A Working in the Arts blog series by Sally Sampson
This blog is part of the Working in the Arts blog series. Working in the Arts is a new program from Work in Culture that aims to help streamline the pathway to careers in the arts for newcomer and immigrant artists and arts professionals. Working in the Arts was developed in partnership with Airsa, the Immigrant Writers Association, the Institute for Creative Exchange, Paralia Newcomer Arts Network and the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, and made possible with support from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Who is Sally Sampson?
Sally Sampson is the Founder and CEO of Re-Present Studios, a company that trains and empowers performers from predominantly underrepresented and marginalized groups to reclaim their identities and tell their own stories.
Having lived in various parts of the world from Bahrain to Oman to the UK, Sally’s multicultural experiences have deeply influenced her perspectives. Her diverse background not only enriches her work as an artist, but also drives her vision for Re-Present Studios. Determined to be a catalyst for change, Sally is committed to ensuring every artist has a platform to share their authentic voice and she’s eager to foster collaboration and bridge cultural gaps in the Canadian arts scene and beyond.
Art is Not Enough
by Sally Sampson
People — everyday, steady, reliable paycheque people — who do jobs in other sectors, don’t necessarily understand why artists are so hellbent on pursuing a career path that is so completely uncertain and fraught with perpetual obstacles and potholes. They often approach struggling artists, with confused looks on their faces, and ask them the only question that they can think to ask, “Why?”
“Why do you want to pursue a career that is so uncertain and unconventional?”
“Why don’t you do it on the side?”
“Why can’t it be a hobby?”
“Why? Why? Why?!”
But this is what they don’t understand: art to the artist is very much a potent and addictive substance that pervades and consumes the entire system. At one point in the artist’s life, they will have had an encounter with a painting, a performance, a piece of writing or a melody that profoundly impacted them and made them feel something that they had been either consciously or subconsciously seeking all along: a sense of belonging.
Most artists feel like outsiders growing up. They are usually sensitive, observant, and yearn for connection, yet often find themselves somewhat apart from the group. Many learn to adapt to their environments, striving to “fit in.” However, deep inside, they’re acutely aware that they aren’t fully embracing their authentic selves, leading them to construct intricate inner worlds that subsequently, profoundly influence their art.
That longing for finding one’s tribe and helping others find theirs, however, is what drives the artist to create. It’s an attempt to offer the familiar aspects of the universal human experience and bridge the differences that made them feel like outsiders to begin with. It’s a quest, not just for appreciation, but for connection on the most profound level. For the artist, it is this connection, this moment of shared understanding and feeling, that is the most intoxicating draw of their craft. And that is why artists choose art over all the stability and consistency that other professions claim to offer. It is an emotional compulsion that admittedly defies practicality.
I understand this profoundly, and I’ve lived the artist’s blatant, emotional defiance for many years. Nonetheless, I’ve had to face the fact that when it comes to succeeding in the arts and breaking into the entertainment business, the harsh reality is that art alone is simply not sufficient.
Let’s Get Real…
If you want to create art purely for the love of it and you’re not concerned about turning it into an income-generating career, then this article isn’t for you. Keep doing what you love! However, if you are someone who craves lasting, sustainable work as an artist, it’s crucial that you step out of your creative bubble and understand that your work doesn’t exist in isolation.
The entertainment industry is founded and operates on entrepreneurial principles, where supply and demand drive the ecosystem and cash flow is king. As artists, we tend to focus solely on our craft — our product — and neglect all other dimensions of the business, like marketing, sales and financial management, which is why there are so many talented performers and artists out there that absolutely no one knows anything about.
If you have an exceptional product that you have spent years developing and fine-tuning, and then you put it in a drawer, hoping someone discovers it someday — that’s nothing short of ridiculous. Yet, this is what most artists do — because that is all we have been taught to do.
Most educational institutions focus on helping artists improve their craft, but don’t teach them the other business principles that govern the industry. This glaring blind spot has left many artists feeling both frustrated and stuck, because for years, they work and do exactly what they have been told to do to no avail. They have been given a few, disjointed pieces of a far bigger puzzle and asked to put them together to create a complete picture. It’s not just unfair — it’s practically impossible!
