By Gavin Artz
Shhhhh .... don’t tell anyone, but I used to be an artist. Well, I was a musician and a composer and, after six years of working in the arts, I am not sure how much credibility that gives you as an artist. When I was an artist musician all I wanted to do was play music and the dream, as for many of my colleagues, was not to have to work a crappy dead-end job to pay the bills. The dream was to get payed for what I wanted to do. Well, in the end that didn’t work out too well for me and I spent way more time having my soul destroyed manning market research phones or sitting behind the desk at WEA Sydney as the night attendant, than on what I wanted to do. The irony was that I had to spend so much time working at business administration, that I became much better at that than at being musician. Ultimately, managing a business was less complex than composition - it paid better too, but more importantly, I had a greater impact on people and society than I ever did as a musician.
After being a manager in multinational companies, small business and community organisations, I found my way back to the arts as General Manager and then CEO of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). In returning to the arts, I was rather surprised to be told that artists aren’t interested in making money and that commercial activity should be frowned upon. This didn’t tally with my experience and as I spoke to practicing artists it didn’t seem to tally with their desires. It seemed that, like me, all they wanted to do was their art and, in some way, get payed for that value. To me, it seemed like the art world had unknowingly been conspiring to keep artists poor. There was little business education and what was on offer seemed so superficial as to be of no real use. The business training that was offered was limited to running a small business, for what must have been envisioned as selling objects to galleries or at markets. I was startled by the lack of ambition and disrespect for the sophisticated intellectual property and innovation being developed by the artists I was working with at ANAT.
One of my favourite roles at ANAT has been to work with MEGA as part of the Working Group. Through this I also got the opportunity to mentor the team that become the company rezon8. As a mentor, I saw artist Jimmy McGilchrist take an interactive art work from exhibition to business. This is a business that is now an investment-ready technology start up, but also one that had its research and development work short listed at SXSW 2012 in the interactive art category. It is also a business that will be off to install a work at a South African festival in a few months, with the potential of this being an ongoing international creative exploration. The skills and networks developed at MEGA have not only allowed them to develop a business from the intellectual property in their art work, but have also allowed them to create innovative work that is respected by the art world.
When I search for the right skills and training for artists who want to find business opportunities, I always come back to the MEGA way of doing things. It is a model that takes you from nothing to being a peer with your mentor at a pace that allows the knowledge to become a part of your life and practice. It is not a superficial experience; it is tailored and patient - everything creative people need to learn and come to terms with a new worldview. If you want to take advantage of new business models, new paths to market and get creative, cultural and commercial value out of your art practice all without comprising your artistic vision, then MEGA can deliver. It already has.