Arts Service Organizations and Why Artists Need Them
When you set out as an artist to answer the question, "How do I make art?" there is a whole host of funding and labor considerations you may not initially consider. Supplies funding, as well as management of the business aspects of an artist's work, can prove cumbersome and overwhelming. They can also seem far removed from your true mission of creating your actual art. But there are many options out there to provide artist help and support you on your path.
It can be confusing for artists to figure out what they need to do in support of their business. Luckily, there are places that can help: arts service organizations!
In this post, we'll discuss what an arts service organization is, why you need arts service organizations as an artist, some examples of arts service organizations, and specific examples of how they can help.
Let's start by defining what they are.
What is an arts service organization?
The Canada Council for the Arts provides this definition of an arts service organization:
"A non-profit organization that furthers the interests of artists, creators, arts organizations and elements of the arts community. The organization's activities can include policy development, advocacy, provision of professional services, and production of collective projects."
So there are many different levels at which an arts service organization can support the artist. They can serve as a de facto patron, assisting artists in acquiring funding for whatever they may need to make their projects a reality.
They can also serve as champions for the artist at the legislative levels. In the case of private organizations, they can advocate federal, state, and local governments on behalf of artists, encouraging more public funding to go towards the arts.
It's also important to understand what arts service organizations are not. The major distinction is that arts service organizations do not typically produce their own art, but support the production of it by others. The missions of arts service organizations are to bolster creatives in their artistic endeavors as opposed to creating their own.
Why do artists need art service organizations?
Sometimes artist help can be difficult to find. The best part about arts service organizations is that they provide a support system for artists so they can spend less time focused on the non-art related aspects of their craft and more time focused on practicing the craft itself. They provide cover to professional artists who would otherwise spend time focused on looking for funding for their efforts.
Art project funding can be difficult to come by. The role of arts service organizations is to serve artists in that particular need. While the artist benefits, society as a whole does as well, as the cultural contributions of the artists are allowed to flourish.
Examples of arts service organizations
There are three primary types of arts service organizations: government arts agencies, independent foundations and organizations, and non-arts specific business support organizations. While all three have similar missions at their core, they are structured differently. They also vary in how they support artists and the specific ways in which they provide that support.
Government arts agencies
Government arts agencies are supported by public funding and tend to provide support for artists through federally-awarded grants.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
According to Grants.gov, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) "is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation." NEA's specific role in supporting the arts includes awarding grants to artists as well as state and local organizations for further support of the arts. They also encourage contributions from benefactors across the nation towards the arts.
State arts councils
The NEA also provides funding for artists at the state and local levels through various state and regional art associations and councils. A few (but not all) examples of these include:
- National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
- U.S. Regional Arts Associations
- Arts Midwest
- Mid-America Arts Alliance
- New England Foundation for the Arts
- South Arts
- Western States Arts Federation
NEA has a comprehensive list of state and local agencies on its website. If artists have questions on direct funding support, it's a good idea to reach out to their state or local art agency or council, where they can get more information on how the government provides assistance.
Independent foundations and organizations
Independent foundations are private, non-government funded organizations intended to provide support for artists in a variety of ways. Some examples of services they can provide include:
- Peer-to-peer workshops that serve as networking opportunities with like-minded artists
- Career development services
- Business consulting
- Art gallery exhibitions and gatherings
- Classified sections with job listings
- Online databases with information on additional artist resources
- Hotlines/email addresses for questions related to arts and arts-related business
- Fiscal sponsorship
- Grantmaking assistance
- Information about insurance for artists
- Shared creative space and shared services
- Information about upcoming exhibits, events, and performances in your area and discipline you can attend
- Legal tools,
- Finance and human resources support
- Bookkeeping assistance
Using your state or local arts service organization or agency, you can find a locally-based private organization that may be able to help you directly if you're not in those areas. Those outlets also have multiple online resources available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Examples of some of these organizations include:
- Creative Capital
- The New York Foundation for the Arts
- CultureWorks Philadelphia
- Springboard for the Arts
- Intersection for the Arts
- International Documentary Association
- The Arts Community Alliance
- Arts Boston
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and each of these organizations offers a different suite of services. But the common thread you'll find is that they provide artists with the structural support needed to develop a career in the arts. Whether you're looking for assistance in improving your craft itself, how to secure funding or your development as a business professional in the arts, you can find a local organization that can assist you in some way or another.
Independent foundations can often foster a sense of community with local artists, providing you with a support system as you move from amateur to professional.
Non-arts specific business support organizations
Small business development centers and libraries
Small business development centers may be geared toward a wider audience than just artists, but that doesn't make them any less helpful to your mission as an artist. They can offer lots of resources, tools, and best practices for the business aspects of being an artist. While elements of this process such as taxes, filing, and administrative operations can seem challenging, small business development centers have plenty of resources to keep information on these tasks right at your fingertips.
Public libraries are also a wonderful option for free resources on how to manage and execute a small business.
Additionally, the Small Business Administration is a resource for assistance at the federal level, with information on the various steps involved in developing a small business.
How an arts service organization can help you
The best part about arts service organizations is that while the mission of some of them overlap, each one will provide you with a unique set of capabilities meant to assist you. Below are just a few examples of specific ways in which they can help:
- Assistance in writing or researching a grant opportunity
- Launching a crowdfunding campaign
- Connecting you with your local art scene so you can instill a sense of community into your work
- Providing you with best practices and lessons learned from other artists who have been in your position before
- Alert you to funding opportunities you never even imagined were possible
Arts service organizations demonstrate that help is possible for artists. They give you the support and tools you need to be successful in your work. Whether you have many years of experience, are moving from part-time to full-time, or are just getting started on your journey, arts service organizations can be the catalyst you need to take your project to the next phase - or any phase.
They also minimize isolation. It's so easy for artists to feel as if their path is a singular one. Arts service organizations help remind them it is not, and that they have value as a creator. Arts service organizations enable them to explore their creativity to better share their gifts with the world.
The best part about arts service organizations is that they provide a support system for artists so they can spend less time focused on the non-art related aspects of their craft and more time focused on practicing the craft itself.
For your first step, reach out to your local arts agency or collective. Use the information they have online for areas in which you feel unsure of yourself. There are so many inexpensive resources available for artists to take advantage of to bolster them in their work.
Whether you're looking towards arts service organizations that are public or private, as an artist you're not alone. Countless other artists have been in your shoes before and used these resources to help them in one way or another, whether it was to secure funding, manage their art's business, or get access to jobs.
That's where we come in. Connect with Fractured Atlas, an arts service organization that helps individual artists and arts organizations at every level of the cultural ecosystem, in every creative medium, through several programs: Fiscal Sponsorship, Artful.ly, and SpaceFinder for example. For more on how we can help you as an artist, contact us or subscribe to our blog!
About Fractured Atlas
Fractured Atlas is a nonprofit organization that helps over 1.2 million artists of all stripes with the business aspects of their work.