No one is coming.
That’s Andrew Simonet’s mantra for artists.
“No one is coming to knock on your door to transform you into an artist that has made it,” said Simonet, choreographer and founder of Artists U. “It just doesn’t happen. Artists are so powerful, skilled and hardworking. In fact, I think they overwork, but they treat themselves like they’re waiting to be saved by someone.”
Artists U is a grassroots, artist-run platform used to empower artists to strategically plan for future artistic endeavors, provide a community of other artists and teach practical tools for easing some of the suffering that can come with being an artist. It is located not only in Philadelphia, but also Baltimore and South Carolina.
Artists U selects 12 artists to participate in this free program, where they meet three times a month with other artists who train them to be more efficient with their time and money.
Simonet said the idea came from past experiences with his co-directors at Headlong Dance Theatre, a dance company based in Philadelphia.
“Together, we kind of made every mistake you can possibly make,” Simonet said. “I think a lot of individual artists encounter the world and they think the world is right and give up. We were like, ‘Nah, let’s do it another way.’”
Simonet said he started Artists U in 2006 because of how many artists were coming to Headlong for advice with contracts, time management, press releases and budgets. Artists U strives to provide clarity for long-term planning and a community for its members through one-on-one meetings with mentors and monthly workshops.
“I’ve always been struck by the fact that incredibly accomplished and recognized people are all too often exhausted and broke,” Simonet said. “Even people who are successful, they can stay broke and overwhelmed if they don’t make plans and think about the long-term.”
Artists U produced its first graduating class in 2007. Aaron Cromie, a graduate of the first Artists U class, said the program was essential to his 18-year career and life as an artist in and out of Philadelphia.
“There is no downside to learning how to be empowered and be financially knowledgeable and have support from other artists,” Cromie said. “A lot of things helped me be a better businessperson and there was a lot of encouragement along the way, which really helps.”
For Cromie, a freelance director and mask and puppet designer, learning where to draw the line was essential to his work and becoming a healthier person. As a freelance artist, Cromie faces challenges that artists in companies typically do not have to deal with.
“I learned how to understand when you’re working too hard for not the right compensation and how not to burn out, because it is a difficult lifestyle,” he said.
After going through Artists U, Cromie was able to strategically plan for his future.
“It demystified the process of saving and buying a house,” Cromie said. “I started to financially plan, and three years after that I bought a house. If I hadn’t been part of Artists U, I don’t know if I would have been able to manage that.”
One of Simonet’s goals with Artists U is to give artists enough freedom so they can enjoy life, which, ironically, is the inspiration from where more creative work comes.
“We need to think not just about the next art project, but it’s, ‘OK, where do I live? How is my health?’” Simonet said. “That is a tool that artists are good at – they start with nothing and make a plan to make something and then they create it. That is something artists have, but they leave it in the studio.”
Instead of just providing a few answers for artists who seem to be having a hard time with money or time management, Simonet said he hopes to give many artists the tools they need to prevent them from struggling.
“We have no idea what you should do – you know what you should do,” Simonet said. “We’re here to help you figure that out. We’re not telling people what to do, just helping with strategic planning; think long-term about where you want to go.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.