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What You Want, Need, and Desire: Universal Demands

In March 2008, we conducted a national survey and a series of phone interviews to better understand the professional development needs of artists. I thought you might be interested in what your peers described as their needs, wants, and desires. Sometimes it makes us feel better to know that we are not alone; that others are looking for the same things. Maybe, it can help you gain clarity about what you want and what actions you can take to fulfill your needs. As you might expect, we found that artists’ needs varied based on age, career stage, region and discipline. However, some needs remained consistent across all categories, such as creative autonomy, meaningful results, and love. The following is a list of the most universal needs expressed by your peers:

1) Need for success – Respondents’ definition of success ranged dramatically; from generating large sums of money, to simply having a moment of creative expression. Some artists saw positive critical reviews and prestigious grants/awards as markers for success; whereas others cited the euphoria of the creative process as their standard. Some defined success as having made a meaningful social impact and others simply measured it by the number of laughs or tears in their audience. No matter what the definition, success is one of the strongest needs expressed in this study.

“Success is embodying my own work, having my work produced and performed where it can make a statement for the artist world and the activist world…and serve as a catalyst for people to think critically.” – Dancer, New York

“Big bucks don’t define artistry….success is fulfilling dreams in terms of non-monetary results. Although money is nice and necessary…being true to yourself, realizing your potential to the fullest and connecting to your roots is my definition of success.” – Playwright, Georgia

“The greatest use of art is as a medium for creating greater understanding of the human experience.” – Photographer, San Francisco

2) Need for clarity/focus – Many artists expressed a need for clarity, for control over their careers, and for a vision to push them past periods of stagnation. Some say clarity would help them to let go of long-term projects that may never work, to break free of tunnel vision, and to avoid the paralyzation (scattered energy) of pursuing too many possibilities. Some “successful” artists said the turning point in their career happened the day they “got honest” with themselves. Once they clearly defined their core desire, they were able to stop spending energy on everything and anything that came their way. This elimination of non-productive activity allowed them to focus all of their energy on things that effectively brought them closer to their goal.

3) Need for emotional support - Artists endure long periods of unemployment, intense competition, and frequent rejections. This can have a serious effect on self-confidence. The artists in our survey expressed a need to be validated, encouraged, challenged, and motivated by their peers and artistic community. They need peer support in overcome fear of success and failure.

4) Need for work/life balance – It seems that everyone in the current fast paced environment wants balance in their lives, but artists’ lack of job security and financial resources make balance particularly challenging. Many artists are frustrated by having to spend 40 hours per week on a day job that takes them from their artistic pursuits. Whereas, "working" artists are challenged by the speed and quantity of work they have to produce; they want to learn how to better pace their creative output.

5) Need for advocacy - Artists want better advocacy. They want to capture some of the value they generated for society. They are frustrated by the cycle of moving to a "unpopular" urban neighborhood, improving its attractiveness by creating a “trendy” scene, getting priced out, and losing their creative space.

6) Need for partnership/services - In many ways, artists want the ability to “just do art”, but they understand that survival requires money, which requires some involvement in business. Many of the respondents expressed a desire to have someone else take care of their administrative and business needs, so they can just create.

7) Need for business and managerial skills – Many artists feel disempowered when dealing with the business aspects of their career, because they have not been given a cursory education in this field of knowledge. They want to better understand the "fog of business,” in order to confidently chart their path and navigate their journey.

“Business know-how is my primary deficiency… because of it... I missed a lot of opportunities. I need to know how to market, negotiate, and strategize for the long term….NEGOTIATION!!! I have struggles with setting a fair price for my work. How do I sell myself? I don’t know what to ask for.…what to sell myself for. I don’t know how to read a contract. Sometimes I feel like I am signing my life away. In dance a lot of work is created collectively, but the director gets all the branding...I don’t know what to ask for because there is no distribution of information on what is industry standard for this type of thing. I don’t know how to set boundaries. Artist need benchmarks to determine value….principals to navigate these issues. It’s hard to be a dissenter in a community of “yes men.” I feel the eagerness of the “yes men” brings down the value for everyone.” – Dancer, New York

Additionally, the unprecedented virtual noise and rapid changes in the Web 2.0 (3.0) environment requires that artists know more about accessing a virtual audience, but most of the time they feel “beat up” by this saturated eSpace. They want new strategies for building a loyal audience, gaining recognition, finding creative employment, and generating financial returns.

8) Need for resources - the funding from public and private organizations is not expected to keep pace with rising production costs, so only large and mid-size companies are able to operate under the traditional business model. Smaller companies are having fewer performances/exhibits/events and offer limited employment opportunities. Artists want to find new business models or new funding sources. Also, many artists express a need for physical space to create and present their work.

Currently, we are working to expand the Fractured Atlas Professional Development Program to better meet your needs. Initiatives include an online training center (Fractured U.) and a network of highly qualified consultant/coaches who can provide customized assistance to artists trying to plan, launch and manage their careers and companies. For more information contact me ( or Adam Natale (