Resources for Independent Artists

September 18, 2018

By: Eli Keel for ArtPlace America

Being a great artist and making a living as an artist aren’t always the same thing. Creatives often struggle with the “real world” side of their practice, but help is available.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based Springboard for the Arts offers a wealth of downloadable resources, called toolkits, for free through their national Creative Exchange platform. The toolkits include a range of self-guided learning materials for individual artists (as well as organizations) working on projects large and small.

Carl Atiya Swanson is Associate Director of Springboard and manages Creative Exchange. He spoke with ArtPlace about his organization’s Toolkits for Change.


CSAs for Art

“The very first one we wrote was for a Community Supported Arts program,” he said.

Much like a community supported agriculture program, this CSA for creatives lets community members support artists by throwing in their cash up front—a.k.a., “buying a share.” When the art is ready, those who bought shares come to collect. CSAs—whether for food or art—help practitioners buy supplies, and assure them income for their work.

While it might sound like this premise could only work for a large organization, a granting body, or a foundation, Swanson says that isn’t the case.

“We’re trying to write tools that are adaptable—that can be utilized at different scales by different organizations,” he says, “whether that’s an individual person, a self-organizing group of people, or a larger-scale arts organization.”

Creative CSAs have been featured in The New York Times, and are active across the country. Springboard’s CSA toolkit is available in Spanish as well as English.


Health Care for Artists

Many artists need better access to health care. In St. Paul, Springboard hosts health care pop-ups and has thrown Artist Health Fair events. Now, they offer a toolkit to show other communities how to do the same. Swanson noted that both written resources and face-to-face interactions are important for growing holistic health in the arts community.

“[We] create more opportunities for social connection, to give people the opportunity to connect with other people in the community, and then also feel like they are connected to a physical resource for community care,” he says.

“Four Small Things to Do Today to Connect Your Community to Healthcare” is another, “teeny toolkit” that spells out useful fast action steps, including tips for immediately finding health care resources when they’re needed.


Social Media for Creatives

The Wanderway toolkit helps artists manage their social media presence by leading them through the steps to defining and executing a successful and sustainable digital engagement strategy. This toolkit is also a good example of Springboard’s willingness to act as a clearinghouse for other people’s—in this case, Wanderway's—good ideas.

“If we’re able to share resources, and be in contact and communication with people, then we can—across the board—move forward a notion of creative people power,” says Swanson.


Artist Business Plan: Case Study

Perhaps the most important, and the most extensive, Springboard toolkit is “Work of Art: Business Skills for Artists.” It’s a whopping 132-page, 12-chapter, step-by-step guide to creating a business plan. (That doesn’t count the 19-page appendix that acts not only as a quick reference for the topics covered in the course, but also includes additional resources, from lists of federal granting bodies to a sample press release.)

Work of Art is such a rich resource that it’s been used to great effect not only by individual artists, but also by organizations, like Clarksdale Mississippi’s Higher Purpose Co, which works to build community wealth in underserved areas across the northwest part of the state.

Higher Purpose’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Lampkin spoke with ArtPlace about his organization’s mission, and how they offered a program based on Work of Art.

“We focus on building community wealth through the ownership of businesses, lands, and culture,” he explained. For Higher Purpose, “ownership of culture” includes helping artist-entrepreneurs make a living by teaching them business skills.

“We wanted to pilot the [Work of Art] program here in the Mississippi Delta,” he said.

Higher Purpose applied for and received a grant from Enterprise Community Partners, with which they created The Delta Creative Business Challenge.

“Over the course of five weeks, we took [participants] through the entire curriculum that focused on a business plan, marketing, pricing, legal—all those things that go into starting a business, but from more of a creative, artist-based approach,” Lampkin said.

At the end of those five weeks, the participants presented their work to a panel of local judges. The winner, Clarksdale photographer Trent Calvin, was awarded $1,000 in start-up capital and in-kind services.

Work of Art is also available in Spanish.


The Big Picture: Communities & Individuals

Springboard’s toolkits don’t just focus on the nitty-gritty of business. As well as personal, entrepreneurial aspirations, many artists have big, community-centered ideas—but they don’t always know how to go about making them happen. So Creative Exchange also offers creative placemaking toolkits for big projects that enlist multiple artists and collaborators.

Irrigate is a toolkit based on a multiyear project originally funded in part by ArtPlace America. The project employed a number of local artists in community engagements aimed at changing local attitudes about the arts, getting artists exposure and paying gigs, and growing recognition for local small businesses. The resulting toolkit provides guidance for initiating partnerships, connecting with local artists, and designing training workshops and evaluations. It also offers templates for budgets and timelines for projects at different scales.


Paying it Forward

With training resources to fit every shape and size, Springboard is helping artists help themselves—a process they believe also helps communities.

“It’s really important to realize that artists are really magic,” says Swanson. “We can turn a few resources into lots of good, and lots of impact.”




Additional toolkits:


elibkeel [at] (Eli Keel )is a Louisville, Kentucky-based freelance arts and culture writer.