challenges presented by artists come in the form of a discomfort or lack of familiarity with business practices. Some artists assume that business professionals lack “artistic sensibility” and therefore don’t understand the artist’s situation, needs or vulnerability; or don’t have the ability to perceive art in emotionally meaningful ways. They may be uncomfortable with business terminology – market/marketing, branding, identity – as negative or “selling out.” These terms do not refer to or negate the artist’s process.

Artists are also often reluctant to believe that there are audiences for their art beyond which they have considered, and believe that marketing (advertising, pricing) somehow lessens, or cheapens, their work.

When it comes to relying on business professionals for support, many artists are disinclined to seek professional advice (i.e. attorney, accountant, insurance experts, financial planner, banker) or even consider the recommendation because of affordability. Ultimately, it would cost more if an artist didn’t seek protection from a potentially toxic or devastating situation.
And from a personal perspective, artists tend to have trouble avoiding the word “just” – as in “I’m ‘just’ an artist” rather than “I’m an artist.”

Hannah: Another challenge artists face, which you address in your upcoming webinar, is the conflict between an artist’s lived and perceived values. Can you give us some examples of common signs of this conflict, especially for artists who might be unaware that it is happening?

Susan: As I will address in the webinar, it is important to know one’s personal values and understand how and why these values influence day to day decision-making and the trajectory of a professional artistic life. Here are a few examples of moments in which your values could be in conflict with what you may be doing (or not doing) professionally:

  • Selling work or being hired to perform by a corporation with whom you don’t agree on purpose and values, (e.g. a corporation that makes money from destroying the environment).
  • Avoiding sharing, collaborating or perhaps even networking with other artists, despite the fact that there is value in being connected to and part of a community.
  • Disconnecting: Saying that your work is meant to help elevate society in some way, while in reality you consider yourself separate from the rest of society.

Hannah: If you could take on the life of any artist, from any time period, who would it be and why?

Susan: That’s a tough question. Throughout my life I’ve never identified with any one person, group, set of friends, passion or interest; it has always been an amalgam of people, communities, experiences, learning and education, careers, and more. Hence, I’ll respond similarly, and not in any particular order:

Ancient Egyptian and Greek Sculptors: Movement, fluidity (and dance), confidence, the fact that they carved by hand.

Zaha Hadid: I love her work. A phenomenal female role model in architecture. I am impressed by her courage and accomplishments.

Kit Kemp: Her global perspective; Kemp mixes cultures and periods with abandon and makes them work.

Bill Strickland: His genius, leadership, accomplishments and achievements to build partnerships and provide support in disadvantaged communities.

Jane Jacobs: As a journalist and author, her incredible activism and leadership in urban development.

Irshad Manji: Her story, vision, courage, commitment, as well as her accomplishments at a young age.

Ella Fitzgerald: Her voice!

Want to hear more from Susan, and experience Values-Based Goal Setting for yourself? Register for her April 13th webinar!

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