Chris Dahlquist Photography
Kansas City, Missouri | Microenterprise
Chris Dahlquist is an artist. She has always known she would be. She wrote her first artist statement on a Big Chief tablet in phonetic Texan, “I will be going on fantasstick trips so I can tack pitchers.”
As she was discovering how to express herself from behind a camera, she was also playing with a “ten key.” That’s what you call a calculator, when your mother is a CPA.
Chris’ innate artistic and business sense has lead her to much success--she has shown her mixed media photography nationwide and her work is featured in collections around the world.
While her business acumen is as simple as point and click for Chris, she recognizes that balancing art and business doesn’t come easily to all artists.
“Many artists don’t identify as an entrepreneur,” explains Chris. “Running a business and starting an art career have the same needs; it’s often just the vocabulary that is different.”
Seeing this need in her community, Chris became a facilitator for Artist INC., a peer-to-peer professional business development program for artists housed in the University of Missouri–Kansas City Innovation Center.
Since 2009, Artist INC has served some 400 Kansas City artists with the program’s core training seminar, a good number of them mentored by Chris. As the program expands throughout the Midwest, Chris also serves as a trainer for artist facilitators throughout the region.
“I teach my students that choosing to be an artist entrepreneur is about sustainability. Learning how to approach an artistic endeavor like a business doesn’t make artists sell-outs, it allows them to maintain their arts practice and add their voice for a long time.”
More than art for art’s sake
Chris remembers talking with a fellow artist, a musician, about the benefits of participating in Artist Inc. “This artist bought into the myth of the starving artist and was proud to be operating outside of the business world. He felt he was maintaining his identity and remaining counter culture. The truth was that by continuing to operate in this manner he was placing himself in a financially vulnerable position and was actually reducing the options he had available. “
“Look,” she told him, “Like many others you will burn out and eventually give up your art because you don’t have any money—you will get tired of the hustle. Or you can make a few smart business decisions, put some money in the bank and have the freedom to express yourself for a long time.”
That’s when it clicked.
He realized there was a benefit to giving up the myth of the starving artist and focus on building a sustainable business instead.
Or as Chris put it, “What’s more punk rock than defying expectations and taking charge of your life!”
Since this conversation with Chris, this prolific artist has gone on to participate in Artist Inc, release a new album, and purchase a home with his partner and artistic collaborator.
Translating art into business
In a traditional entrepreneurial training course, you learn about the importance of having multiple revenue streams; in Artist INC you talk about portfolio careers. Target market becomes your audience, product development is your creative process and co-working space is a shared studio.
Not only has Chris helped artists see the economic potential of their art, she has also helped the city of Kansas City, Missouri, realize the economic potential of its artists.
Chris is on the Economic Development Corporation’s Art Industry Sector Council and worked with the City of Kansas City, Missouri’s Office of Culture and Creative services to create a first of its kind microloan program for artists called ArtCap.
“Artists require capital for the same reasons as other small business owners. For example, a contractor pays a premium by renting a backhoe for every project, the same way a musician might have to rent a PA for a gig. Each of these entrepreneurs may save money in the long run by applying for a loan.”
Kansas City artists have two loan pools available to them: ArtCap and microloans through Justine PETERSEN. ArtCap is provided through AltCap which provides one-on-one business development assistance. Chris acknowledges that it can take some explaining to show artists the value of a loan.
“Many artists bristle when you bring up money. The first step is helping them understand the actual value of money. It doesn’t have to be an end in itself, but it is a tool that allows the artist to make creative choices.”
Kansas City hearts the arts
The catalyst for these microloan funds was Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ Task Force on the Arts in 2013, and the resulting KCMO Arts Convergence Plan. In the plan, the mayor highlights the importance of the arts as “an economic generator of job creation and tax revenue, arts education plays a central role to our children, the arts attract tourism and the arts create engagement and vitality within the community that is crucial to helping Kansas City shine.”
And shine it has. The City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services received an Alchemy Award in the fall of 2016 from the Missouri Arts Council. The award recognizes organizations that use the arts to create jobs, develop workforce, or enhance economic development.
The Office recently wrapped up a survey to find out what artists, arts and cultural organizations and creative businesses consider their top creative space priorities for the future. The survey was performed in conjunction with Artspace and Kansas City Economic Development Corporation and the results will be released in May.
Chris has big plans for the next year as well. She will complete a large public art installation in the Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City and have a solo exhibition of her photographic series “Ghost Notes”. She is also working with an economist to collect data on lending to artists so that they can continue to improve the microloan programs.
“Every step we take to give artists the entrepreneurial skills they need is good for our community. More artists will choose to live and work in Kansas City and will make our city vibrant for years to come.”
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