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Lisa Cordes of Artist INC

Who You Should Know: Lisa Cordes, Head Honcho at Artist INC

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Kansas City is garnering national attention again, this time as a hotbed for arts and culture. The National Center for Arts Research out of Southern Methodist University placed KC at 19th in the nation for vibrant arts communities (in cities with populations >1MM.)

Vibrancy takes into account demand, supply and public support for arts and culture. And the report mentions that Kansas City’s arts and culture community is “notable for its size, quality, breadth and entrepreneurial characteristics.”

The report credits the entire Kansas City arts and culture ecosystem for the ranking, and gives a shout out to Artist INC (alongside the Kansas City Art Institute) for “attract[ing]  young artistic entrepreneurs to the area.”

To learn more about Artist Inc, we caught up with its head honcho, Lisa Cordes.

What’s your elevator pitch for Artist INC?

Artist INC empowers artists by providing business training, so they can grow their arts business and sustain an arts practice. We have served 450 KC artists and are now in six communities regionwide.

What services do you offer to local artists?

Our primary service is the eight-week Artist INC live seminar. We also host events and a few other programs including Artist INC online. And each week we send out a newsletter with artist opportunities, programs, residencies, grants and employment opportunities. Our website also has a handy toolkit called “Artist Essentials” which is a great place for any artist to get started.

How is “arts entrepreneurship” the same as traditional entrepreneurship and in what ways is it unique?

Arts entrepreneurs share many characteristics with traditional entrepreneurs. They’re self-directed, passionate, resourceful and non-conforming. They make something from nothing. And they’re risk takers and problem solvers.

The first big difference to come to mind is that not many artists are driven by the need to make money. Instead they wish to have a sustainable arts practice and build an enjoyable life, which may not come as a result of a single endeavor, but instead by creating a “portfolio” career with many different revenue streams.

Artists often work in solitude. Their careers can be unintentional, guided by assumptions about the “artist’s life” or external forces, which is why we urge our artists to set goals and to write their own obituary (literally, it’s one of our exercises.)

Artists are not traditionally thought of as job creators. Their economy is often built around bartering. But they do lend a tremendous vibrancy to a community and city, which is vital for that community or city’s success.

Tell me about your story as an artist in KC and what do you do now that you wish was available to you as a younger artist?

I worked in theatre and writing and have always had a very entrepreneurial spirit. My father owned a Main Street business, a bowling center (he didn’t like to call it an alley.) There I saw what it takes to build something from nothing, he didn’t even have a college education because he served in World War II. But he built a successful business and sent us to college and I always had the same determination in my work.

Instead of waiting for someone else to produce my plays, I did it myself. There was always a lot of negotiations and bartering going on, and never very much money moving around, but I found people to work on the project who were passionate about the vision. And I always had a day job to support my work.

This led to a career in arts administration, in many different departments, that led me all the way here to Artist INC where I am committed to connecting artists to necessary resources because I never had them myself.

Kansas City is ranked 19th in country as an arts and culture ‘hotbed’ and Artist INC earned partial credit, congratulations! What does this mean for you and your organization?

I can’t speak too specifically to the report, but I will say this–Kansas City has shown up on a lot of these arts and cultures list recently and it’s a very good thing.

I’ve been in Kansas City’s art community for a very long time and we have a healthy ecosystem. There have been large investments into hugely important infrastructure and we have excellent grassroots efforts. When these bigger investments happen it’s like seeding dandelions and as it spreads there’s a richer array of things to do. This encourages artists to stay in Kansas City and even attracts artists here.

Kansas City has a very hospitable environment for artists. An important aspect of that is our efforts to professionalize individual artists. This allows their efforts to be more sustainable, which results in more work and more creativity.

It is so heartening to learn that we are a really essential chapter to a much bigger story and to have seen Kansas City’s art community improve in terms of excitement, diversity and vibrancy.

Why do you think artists are important to a community and city?

There’s an intrinsic value that is heard to explain, but you know it when you see it. Communities are built of human beings and the arts amplify, reflect, comment on and exalt human beings.

Artists also add to the aesthetics of a city, the population’s sense of well being and the area’s educational institutions.

Artists are pioneers at heart, the Crossroads community is a perfect example of that. Artists originally moved in because rent was cheap and now it’s a culture mecca. Artists and art are brilliant connectors. They bring people together to enjoy and experience something as a group, and they connect people with their own imaginations.

Thank you for your time, Lisa.

For more stories about entrepreneurs in Kansas City, visit our Entrepreneurs in Action profiles. 

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