It takes a great deal of energy and entrepreneurial skill to succeed as an artist in the digital economy of the 21st century. Just ask anyone who has mounted a one-person show at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, earned a decent living as a self-published author and blogger, or opened a design studio.
The dean of the faculty of arts at Langara College, Julie Longo, told the Straight by phone that the increasing importance of artists’ business literacy is reflected in the school recently rebranding its arts programs as “creative arts & industries”.
“It’s revisiting what we do in the creative industries and having an opportunity to refresh the program with new perspectives, particularly those that come out of the study of entrepreneurialism,” Longo said. “That doesn’t mean we’ve given up the time-honoured traditions and practices that we have in the arts. We’re just emphasizing and revisiting the other side of arts training, which involves entrepreneurialism.”
The division includes art history, film arts, fine arts, journalism, professional photography, publishing, and theatre arts at Studio 58. There’s also a two-year diploma in design formation, which encompasses visual merchandising, interior spaces, and exhibit and communication design.
“The really important course that we’ve developed for designers is how to make a business case,” Longo said. “Art and design students might say to me, ‘I’m not sure why I need to learn how to do a business plan.’ And I explain to them I’m a trained historian and I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve written a business plan.”
Statistics Canada recently reported that 2.78 million Canadians are self-employed, which is more than 15 percent of the entire labour force. According to Service Canada, 70 percent of painters, sculptors, and visual artists were self-employed in 2011.
Longo explained that students enrolled in Langara’s creative arts and industries programs will have opportunities to learn the basics of small business—such as incorporating a company, insuring themselves, marketing, and paying staff—as well as understand how to file grant applications.
“There are often specific grants for particular types of industries,” she said. “So your designers are learning from designers; your artists are learning from artists.”
Langara graduates have gone on to great success in creative occupations such as journalism, professional photography, theatre, and film. In fact, alumni are regularly on the list of people being honoured in these fields, be it at the Jack Webster Awards, Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, or Leo Awards.
“There is employment in the creative industries,” Longo emphasized. “It’s an enormous part of the economy of British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada. Lots of our graduates have successful careers for their entire lives out of two-year and three-year diplomas at Langara.”
She said that one of the school’s calling cards is its strong relationship with practitioners in the field. However, she also said that students in creative industries must realize that success usually doesn’t happen overnight by being discovered by a producer or director who suddenly makes them famous.
“That magical fairy tale is very rare,” Longo stated. “You have to find effective ways to put yourself out there to be discovered.”