The Artist is the Business: Unpacking the Box of the Creative Entrepreneur

I stood there waiting for the gallery owner to hand me the artist print I purchased at a show months prior. He turned and handed me the framed print, "Sorry it took so long. You know artists." I smiled, rolled my eyes and nodded as I took the print and walked out the door. I didn't further engage; I'm also an artist.

My name is Geena Matuson, and I'm a recent master's of art graduate in the Goldring Arts Journalism program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and founder of AIY Studio. AIY Studio, or "Art Inspires You" Studio, offers digital services, tools and education for creatives. As an arts technologist and entrepreneur, I've spent my lifetime working to help creatives help themselves. The AIY Studio mission is to empower creatives with a voice in the digital world and beyond, giving them the tools to be their own brand managers and entrepreneurs.

Matuson Gen Z Entrepreneur
Geena Matuson is a young entrepreneur working to bridge the gap for creatives in entrepreneurship.

As a kid, I took live and figure drawing classes, selling my work when I was 8 years old at the Danforth Museum. I made websites, crafted my own magazines and created online communities. It didn't occur to me I wasn't just creating content, but was also creating frameworks and strategies. I was thinking about the business of the work in addition to the work, itself.

Over time, I also grew familiar with the stigma of the artist: flaky, bad with math and time management, disinterested in business. Having seen this perception of artists from an early age, I was determined to combat these ideas and prove that artists are capable of learning and excelling with business, technology and "left brain" thinking.

Creatives often communicate and learn differently than others. I'm an auditory learner. I realized that rather than provide information in a way that is accessible to people who think, learn, or see things differently, those in a position to educate often find it's easier to ascribe a stigma than tailor their teaching style to these creative thinkers. This group is often given less attention, fewer tools and, ultimately, less credit when it comes to left-brain activities.

When I was 7, my first grade teacher told me I would be part of a "special" group of kids who would skip part of class and play games together. I didn't realize I was being evaluated for mental "disabilities." The next year, I was simultaneously placed in the accelerated poetry program with a different group of kids.

For two more years I straddled both programs – no one knew what to do with me, the kid who taught herself the alphabet backwards in a seven-minute bus ride. I got to the point where I created my own personal growth activities because few were affording me this opportunity. This misunderstanding followed me through life, and I started to identify the struggle other creatives were facing.

In 2013, I graduated from Massachusetts College of Art & Design with a B.F.A. in film/video production. In other words, I graduated with a degree in digital technology and project management. Furthering my management skills, I even worked on the MassArt Activities Council, planning and coordinating university-wide events.

But I, too, fell into the trap of the stigmatized artist. I would make it to job interviews for project management positions, at which point I'd be asked, "You have a B.F.A. from an art school…so, how does this relate to project management?"

It was frustrating. I could think both analytically and creatively with hands-on experience right out of school. No matter how hard I tried to explain the complexities of my work, my work was dismissed.

I reached out to recruiters, all of whom told me I should go into graphic design - it paid well and I had the B.F.A. I felt like my degree had restricted me when it should have helped me to flourish. But it wasn't the degree - it was the perception of what the degree meant about me as an individual, a lack of understanding surrounding "creatives" as a group, and ignorance to the work that goes into creative projects. I didn't realize I was being pigeonholed, and I didn't know how to advocate for myself. I struggled to find my voice as I was trapped between two worlds, forced to pick one.

I was given advice to get a seat at the table, and then effect change from within. The world knew me as artist first, nothing second – and the world's perception of artists is a bit stilted. I started to work towards changing this perception through education, practicing what I preached.

Over the next few years I went on to earn several Certificates of Specialization in Business Analytics with the Wharton School online, as well as a certificate in Digital Marketing with General Assembly. I even ran for, and was elected to, a three-year term with the Board of Trustees for Medfield Memorial Public Library where I worked to promote STEAM education and programming, again determined to integrate the arts into more left brain-oriented systems.

I started consultancy work in brand strategy and messaging, social media marketing, website development and, yes, design. I wanted to take my new skill-set and experience a step further, advocating for others the way in which I was advocating for myself.

Syracuse University immediately instilled in me a sense of community while supporting pursuits of individual students. When I first arrived, I took a tour of the entrepreneur incubator space Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars – and this is when everything clicked. While earning my M.A. at Newhouse, I spent most of my time in entrepreneurship at Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Working alongside other entrepreneurs, I was asked driving questions about my past, my goals, and why I wanted to turn my work into a future business. Being asked these serious questions by others allowed me to take myself seriously as both a creative and an entrepreneur.

The first step AIY Studio will take is to create portfolio websites, website audits and written content, offering services to creatives and creative institutions. This work allows AIY Studio to continue researching the business needs of creatives, developing services that can accommodate these needs. Over time, the studio will offer workshops and online courses, a print and digital magazine, shop services, social media and digital marketing. The goal is for our client to turn their viewers and followers into customers and collaborators, treating their work as that – work – scaling their business as creative into a sustainable full-time job.

I made this journey myself. The next chapter for me is to be a mentor, adviser and counselor to others making the journey as creative entrepreneurs. I want creatives to look at themselves the same way they look at a business venture – because the artist is the business.

Geena Matuson is a creative entrepreneur and founder of AIY Studio, offering
digital services, tools and education for creatives.