courtesy photo of Watie White
Every Tuesday evening from Sept. 9 through Nov. 4, a group of Omaha artists and creatives will be meeting for classes, seminars and workshops on viable ways to make creative pursuits into sustainable career options.
To join them, the application deadline to take part in Omaha’s first Artist, Inc. is on Sunday, June 30.
Watie White, a board member for Omaha Creative Institute, one of the sponsoring organizations responsible for bringing Artist Inc. to Omaha, says the program is “not necessarily to monetize what they’re doing,” but to help develop an understanding of how artists can manage approach financial stability.
White was selected as one of five of mentors by Mid-America Arts Alliance, an organization interested in supporting and stimulating cultural activities in many plains-states. Through MAAA, the program began at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Since 2007, Artist, Inc. has expanded to Little Rock and Oklahoma City. This year, Omaha and Austin host their inaugural programs.
White says, including the mentors who will be going through the program as well, about 25 applicants will be accepted. Each evening will feature a presentation that connects working in the arts with a professional side. He uses legal services, as an example.
“They’ll talk about how they’ve structured their professional life. If they’re a lawyer, they’ll answer any questions that come up about that. We can talk about what we’re actually doing, what’s going on with our professional practice at the time. Then we’ll get together and talk about whatever issues that have come up.”
To White, Artist, Inc. represents an opportunity to capitalize on a building momentum that has been developing over the last several years. He says he’s seen, in general, an increase in artistic growth and creation.
“I’m a believer in the positive effect of art and creation, the effect it will have on the city, me personally, me personally as a parent. And those are things I want to be stronger.”
He says he wants to live in a city where being an artist and creative can be an economically viable pursuit. His ideal Omaha is a place where children are encouraged to pursue their artistic passions, rather than discouraged because they may be unrealistic. Artist, Inc. will help the creative community develop and foster that kind of environment.
“Building a community of artists who are supporting each other, who are assisting and building an audience for each other and building a history of productivity is going to make all of us better,” White says.
Currently, certain hurdles stand in the way of making artistic pursuits economically sustainable. He lists artists’ unreliable client base, the gallery system, the uncertainty of who might pay for what. For musicians, often the only way to maintain commitment to the art is constant touring, being away from home. He wants musicians to be able to find ways to take deeper root and develop meaningful relationships by planting themselves.
White says developing that kind of community relies on cooperation and mutual interest.
“When I moved to here … what was really working was the indie rock scene,” White says. “The feeling that these guys that were famous nationally, they came home and played on their friends’ records because they wanted to make interesting work and explore the joy of producing something. That’s an incredible model to look at and emulate.”
“People who see themselves as collaborators, not competitors, is something really beautiful.”