St. Louis Artists Are Utilizing Business Tools to Design Their Own Futures

Regional Arts Commission St. Louis

It wasn’t that long ago that engaging with the arts was restricted to attending an arts venue or event, taking a class, or sitting down with a book. While those continue to be some of our favorite pastimes, today we are met with artistic expression on a daily basis.

Technology is giving artists access to wider audiences than ever before, and exposing audiences to a wider range of artists and art forms. This has led to a change in people’s expectations about work, play, and how they can engage with the arts.

Through EVOKE’s exploratory conversations, we found that while St. Louisans continue to highly value arts and culture, the way people participate in the arts and culture is changing. Fewer adults attend traditional arts events — mirroring the national trend — but more people are participating in the arts themselves, becoming makers and creators in some way. They are photographers, quilters, writers, choristers, or members of the band — and many of these artists see themselves as creative entrepreneurs.

“What is new [in St. Louis] is that if you want to be the creator – a program, an event – people aren’t asking for permission as much, they are just making it happen.” – Community Leader interview

What are creative entrepreneurs?

Creative entrepreneurs combine their aesthetic and artistic talents with businesses acumen, using both the right and left sides of their brains to make ideas happen. This allows the artist to be far more interactive and express themselves in much broader ways than the artist-as-genius or artist-as-educator models.

In the past, an artist was supposed to do one thing — train in one discipline, study one tradition, use one set of tools, have only one artistic identity. You were an actor, a singer, a cellist. It was unseemly to embrace multiple genres and be both a playwright and a poet, both a painter and a photographer … let alone transcend disciplines and be both a dancer and a filmmaker. Today’s young creators possess an abundance of artistic identities. Like any good business person, you have to diversify.

In our research interviewing thousands of citizens, we found that St. Louisans envision a region where all residents have the freedom and ability to lead the creative life they imagine, for themselves and their families. In this future, everyone — regardless of the background they come from or neighborhood where they live — shares in the region’s extraordinary cultural inheritance, and communities are strengthened, uplifted, and connected through arts and cultural experiences.

“St. Louis is still a great music city. And unlike New Orleans or Chicago, St. Louis has blues, ragtime, rock ‘n roll, many different musical forms. Musicians here have a lot of options for performing spaces or clubs. Nelly has a studio downtown that teaches kids the business of music. There are also great clubs that support local artists, including blues artists. There are more blues venues [here] than in Chicago.” – Community Leader interview

At the intersection of arts and entrepreneurship, we are seeing St. Louisans create careers for themselves using their artistic talents and self-expression. A large and growing artist community is now supported by the nonprofit arts sector, and participating in the “gig” economy. While this offers less stability, it creates more opportunities for more artists to teach, operate their own businesses, and create work that advances their careers as artists. It contributes to the fabric of our local startup scene, and it creates a city where artists and creatives can build lives and futures from their dreams.