Through my organization, Re-Present Studios, I am personally on a mission to level the playing field in the entertainment industry. We firmly believe that everyone, irrespective of their background, deserves access to the full puzzle, not just a select few pieces, on their mission to build a career in the arts. We are passionately committed to especially empowering underrepresented and marginalized performers in the industry who deserve more than just being included as part of a diversity quota.
While this topic is part of a broader conversation, I do strongly encourage all artists to invest in their business education sooner rather than later, and I’ve developed what I call the “Impact Equation” to refocus attention on the major areas essential for meaningful progress.
What Can “I” Do? (The Impact Equation)
The Impact Equation has been a game-changer for me, shedding light on the areas I’ve unintentionally overlooked as an artist. It’s given me the tools to step back and take a broader view of my career and pinpoint where “my business” (a.k.a. me) needed improvement.
Here it is: Income x Integration x Innovation = Impact
Income: The Foundation of Artistic Freedom
Income is the cornerstone of the Impact Equation and is usually the area of business that needs to be addressed first. It’s not just about the money; it’s also about having the financial freedom to create at your highest potential. Without a stable cash flow, artists often find themselves trapped in scarcity and survival mode. When you’re constantly worrying about making ends meet, it’s virtually impossible to focus on anything else.
Think of your income as the solid ground on which all your artistic endeavours must be stacked. If the foundation is not sound, you will struggle to build anything lasting or sustainable. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to boost your income. You can use the principles of the Ecosystem of Progress, which I outlined in detail in the second blog piece I wrote for Work in Culture entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” as a starting point.
Integration: Building Connections
Integration is the art of forging connections within the entertainment industry. If having a steady income is the foundation, then integration is the infrastructure on which your career is built. It involves immersing yourself in the industry — attending networking events, sessions, webinars, and actively seeking opportunities to meet fellow performers and decision-makers. Integration is your passport to a world of collaborations, partnerships, and opportunities that you simply can’t access in isolation.
In the entertainment industry, who you know often matters as much as what you know. Building a network of industry relationships opens doors, creates opportunities and offers invaluable support. It transforms you from a solitary entity into an active participant in a dynamic, interconnected community, which will drive you both personally and professionally within the business.
Innovation: Adding Your Unique Touch
Once the foundation and the structure are established and in place, that’s when as an artist you can move on to innovation, which is where you ultimately want to be spending the majority of your time. Innovation is effectively decorating and personalizing your sound and stable structure to make it your own. Innovation is what makes you stand out and drives your art forward. This is the stage where you not only create, but also evolve consistently and produce better work. This commitment to innovation ensures that your art remains vibrant, relevant and engaging to audiences.
These elements are the building blocks of your artistic success and when you combine the three “I”s — Income, Integration, and Innovation — you create what every artist yearns for: impact.
But…Art is Worth it
Ultimately, art and the creative process is always worth it. Art for art’s sake is never futile nor a waste of time, but when artists choose to set out on this journey and undertake the artist’s path professionally, then that requires an additional set of skills to be learned, so that professional progress can be made and goals attained. I believe that the romanticized concept of the starving and helpless artist is one that should be forevermore relegated to history — because it is simply not true that true artists must remain disempowered and wanting in order to create impactful and meaningful art.
Learning how to be an entrepreneur and to treat yourself as a business owner is the way forward. I am certain of that. This is a lesson I learned far later than I should have. I’m hoping that by talking fervently about this, more artists will be able to have the same realizations, but far sooner, so that they can move away from frustration, towards empowerment and release every bit of creativity that lies dormant within, waiting to be unleashed.
If you are a performer, especially if you’re from an underrepresented/marginalized group and you have any questions or would like to inquire further about performance and entrepreneurial training opportunities at Re-Present Studios, feel free to email [email protected].
Learn more about Working in the Arts and the resources created throughout this program at workinculture.ca/programs/working-in-the-arts-newcomers.