Essentials for Emerging Artists/Interview with John Luther

By Carolyn Edlund

John Luther

John Luther

John Luther, who is the Career Development Coordinator at University of Michigan’s School of Art & Design (A&D), has a diverse background ranging from being a dancer/choreographer/director to psychotherapist. He agreed to speak about their program, and how young artists are prepared to begin careers.

John’s top four recommendations for emerging artists planning to run their own businesses:

  1. Network like crazy.
  2. Meet and speak with artists who are doing what they hope to do
  3. Learn about marketing and how to create and run a small business
  4. Create and maintain a personal web site

AS:  Does your school teach business classes to students? If not, where are they getting this type of experience?JL: No, A&D does not offer courses specifically in business.  However, the University of Michigan does have the Center for Entrepreneurship and I encourage students to take advantage of the courses, events, speakers, etc. that are offered through this program.   In addition, there are many opportunities for students to become involved with understanding business in courses like Integrated Product Development which is cooperatively offered through the U of M Ross School of Business, the College of Engineering and A&D.  I also encourage students to look for inexpensive PRACTICAL courses through Community Colleges and continuing education classes since these are easy to find and realistically address starting and running a business.

AS:  What networking opportunities does your school offer, and how do students make the most of them?

JL: I see each incoming student individually to establish the importance of career planning right from the beginning.  I send daily email updates on opportunities, including networking.  In addition, I maintain a database of A&D alums who are willing to be contacted by current students.  I encourage students to attend all of the Fairs and Events through A&D, the U of M Career Center , to use resources like LinkedIn and the Arts Alliance.

Some students take advantage of networking early and often, but most do not really understand the importance of this until later no matter how much we as professionals emphasize this.  For this reason, I also offer my services to them even after they have graduated and still help connect them to alums and others who may be helpful.

AS:  What are the biggest mistakes you see students make while creating their web sites?

JL: I think the biggest mistake students make is that their sites are sometimes not set up for easily viewing their work.  For example, a site may make you constantly return to a “home page” to view the next piece rather than set up in a slide show format.  Students also sometimes confuse the personal with the professional and will include information and/or images that simply do not belong on a professional artist’s web site.  I also find that sometimes students really need help editing and understanding that less really is more.

AS:  John, you have an unusual program at the University of Michigan. Can you explain a little about the concept and what makes your Art & Design major so unique?

JL: A&D’s undergraduate BFA in Art & Design is predicated on the belief that all artists are designers and that all designers are artists.  With this in mind, a curriculum was created that includes 24 core studio credits, 36 elective studio credits and 12 Integrative Project studio credits. In addition, 56 non studio credits encompass the Humanities, Social Science, Natural Science, Environmental Studies, Race and Ethnicity, Writing, and Analytical Reasoning.

This very comprehensive approach to Art & Design education ensures that students are exposed to a variety of tools, materials, processes and ways of thinking.  We also heavily emphasize the importance of concept in creative work, thus ensuring that it is ideas that fuel creativity.  In the 21st century we know that it is those who can learn and adapt who will be the most successful and therefore encourage students to think beyond the realm of the merely possible.

Since our students elect more than half of their course work (within certain bounds), each student’s BFA is unique to that student and to his or her goals.  In addition to the BFA, the School of Art & Design also offers a BA and a wholly unique degree to the University of Michigan called “Interarts Performance”.  Beginning in Fall 2010, A&D will also be the first U of M school to require an international experience.

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