by Eric Ginsburg
Despite bright sun and spring temperatures, several hundred people spent their Saturday at school, exploring how to be more entrepreneurial with their art. The Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference, held at UNCG since 2009, was held last weekend and included almost 20 breakout sessions and three keynote speakers.
“It’s a one-day conference focused on the business of art and what it takes to turn your passion into a profession, so to speak,” conference coordinator Valerie Wiseman said. “The idea is that artists will be more successful with resources, skills, contacts, etcetera.”
Attendees ranged widely in age and artistic discipline, including a panel with students from UNCG, NC State, University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Some of the speakers traveled from around the country to attend, coming from as far as Los Angeles and Florida, but several of the speakers live in the area.
Speakers and attendees crossed disciplines — including television anchor Carol Andrews talking about social media, two lawyers from Brooks Pierce discussing legal issues for artists, and more traditional artists.
Fabio Camara, a Greensboro-based photographer, delivered a presentation about resourcefulness. As someone who “started with nothing and built a successful business in the art field,” Camara talked about his ability to utilize and build relationships to become a successful commercial photographer who works up and down the East Coast.
Camara, who said he caught his first break with the help of his photography professor at Guilford College, outlined ways others without “rich parents or the ability to take out a big loan” could succeed in the field, too.
UNCG graduate Edd Kerr, who now lives in Durham, and Josh Berman led a workshop with similar themes of translating skill into economic viability.
The duo offered concrete ideas for approaching creative career dilemmas, encouraging people to focus on enhancing strengths instead of trying to endlessly correct deficiencies. Berman described himself as a “graphic designer by day and entrepreneur by night,” and Kerr is a record producer.
Kerr said he spent an absurd amount of time trying to record his own music, particularly vocal tracks, as a way to showcase his artistic and producing capabilities. After much time and frustration, he realized it was far more productive to network and specialize.
Breaking about 50 people into smaller “industry groups” based on artistic profession, Berman and Kerr asked people to brainstorm and discuss their skills. Later in the workshop, they outlined ways that people could work around their weaknesses including partnerships, technology and “pivot points.”
Not surprisingly, much of the conference stressed the importance of being strategic about self-promotion and small, measured steps.
Greensboro illustrator and designer Kyle Webster, the closing keynote speaker, embraces a methodic approach, too. Webster’s talk focused on how to control the “domino process” of success as much as possible, overcoming fear and how to fail successfully.
“I take calculated risks,” he said before the conference. “I’ve always had the attitude that if there’s something out there that people are doing in my field I automatically assume that I can do it too and try to reverse-engineer the process by which they got there.”
Webster continued: “I think part of what’s made my business work is me being maybe a little bit naïve about how things are supposed to work and coming up with my own approach. You’re never going to ever get better at doing something unless you’re doing it.”