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Agile education: The business of art, and the art of business

Bill DeYoung



Meeting the demands of business requires innovative thinking from educators – agility is now the rarity factor that sets the bar. Success in arts administration requires more than passion and a college degree; the former can’t be taught, and the latter is worth less now than in previous years. In our series Agile Education, we’ll explore some of the ways St. Pete educators and employers are keeping up with the speed of the new economy.


Part Two in a series.


Do you have your elevator speech down pat?

According to St. Petersburg Arts Alliance executive director John Collins, it’s key for artists, arts administrators (both nonprofit and otherwise) and fundraisers to be able to explain themselves – and their mission – on a moment’s notice.

Hence, the elevator speech. “Whatever your mantra, you know you’ve got a few floors to get it across,” Collins explains. “‘Hi, I’m John Collins of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, we’re the umbrella organization for all the arts in St. Pete, helping to provide a foundation for their support, and giving scholarships and blah blah blah …’ But you gotta do it so it doesn’t sound like you’re a car salesman. Or you’ll turn people off.”

There’s nothing worse, Collins adds, than squandering an audience with a potential customer, colleague or contributor by talking too much while saying nothing at all.

In a perfect world, “Ask an artist what they do, and they can tell you in a minute and a half … and close it with ‘Would you like to see my collection?’ Or ‘I work for such-and-such theater, here’s what we do and why we’re different from the other theaters in town …’”

Such sage advice is only a tiny component of the Arts Alliance’s annual six-week program of professional development training sessions. Beginning June 4 at the Greenhouse, the Arts Business Academy is a partnership with the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce.

Here are the topics (one for each week): Defining Your Self as a Creative Business, Developing Your Brand, Media and Promotion, Social Media and Marketing, Legal and Business Basics and Practical Business Tools and Raising Funds.

Each class is taught by a local professional, from each field.

The Arts Business Academy is an extension of the Alliance’s Thursday-morning workshops at the Greenhouse. Not everyone, however, can get away in the morning; Collins began this action-packed, ultra-intensive program five years ago (sessions are held Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m.).

The goal, he says, is simple. “There’s no bench strength for future arts administrators in St. Pete. In Boston or other cities, if one wanted to hire a director of special events, or a director of fundraising, you could just go raid the nearest college, or the nearest nonprofit, and find somebody who had been trained and so on.

“Here, we don’t have that flexibility. And we don’t have that training ground.” In addition, Collins explains, there’s a serious salary discrepancy – larger organizations, with bigger budgets, tend to snap up the few promising graduates, leaving smaller nonprofits in the lurch.

Or they leave town for “greener pastures” and more money. Collins and his organization, of course, want the talent to stay here.

The Arts Business Academy is an attempt to level the playing field. It’s an “everything you need to know” overview. “It’s not an arts management program, per se,” he explains. “But it is blessed by the USF College of Business – the dean comes, and we give them their certificates at the end of seven weeks. It really focuses people to determine who they are, what their elevator speech is – or, if they’re representing a small nonprofit, what their mission vision is. And then they learn the things they need to get there.”

At any rate, he stresses, “The arts professionals, for profits or nonprofits, all need to learn essentially the same thing. They may use different words, but it’s the same business skills.”

Fee is $100. Register here.


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