Becoming an ArtistCEO: Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going
I always thought I had to keep my art-life and my work-life separate.
Though working in the branding and naming world is inherently creative, I wouldn’t have suspected that corporate clients would be particularly pleased to hear about my performance art (e.g. running around town as SuperHeroX, a being from another planet dressed in red spandex asking humans about their relationship to existence) and writing and performing one-woman shows about mental health issues.
So I created a stage name to build some separation between my professional reputation and my artistic pursuits. Problem solved…I thought.
Over the years, I moved back and forth between working full-time at branding agencies and pursuing my art full-time. This flip-flopping was in the realm of “all or nothing” and I wanted to find a way not just to balance, but also to integrate my two different careers: work and art. Turning off a vital part of me wasn’t working. How could I live a life that was true to myself if I was always hiding something?
The best way I knew how to find the integration I sought was to work for myself. I’d been freelancing in the brand world to support my art career, desiring to make just enough to give myself the freedom to develop my artistic craft. Soon enough, I had way too much naming and copywriting work for one person, not to mention my second career as an artist. It’s from this place that House of Who — my brand arthouse and agency — was born. And in the process of birthing this new being, I wondered whether I could finally bring my two halves into one whole. Could I be an ArtistCEO instead of an Artist/CEO?
Since making House of Who a reality and working as a real-life CEO, I have come to realize that art and business don’t actually contradict each other. In fact, they need one another. My CEO self can’t form a business with purpose (and therefore, a compelling value proposition and differentiation) without my thoughtful artist self. And on the other side, my artist self can’t truly thrive without the structure, discipline, and stability that my CEO provides.
The power in integrating my two sides has been reflected back to me externally, from the creativity I bring to my professional world and the professionalism I bring to my artistic world. The more outside reflections from my colleagues, clients, and peers to reinforce this, the more confident I become in the happy marriage of art and business. After all, it’s still an experiment. I’m constantly in the process of testing out this new way of being.
Two years ago, my content strategist, Kerri, was asking herself a similar question about uniting her creative and professional sides and became interested in my story.”It seems like you are the living proof of integrating art and business. So maybe you should step forward to share your journey — and give other people who want to integrate art and business someone they can relate to and learn from.”
At the time I didn’t really know what that would look like — I don’t think either of us did. But a couple of weeks later, we started to realize what an interesting subject matter this was, as well as how many people might be able to relate. The only question was: How do we best communicate this new endeavor?
We decided upon a podcast so we could really focus on telling a story. The podcast would recount my experiences of being torn between art and business. It would let me narrate in my own words and my own time story of building my own business. Of, at times, wanting to give up. And of stunning successes like I’d never imagined.
Working on the podcast slowly for almost a year, Kerri and I released our first season in spring 2017. I’d been recording audio diaries for months, thinking out loud about business, art, life, and making sense of it all. In Season One, we focused on the story of how I became an artist and a CEO in the first place and the many learnings of running a quickly growing agency and becoming a first-time entrepreneur. Now, we’re gearing up for Season Two, where we’ve documented an entirely new set of challenges and successes in living the life of an ArtistCEO.
Can I answer the question, what does it means to be an ArtistCEO, just yet? Let’s find out together.
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