June 27, 2016  • Events & Media

(C) 2015 Patty Mitchell and Susan Dlouhy; Upcycling Sheltered Workshops

Huge thanks to the Clark Hulings fund for adding this piece to their site!


I had the pleasure of chairing a panel discussion in May that featured a variety of artists from across the artistic spectrum. And they all embraced the “ands” of their careers. The Ohio Arts Council hosted an Arts Impact Ohio conference to celebrate—you guessed it—the delightful ways the arts impact everyone’s economy, everyone’s perspective, and everyone’s life.


One participant, Lisa Yanofsky, is a conservatory-trained opera singer. And a dancer. And a scholar. And a teaching artist for the Ohio Arts Council. She used the phrase “straddling duality” to capture the beautiful overlaps in our creative lives, and that theme guided the entire panel discussion.


I couldn’t get that phrase—straddling duality—out of my mind.


Because we all straddle duality. As creative entrepreneurs, we wear a lot of hats and we have a lot of titles. Patty Mitchell, another panelist, is a maker. And a teacher. And an author. And an empower-er. And a cicada creator. (I’m not kidding about that last one.)


By embracing ‘and’ in our descriptions, we empower our whole selves
There are plenty of outlets for our creativity, and by embracing the word “and” in our personal descriptions, we empower ourselves to identify opportunities. We aren’t limited to the one thing we do. We aren’t pigeon-holed into a tiny sliver of the industry. Our skills and talents cross industry lines and traditional customer segments.


Entrepreneurs call this “opportunity spotting.” Artists call it living.


There is optimism embedded in the idea of spotting opportunities, just as there is optimism embedded in the idea that we can be more than one thing, that we don’t have to be limited by the thing we do that makes the most money or the thing we do that takes the most time. We can be more than one thing. And we can do more than one thing well. Really well.


(c) 2015 Patty Mitchell and Susan Dlouhy, Upcycling Sheltered Workshops
(c) 2015 Patty Mitchell and Susan Dlouhy, Upcycling Sheltered Workshops

Perhaps you are a photographer. And a documentarian. And a master editor.


Perhaps you are a sculptor. And a creator. And a storyteller.


Perhaps you are a painter. And a secret-keeper. And a challenger of conventional assumptions.


Perhaps you are an illustrator. And a fighter of stereotypes. And a voice for the voiceless.


Perhaps you are a designer. And a problem-solver. And a critical-thinker.


By knowing ourselves and knowing our skills, we articulate what entrepreneurial experts would call our “unique value propositions.” What is it that we, as artists, do better than anyone else? The answer is different for each artist I meet. No two artists are the same—thank goodness—and no two value propositions match.


But by knowing our own, personalized version of the unique value proposition, we are better able to think nimbly and creatively about opportunities that might make excellent use of our strengths, even—and especially—if those opportunities aren’t immediately obvious.


Find the right words to articulate your value authentically
After all, an opportunity is nothing more than a solution to a problem. And in a creative entrepreneurial context, an opportunity is a chance to say, “I am the solution to your problem.” (But please never say that exactly. That sounds like a smarmy snake-oil sales pitch. Find your own words and your own authentic way of expressing that idea.)


Patty Mitchell does this exceedingly well. As an artist, she has a heightened sense of empathy for others, and she is an excellent listener. She spots opportunities by listening to the full messages other people share, beyond simply the words they say, and using that to figure out what their needs are. Then, she responds to those needs. I want to be clear, though: Patty doesn’t change what she does to suit the market. (That’s a terrible idea for a creative entrepreneur. It may work for a commodity-based business, and there might be limited areas within creativity where it makes sense, but it isn’t the recommended strategy for creative fulfillment.) Patty does the projects she wants to do. She doesn’t change what she creates. But she does describe her work in a way that resonates with those she serves. She cultivates opportunities for her projects by speaking in ways others will appreciate.


And as a result, she straddles another duality entirely: She is a maker. And a leader. And a social entrepreneur. And a masterful salesperson. And an excellent marketer. And an advocate for her work.


Because we all wear a lot of hats. We all straddle the duality of being administrators, and marketers, and makers, and bookkeepers, and email managers, and coffee-experts.


And our creative abilities, the skills that make us uniquely qualified to do what we do, empower us to excel at those tasks as well.



For Further Reading

Use the Business Model Canvas by Strategyzer to articulate your unique value proposition.



Learn more about opportunity spotting through Creative Abundance, a WOUB documentary featuring Susan Dlouhy & Patty Mitchell.




Put It Into Practice

Building Creative Portfolio Careers | $49



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You don’t have to do this alone. Arts & Numbers is a comprehensive financial guide for creative individuals… and anyone else with a passion for something other than accounting and finance. This book aims to provide basic information on finance and financial matters for creative entrepreneurs to take ownership of their financial situations, thus ensuring their long-term success, creative and otherwise.

Written in short story form with fictional anecdotes supporting the financial advice, Arts & Numbers promises to be an easy and useful read for creative entrepreneurs at any stage.

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