SAVVY: Learning the Skills to Change the World

Last week I had the privilege of participating in the SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge on the campus of University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. Facilitated by multi-talented pianist,composer, author and USC professor David Cutler, the SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge is an immersive experiential laboratory designed to help musicians, performing artists, educators, and others generate more income from their work and have greater impact with their work.  Attendees pitch arts-based business ideas; form teams; develop business and financial marketing skills; design a venture from the ground up; vote on favorites, and compete for awards.  Throughout the process, they develop invaluable and transferable success skills that are applicable to a wide range of arts careers and entrepreneurial environments.

I was part of a team of coaches involved in training, encouraging and supporting the 72 performing arts entrepreneurs who attended. The majority female participants, ages 18-69, travelled from more than 20 states and 8 countries to share in the week-long adventure whose goals included creating a life-changing experience. And we did just that!

I am still in awe of what was accomplished — in one week, SAVVY empowered the participants to understand the business of being an artist. More important, they learned how to collaborate; I mean truly work with another artist on a shared goal. And in this case, they worked with someone they had just met to make it happen; to create the magic.  WOW! I realized that if that room of 70-plus artists took back to their respective communities what they learned—especially the ability to work through differences, partner and share a vision—with arts as the backdrop they could indeed change the world! And that was David’s daily reminder—the purpose of the SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge is to change the world.

There are individuals who truly realize their mission in life; who are living boldly, fearlessly with passion and love. They not only want to share what they’ve learned with others, they create opportunities to do so. David Cutler is one of those individuals. He began the journey to share what he learned on his journey as an arts entrepreneur with writing the book, The Savvy Musician, and then he established the SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge in 2013.

SAVVY offers arts entrepreneurs the keys to success by helping them recognize their limiting beliefs, transform their mindsets (or do their human revolution), understand the value of collaboration, and unleash their potential to create a successful business. As one of the world’s leading voices on arts careers and entrepreneurship, David walks his talk. He is an extraordinary example of what is possible for arts entrepreneurs—a recent career diagram showed that he maintains no fewer than 24 income streams!  In addition, David works hard to make sure that diversity and inclusion are integral components of the program.The SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge really is an amazing program and the week-long process is phenomenal to witness.

David first invited me in 2016 to be a part of the faculty but I had a previous commitment and couldn’t attend.  When he began talking with me again this year, I kept trying to figure out the actual value of the program.  Thankfully, David was persistent.  He continued reaching out to me until I said yes. There was something he shared that made me recognize that SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge was connected to one of my own missions in life—to foster the next generation of arts administrators who incorporate humanism and a deep understanding of diversity and inclusion. I realized that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate in the workshop.

Truthfully, I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived on campus. However, as the week progressed, I met the most remarkable people– generous, funny, loving—all committed to sharing their artistic talents, insights, experience and vision.  In fact, the first day was my birthday.  That evening, we were at an historic venue called The Big Apple, which is known for its dance classes. With a live band providing the music, we were taught how to“LindyHop”(also known as the (“Jitterbug”).  After dancing for a while, David announced it was my birthday and, accompanied by the band, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. That was pretty cool! This was my first time spending my birthday away from my family and the tribute was meaningful and certainly heart-warming.

I want to encourage everyone reading this blog to consider attending the Savvy Arts Venture Challenge in 2018. (Participation this year was limited to 72 people and scholarships were available).  These workshops should be overflowing with arts entrepreneurs. Now more than ever, we need programs like this; we need artists who are savvy about the business of their work; artists who can support themselves, and artists whose work is sustainable, as well as influential! I highly encourage you to jump in! Join in!  Let’s all become savvy enough to utilize the arts as an unstoppable force to change the world!