When it's about money, you need to be all business
Is enough attention paid to entrepreneurial skills throughout studies? During a meeting with the Community Cultural Entrepreneurship in order to kick off the new column, The Journey of, the ArtEZ Business Centre speaks about this with young teachers Douwe Dijkstra, Ratna Ho, and Simone Trum. Their opinions differ. How do they make the change from a safe bubble to a thriving enterprise? How did they get where they are?
For all the speakers, it's been more than ten years since they graduated from ArtEZ. That is to say: they've had some time to turn their business into a self-sustaining practice. How did they get there and what obstacles did they face? The speakers of this edition of The Journey of, offer a diverse range of insights and experiences. However, as we learn during their conversation, their ways of working also have a lot in common. Ratna Ho finished her Fashion Design program in 2009. She is a fashion designer and co-owner of sustainable fashion house Fraenck together with her partner Pascal Mulder. Also present is Simone Trum, who graduated from the Graphic Design program and now owns design studio Team Thursday with her partner Loes van Esch. The final speaker of the afternoon is Douwe Dijkstra, who graduated from the Illustration Design program in 2005 and is now working on a documentary that he hopes to complete this year. In the run-up to the discussion on Teams, a homely atmosphere emerges that sets the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
It makes sense to be most involved with the things you're good at
The conversation is led by Tamara Rookus, consultant on entrepreneurship education at the ArtEZ Business Centre, and after introducing the speakers, she immediately asks about the role that collaborations had in their entrepreneurial careers. Ratna starts things off and says that it was a big deal for her to always have access to a sounding board. Simone shares this view, but also warns that working with two people also means you need twice the number of commissions. The answers to the question remain a little superficial at first, but that quickly changes when Tamara asks about shared decision-making and division of income. Simone and Ratna share that they like to focus on the qualities of each participant in a collaboration. "It makes sense to be most involved with the things you're good at." That was very different for Douwe's 33 ⅓ Collective, where everyone had exactly 1/3rds share of each commission. "We always had three captains on deck, it was seriously tricky." The collective ended up separating.
When you acquire a commission, the entrepreneurship comes before the work; but if you're working autonomously, the entrepreneurship comes after
One key moment for all the speakers was winning an award or receiving a subsidy that they could invest when they were starting their businesses. When asked about the importance of this opportunity for her own beginnings, Simone explains: "With the starters' subsidy, we were able to rent a studio right away. I don't know how we would have managed to get going without that money." This raises the question whether it's essential for every artist to have access to start-up capital. For the speakers, this seems to have been of great importance, despite their shared vision of independence. What's also striking are their memories of funds, awards and subsidies that no longer exist. The field has changed a lot since the rise of student loans and Halbe Zijlstra's budget cuts in 2011. In the end, Simone expresses the importance of applying for subsidies as follows: "Of course, you need to get a little lucky to get a subsidy, but because it forces you to explain your plans, it can create more clarity in your own goals and entrepreneurship." When seeking out commissions, some flexibility in your artistic approach is desirable; the customer is king, after all. However, commercialism isn't restricted to commercial commissions. Douwe expands on his point from before: "When you acquire a commission, the entrepreneurship comes before the work; but if you're working autonomously, the entrepreneurship comes after. The finished work needs to find a place in the world: finding it is your task after the creative process is done." Douwe likes to present and sell himself online, but he is very familiar with the pitfalls. "It's difficult for a lot of makers to sell their autonomous work. It can be a very insecure investment, because you can only potentially earn money once it's finished."
We made a very conscious decision to be commercial. I'm personally more interested in the question of how you market a good product
Artists' relationship to money remains troubled; this also emerges from the conversation. What is the role of commercial and applied work versus spontaneous and autonomous work? To what extent can you be dependent on a client? Does your own work remain intact? Douwe emphasizes the role of autonomous work in the process of finding commissions for applied work. "After I graduated, I started to do acquisitions with a bunch of advertising agencies. That didn't go very far. So I went back to my autonomous work. And the success of that autonomous work actually attracted new commissions for more applied work." Nevertheless, Ratna notes that, especially in the beginning, money is an uncomfortable subject. "We made a very conscious decision to be commercial. I'm personally more interested in the question of how you market a good product." When it comes to the division of money, the entrepreneurs were united in their views: their message is that money needs to be divorced from emotion. Simone and her partner Loes base their incomes on the number of hours they work: Simone works five days a week and Loes works four. "I teach, and get paid for that, but the stuff Loes does in the studio, although unpaid, is no less important. That's why we choose to pay for hours worked and not for specific commissions." Douwe puts it like this: "When it's about money, you need to be all business. It's the last thing you want to end up fighting about."
Some were willing to work for almost nothing
We're reaching the end of our webinar. As a closing question, Tamara asks what competencies the speakers had to develop in the first two years after graduating. Simone says something that will be recognizable for many artists: "For me, it was learning to talk to clients. I was so afraid to negotiate. If I was in an office with some important director and he made a low offer, I was way too starstruck to turn it down." The other speakers agree wholeheartedly. Douwe tells a story about his class, who all got offered the same commission and had to make a quotation for it. As people gradually found out who's in the race and how much they're asking for, a race to the bottom begins, until someone ends up offering to make sixty drawings for some two hundred euros. "It's interesting to see how people approach this question. Some were willing to work for almost nothing."
If you know what your work is worth, you won't be underpaid.
Maybe learning from and talking about entrepreneurship should be normalized as a part of ArtEZ' study programs. The conversation between the teachers showcases the importance of knowing your own value. If you know what your work is worth, you won't be underpaid. In the question round, it becomes clear that students feel like talking about money is a taboo, and they're uncomfortable approaching teachers or other senior members of their industries. At the start of our programs, we liked to make jokes about never earning a penny, but as the years passed, the jokes became more and more bittersweet. If the conversation between these teachers shows us anything, it's that the opposite is true: it's quite possible to make money. The question is: when will we learn to see these key moments for what they really are – the result of skills that we can all acquire?
- Key moments Douwe Dijkstra
- Key moments Simone Trum
- Key moments Ratna Ho
- Community cultural entrepreneurship
To help improve the entrepreneurship focus in the ArtEZ curriculum, Tim and Lars have also made a survey. With this survey, they will research the skills and forms of entrepreneurship of the class of 2019-2020. The survey includes questions about graduates' first year as a creative entrepreneur, the competences they needed to develop, and how ArtEZ could have helped them in that process.
Did you graduated from ArtEZ in 2020? We warmly invit you to take our survey!