“Arts” and “entrepreneur” aren’t terms often thought of in the same sentence. Yet the concept is not new, and it feeds on the idea that artists and entrepreneurs share the same ethos of creativity and risk-taking. Some colleges and universities address the topic, but it remains a nebulous identity for most working artists.
This is where C4 Atlanta comes in. In 2010, in the midst of an economic recession, cofounders Jessyca Holland and Joe Winter decided to create a nonprofit arts business incubator that would foster artists’ entrepreneurial spirits. They began offering professional development courses for artists — marketing, financial literacy, fundraising and the like — and eventually took over facilitating the annual Atlanta Unified Auditions for metro theaters. It’s also done several get-out-the-vote events.
“We’ve asked our membership and different artists to pledge to vote,” Holland says. “And then we follow up with them to see if they actually voted. It turns out that artists are very engaged in politics and especially in voting.”
C4 has refined its mission and expanded its programming since its inception. In July 2019, it opened the FUSE Arts Center in downtown Atlanta and this year launched its first WarnerMedia creative residency. The residency provides space, resources and business training to seven local artists. FUSE also offers coworking spaces and artists’ studios.
(Note: C4 will hold its 2020 Spark awards luncheon on April 16. To learn more or register — general admission tickets are $55 and $75 — go HERE.)
Holland, 42, executive director from the start, sat down with ArtsATL to talk about C4’s first 10 years and what lies ahead. (Full disclosure: Contributor Virginie Kippelen is in the midst of the nonprofit’s eight-week Ignite course, which teaches business strategies to artists.)
ArtsATL: Where does the name “C4 Atlanta” come from?
Jessyca Holland: It isn’t a very sexy story. We liked the idea of an explosive force that disrupts the norm. C4 is an explosive compound used in bombs. Sometimes referred to as “angry Silly Putty.”
ArtsATL: The association of arts and entrepreneurs is at the center of your mission statement. It’s not something you often hear, although it seems to make perfect sense. Could you explain this choice of wording?
Jessyca Holland: That came out of a strategic planning session. We spent hours coming up with that mission statement. Some of the concepts and things that we want to discuss within our classes is to go outside of the normal trajectory of an artist’s career. If you’re involved in arts, the decision-making and the power of one’s career is in somebody else’s hands, right? Is somebody going to pick your work? Is somebody going to cast you in a show? What we wanted to do was to disrupt that a little bit and say, “If you could self-determine your own path, what would that look like?”
I think this idea of disruption is something that’s big within entrepreneurship. It’s very akin to the startup community, and other communities that work in tech or health care. We just wanted to look at “what if you went off the beaten path,” and decided to carve out our own way.
When we had our first Ignite class, or an iteration of Ignite back in October 2010, there was a lot of skepticism even within that class of people. But I think that there’s a narrative across the country that artists are starting to adopt, where they’re understanding their value as a professional and their value as a citizen.
ArtsATL: You’ve been in existence for a decade. How would you characterize your evolution?
Holland: I think a lot of it has been listening to people and responding to the immediate environment around us. C4 is what’s considered a service organization, meaning that we don’t produce or present art. We support those who are doing the art-making. In 2010 with the economy bottomed out, we found out that a lot of arts organizations were not spending money on training or professional development. And so we pivoted a little bit and thought, “What if we just really focused on individuals within the arts community?” We went through thinking about serving the broad field to serving the individuals who made up the field, to also thinking about the relationship between the individuals that we serve in their relationship to their community.
ArtsATL: Meaning how artists will be giving back to their communities?
Holland: Yes, one of the things that people complain a lot about in Atlanta in the arts is that we see all these artists moving through Atlanta and using it as a springboard into other markets. How do you balance this sort of traditional trajectory of art with the demands of the market now and doing it in such a way that you’re contributing to your community rather than taking away from your community?
Art is also used as a tool by other industries to attract people to place. There are dozens of ways to help uplift a community and instill civic pride through art without displacing people. And part of that is how that community is benefiting. Who’s making money off of this? Is it a developer or is it the community?
ArtsATL: How would you describe the evolution of Atlanta’s art community in the past 10 years?
Holland: I think that there is a little bit more of a blending now in Georgia between fine art and commercial art. A lot of that has to do with the film industry. I did see after 2010 a spark of a more entrepreneurial spirit within the mainstream arts. But we still haven’t recuperated our arts budget for the state. It’s still at pre-recession levels, so that hasn’t increased. I’ve also seen more artists come through our programs that are rooted in Atlanta, that are not looking to leave Atlanta, and they’re buying homes, raising families or starting their businesses in Atlanta.
ArtsATL: Business is all about measuring and quantifying progress. How do you measure your success?
Holland: We’re looking at a couple of different markers. Have the artists we served continued to work? Are they happy, are they satisfied in their jobs? We’ve sent out surveys and what we have found is similar to what was found on the national level, which is that artists who participate in training and the more training they participate in, stay in their career paths longer. They report a higher satisfaction in their careers and they make more money. We are also looking at what the individual impact is. What we’re hoping to start doing is adopting a model that will look not only at the individual impact of an artist’s life and their career trajectory but also the impact to the community.