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The business of art: ASU grads bring practical skills to a creative field

College graduates in the arts find an entrepreneurial mindset is useful in their creative endeavors

Local artist and ASU alumna Amanda Adkins pictured at her Grand Avenue studio on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

Local artist and ASU alumna Amanda Adkins pictured at her Grand Avenue studio on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

For art students graduating from university and preparing to enter the workforce, their business and marketing skills can be nearly as important as their artistic talent.

ASU alumni who have graduated in the arts said they have seen the benefits of combining their creative sides with practical business skills. 

ASU alumna Dressler Parsons is familiar with the idea that some people have about art degrees being impractical.

“It always frustrates me when people talk about how art degrees are useless, or how they are not going to help you get a job because that’s definitely not been my experience,” she said.

Parsons graduated in December with a double major in intermedia studies and marketing. She originally started her ASU career as a marketing major, but she tried a few elective art classes and found intermedia studies. She said she got hooked, but also saw the benefit of continuing her business classes as well.

“I knew I wanted to have a creative career, and I knew that the key to that was learning how to market myself so that was why I had the mix,” Parsons said.

Local artist Amanda Adkins, also an ASU alumna, now teaches art to students in kindergarten through grade eight and originally started at The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as a painting major. As a single mom, she decided to pursue an art education degree instead.

“I knew it was going to be really hard if I took on the traditional starving artist role, but I feel like any type of career in the arts is a big deal because it’s always a struggle,” Adkins said.

Adkins said there were some business art classes when she attended Herberger, but she would have liked more “hands-on” experience to learn more about how to market her art.

“When you’re new to the arts and you are an emerging artist you don’t have the money to pay someone to market for you,” Adkins said. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Am I being annoying? I’m constantly posting about myself.’ But who else is going to do it?"

Parsons took several business art classes during her time at ASU, including Professional Practices for Artists and Senior Exhibits/Portfolio, a capstone class which is a requirement for any student graduating with a fine arts degree.

Professor Grant Vetter, who teaches Senior Exhibits/Portfolios, said students in his class do research in their chosen field and have to come up with at least 50 real-world leads for internships, fellowships, residencies or industry contacts, along with a timeline tailored to their specific career goals.

“The main thing I teach them all is to have a calendar, to have a plan, to put in 15 minutes a day, every day on their career, and to have a website with the look of their industry,” Vetter said. “They are ready to go get a foot in the door.”

While Parsons sees the benefit of business classes for art students, she also said she felt that her creative instruction was helpful in her business classes. She said she was surprised by how often her professors at the W.P. Carey School of Business encouraged her to think creatively or “out-of-the-box” without actually teaching skills such as brainstorming, thinkingthat could help students do that.

“I think it feeds into the myth that you are born creative and you can’t learn to think creatively, or that good ideas come from a bolt of inspiration and that you can’t learn how to think in a new way,” she said.

Parsons, who plans to move to New York to pursue work as an artist assistant, said one of the main things she learned through all of her business classes is that it’s not sleazy or fake for an artist to learn business principles.

“The entire world is not made up of artists, there are a lot of things that are important to other people that aren’t necessarily important to me,” Parsons said. “We all need to work together, and it’s important to learn how to communicate with everyone.”

Adkins is currently working on her next collection of paintings. She has also painted several murals around Downtown Phoenix, including on the Black Theater Troupe building and on Westwind Studios, and taught a muraling class at ASU.

She said that despite struggles and rejections, she has kept going with her art and encourages other young artists to do the same.

“I feel like if it’s within you to create, then you need to create," Adkins said. "There is nothing anyone should say to stop you.” 

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