The Rise of the Artrepreneur

Art World Disruption Kills off the Starving Artists. It’s the title of an article written by Forbes contributor, Adriana Lopez that examines the business side of being an artist. In the article, Lopez takes the language of change that’s been occurring in the technology world, and she applies it to the art world…disruption. It’s is the sort of change that has the potential to make artists wealthy before they die, according to Lopez.

Supplementing artistic talents with a lively personality has long been part of the formula for becoming a successful artist as opposed to being a starving artist. But with access to technology as a tool for business modeling, marketing, and selling, the dynamics of the industry may have changed for the better. For example, the artist profiled in the article uses her “Instagram feed as a virtual gallery.” She doesn’t have a typical gallery relationship, and yet she has managed to sell over one million dollars’ worth of art this year.

According Hiscox’s Online Art Trade Report 2015, the 2014 global online art market was estimated at more than $2.5 billion dollars, with an expectation to reach over $6 billion by 2019. But online art sales as a category is only one piece of the pie. In the filmmaking, music, and writing industries, recently expanded service models have provided increased opportunities for artists to promote directly to their fan bases also. Vimeo for movies. Amazon for books. Tunecore for music. And new service models are coming on the scene every day. Combine these with social media outlets like Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram, and any artist can build a following and connect directly with their buyers. As stated in the Forbes article, artists “can start by building a strong foundation and utilizing all this technology…”

But success doesn’t come easily. One of the biggest problems with technology disruption in the art world is that it faces the same challenges that other disrupted industries and businesses have faced, namely how do you stand out from the crowd. The gatekeepers may be gone in some places, but as a result of these new changes, the gates have opened much wider. Consequently, a flood of artists are now available to us all, and artists have to fight through all the noise, literally, to have their art seen, liked, and purchased.

The next biggest problem is money or lack of it for artists. Even Spotify acknowledges this on its website, stating “It all used to be so simple. People would hear a tune they liked on the radio, then go to a shop and buy the physical recording of it. Over the past few decades, this simple standard has fragmented into a diversity of consumption activities, from piracy and iTunes downloading to on-demand streaming from YouTube and others. Unfortunately, the majority of music consumption today generates little to no money for artists.” A Times magazine article late last year, highlighted the royalties paid by Spotify. “Artists earn on average less than one cent per play, between $0.006 and $0.0084, to be exact…”

In the Forbes article, the profiled artist managed her own social media, built partnerships with other companies and personalities, and incorporated technology into her business model. Her success, it seemed, was built on her goal of “keeping 100% of [her] profit margins…” In other words, she was committed to being both an artist and an entrepreneur. She thoroughly understood the necessity of being an artrepreneur in 2015.

The artist of today shouldn’t be afraid of how hard the road will be. There are people and programs that always rise up to help solve problems just like these. There are now artrepreneur coaches, incubators, and programs. There are courses, podcasts, and workshops for artists ready to add entrepreneur to their resume. Some of these are free. Some of these are an investment. As Lopez stated in the article about the artist, “she has turned her art into a business – a successful one – where she has been able to keep everything she makes.” That’s essential to anyone rising up to become an Artrepreneur.

Shelia A. Huggins is a North Carolina attorney with a business practice focused on art and entertainment law. Her expertise is in drafting and negotiating contracts; providing general legal support services to businesses, and consulting on media/content development for artists. She has worked with musicians, filmmakers, event venues, restauranteurs, and a variety of other business owners and is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Sports and Entertainment Law Section and Triangle ArtWorks Law + Art Workgroup.


Shelia A. Huggins is a North Carolina licensed attorney who practices primarily in the areas business and contract law. Her niche is working with new and expanding businesses in the entertainment and sports worlds. Ms. Huggins obtained both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from North Carolina State University. She has a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Certificate in Documentary Arts from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. As an attorney, she has worked with musicians, filmmakers, writers, performing artists, restauranteurs, and a variety of small business owners across the state. As an artist, she has been recognized as an Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist in Photography and was selected as a 2015 Documentary Fellow.