Have you ever sat back and thought: if my only job as an artist was to create and produce work and somebody else figured out how to present and sell the work my life would be so much easier? This feeling is common if you are an emerging or independent artist or working on a passion creative project as an individual. There are easy ways to build administrative systems that help you balance between creating the work and getting it out to the world. Truth is, the desire to showcase work as an artist is almost innate – whether for profit or just among friends and family. Arts administration therefore is your useful companion rather than a burdensome task list.
So what really is arts administration? It is the process of building a system that helps you manage different aspects of your creative practice for it to attain holistic results. No matter what drives your creative journey – whether you create as a hobby, you have just started building an arts career, growing a creative brand – these four tips will help you build a system that eventually yields back to your creative practice.
1. Plan Your Time
Administration is like a juggling game where you have to work on multiple things at the same time without any of them dropping out of your attention. This means you have to balance time to enable steady progress of each aspect in your creative practice. Time allocation needs to be realistic and within your capacity. You can plan weekly, monthly or even for the entire year. Remember to leave room for organic revision.
Brain dumping is always a good place to start. This is writing down everything you have to get done, and then proceeding to allocate time to do them in order of priority. You can do this anywhere – on your commute, while waiting to get your coffee, at the bank queue. Begin easy by using the note app on your phone, a to-do list notepad or even sticky notes. If you are not sure what your list should entail, think through everything you have done over the last few weeks and note down the repetitive tasks involved in managing your creative brand. Once you have your list, allocate days and times to handle each task.
You can do this manually, using excel sheets or a calendar app like Google calendar. There is an unexplainable joy in crossing out items on a to-do list. To build this habit, start small with a daily or weekly plan then increase the forecast as you get used to it. Remember to celebrate every completed list!
2. Document Your Journey
We live in a world where if something doesn’t get documented it probably didn’t happen. It can get overwhelming to document every step of your artistic journey but capturing key aspects of your project is like providing evidence of your artistic prowess. The best documentation happens naturally, without the pressure of thinking about the perfect shot for social media. In fact, documenting for administrative purposes is not just for your followers. Pictures and videos can become your portfolio, be submitted for pitches or remind you of design processes.
As an emerging artist, these pictures can also be a visual trajectory of your growth. You will love to see the difference between the first illustration of a character you drew and a similar one years later. Once in a while, get professional photos done; you can collaborate with emerging photographers if studio fees are not within your budget. Apart from media files, documentation is also recording the projects you do. Have you ever counted how many pieces of ceramics you produced in a month or how many workshops you facilitated? What about events you have attended to network? Recording your artistic steps adds depth to your portfolio and these figures can be used when applying for opportunities where selection is based on artistic depth. Performing artists are great at this because they keep a list of every show they appear in.
To stay organized, take advantage of free storage that comes together with your email address like Google Drive. Organize your files by year and even further by month. You can also categorize them with the type of content or by projects in that month.
3. Market through relationship building
Most times we restrict marketing to sales and revenue generation. From its literal root name, a market is a place where people go to purchase certain items, but that doesn’t mean they always buy. Some people come to markets to window-shop, accompany a friend, or just stroll through. Even if a sale is not made, your goal should be making people who come to your market remember their experience, plan on coming back and tell someone about it. It’s therefore important to build a relationship with your audience starting with those who have directly engaged with your work, purchased it or experienced it in person.
Marketing with relationship building in mind means generating content centered on storytelling, human connection and using interactive features that allow for feedback. This is an asset because it builds a community for your creative brand, which builds loyalty, which often translates to the most effective marketing tool – word of mouth. To create this community explore channels like live-streams, meet and greets or networking events.
Your community has to have people. Build it by creating an audience list with names and contact numbers of people who know your brand and keep adding to it every time you have a personal interaction. Do not shy away from requesting people to sign up for your contact list, even those who follow you online. Every time someone signs up, reach out to them personally reminding them how you got connected and informing them how you will stay in touch. This could be through social media, a newsletter or a normal email.
Keep your communication and interaction consistent and expected. We know it’s morning when birds begin to chirp, your audience should have the same expectation. This doesn’t mean you have to interact with them all the time; planning will help you set realistic but continuous time frames. Did you know Gmail now allows you to schedule emails and some phones also schedule texts? When planning, set out time for scheduling communication ahead of time to keep you connected with your community.
4. Tracking your expenses
Financial management opens an imaginary excel sheet in our heads with many numbers on it. These numbers and their financial jargon often cause intimidation rather than excitement to many creatives. Like all administrative practices, simplifying your financial processes will make it a helpful companion instead of a burden.
Begin by having a list of all your expenses and revenues. To stay motivated, choose a recording platform easiest for you. It could be a word document, excel sheet or an app if you are tech savvy. Organize these by months but don’t wait until the end of the month to update them. Set out time in your weekly plan to keep these records updated. Daily recording is even better because you won’t miss out any details.
Record your expenses according to the project they are intended for, and if the expense was not a specific project record it as a general expenditure (the accounting term is admin). Try to get a receipt for each expense. This is a good habit to build if you ever get to work on a grant project that requires you to report on expenditure. Normalise separating your personal expense receipts from your art supply receipts.
Record your revenue by what it’s generated from and where. If you are selling artwork, include the name of the piece because it also helps you track bestselling items. If you are providing creative services include the service, client and when you delivered it. This helps you steward the service in future. For example; if you facilitated a workshop at a summer camp this year, reach out and pitch the workshop again next year. Remember to add the client to your communication list. At the end of the month, review your expenses and revenues then let them inform your budget the following month.
Tapping into these arts administration tips will give you a smooth sailing through your artistic journey. If you are running your venture alone, give yourself the grace to balance it all within reasonable capacity to avoid burnout. Some projects may be busy during production making admin work fall behind so always allocate time in post-production to catch up on it. Finally, help the creative in you enjoy the administrative side of your journey by doing these tasks in informal settings like parks, botanical gardens, coffee shops or artistic co-working spaces.