Three Important Questions for Artists

Twice in the past couple of weeks, I’ve had artists reach out to me to talk about whether or not they should accept a job that has been offered to them by a company. While the names of these artists are unimportant to this story, they both suffered from a common issue that artists face, “Can I say No to a job offer without it hurting my career?

Every artist is looking for that next opportunity to perform. Young artists often feel like they are in a position where they are so happy that anyone has offered them an opportunity that they just can’t say no. In a conversation with an artist a couple of years ago, she admitted that another artist had told her, “Just take everything that comes your way and sort it out later.

While there is no one right answer, there are questions that artists at any stage of their careers can think about when contemplating an opportunity from a company. Here are three important questions to consider when thinking about accepting any opportunity.

  1. How will this offer allow me to grow professionally?
  2. How will this offer work for me economically?
  3. How will this offer be an opportunity for me professionally?

Let’s take these questions one at a time and explore the thought processes behind them.

How will this offer allow me to grow professionally?

Though I’ve put this question first, artists often prioritize this question last. Why? Is it that they feel like any opportunity to be on stage is good? As long as they are working they figure it is helping them grow professionally – right? Not so fast. When you are considering an opportunity at any point your career, this question should be among the first you ask yourself.

While there will certainly be times in your career where you might have to take work that might be less than professionally satisfying, these should be as few as you can get away with doing. Let’s face it, being an artist is difficult, but don’t let it be soul-sucking. Challenge yourself to grow as an artist. Take on new repertory, add additional skills, branch out into other things that force you to grow. You are an artist, not a bolt and nut factory-worker.

If an opportunity comes your way that doesn’t appear to help you grow, try negotiating something additional that adds a challenge. If that’s not possible consider walking away.

How will this offer work for me economically?

This question often trips up young artists who are just getting started. They want the job, but it simply doesn’t pay enough to make the bills. This is one of those unfortunate realities of life. Every artist is happy to have a performance opportunity. However, it needs to pay a living wage. All artists, especially those just beginning their careers need to make sure that they have a budget. If you don’t know the minimum it takes to live each month then spend some time figuring it out. If you know what your monthly living expenses are then it will be easier to answer this question.

How will this offer be an opportunity for me professionally?

At first glance, this question looks a lot like the first question, but it is in fact, different. While the first question dealt with your professional growth as an artist, this question deals with one of the most important aspects of your career – building a network. Let me tell you a short story.

As a student at Indiana Universtiy in the 1990s, I was given the opportunity to spend a summer working for the Santa Fe Opera. Economically, I lost money that summer. Professionally, I grew as an artist in a way that college couldn’t provide. The opportunity of spending that summer in Santa Fe, meeting people and working side-by-side with other artists was huge. For the next five years, I got work from that summer in Santa Fe. That in turn, led to more work. Building my network at that early point in my career had a massive impact that wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Building your network is the single most important thing that you can do as an artist, no matter the stage of your career. Get outside your comfort zone, meet and work with people who challenge you. One of the biggest mistakes that we all make as individuals is that we form our circle of friends and colleagues and stop. We get comfortable. The cost of being comfortable is that we lose out on opportunities to be challenged and grow. You never know what contact could lead to a professional opportunity.

As an artist, you have the ability to take advantage of opportunities that will add to your career. Thinking clearly about each opportunity is essential to being successful. Taking a little time to put each opportunity in perspective will allow you to choose those that will be helpful to achieve professional success.


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