Tracy Graziani Arts Entrepreneur

Careers in the Arts: Entrepreneurs

by Tracy Graziani

I used to read this design magazine (remember those?) called ReadyMade. It was a quirky diversion from typical magazines because it focused on things we don’t tend to associate with the design industry such as sustainability and DIY projects that discourage consumerism in favor of reuse and repurposing of castaway items. As a lifelong lover of making things with old junk (ask my poor mother about raising me) it was probably my favorite magazine of all time.

They had a regular column titled “How did you get that f@#$%^& awesome job?” I read it religiously. It featured creative people doing sometimes remarkable, and occasionally off the wall things. Who knew someone could make a living with a skeleton shop? And yes, that is a real thing. While I was fascinated by these people I hadn’t yet considered that I could be one of them.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Aside from a period in third grade when I planned to be a princess/cheerleader, as far back as I can remember I planned to be an artist. I didn’t really know exactly what that would look like, and nobody really questioned the idea until I didn’t outgrow the crazy notion. Eventually my parents pushed me to explore some “real jobs.”

I wasn’t super keen on the idea, but it made everyone else feel better about my aspirations when I chose to major in art education in undergraduate school. Turns out I loved teaching, but long story short, I hated working for a school district. I worked on a masters degree, this time in psychology, and I studied creativity theory. I got the offer of a lifetime and at a very young age became an executive in one of the largest museums in the country. There wasn’t a day that I worked at the Detroit Institute of Arts that I didn’t feel honored just to be there.

Life happened though, as it is want to do, and I ended up having to leave the museum due to a divorce-related comedy of errors that is another story unto itself. I found myself in Ohio again, trying to find work in museums or art centers, and working a string of unrewarding jobs along the way. I met my husband, moved to Mansfield, had one last stint in an arts organization, and when that fell apart so did I.

How did I get this f@#$%^& awesome job?

Up to this point I held this limiting belief that the only way I’d make a living as an artist would be to work for some arts institution. With only one employer in my field in Mansfield, now a former employer, my future looked pretty bleak.

Sometimes adversity is opportunity if you choose to see it that way. You’ll never hear me say, “Everything happens for a reason,” because I simply don’t believe that. Life is messy, horrible things happen, and it’s perfectly acceptable to experience the low times for exactly what they are–miserable. BUT–we can’t dwell there.

“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”

Elizabeth Taylor

I took Elizabeth Taylor’s advice and continued to show up at meetings and events, and volunteered more for the causes I cared about.

A friend messaged me and planted a very important seed. She said, “Maybe now is the time to start something of your own.” This began an interesting journey to find my footing and really flesh out an idea that had legs.

Somewhere in the universe you can find this perfect overlap of what you know, what you’re good at, who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what people will pay for. It takes time, reflection, openness, confidence, risk taking, and a bunch of other things that don’t cost a penny, but will tax your soul.

In time I launched Tog Loft. We’re a unique organization that helps photographers of all types to grow in the way that works best for them. Whether you want to take better snapshots of your kids, or plan to transition to becoming a full-time photographer, we help you achieve those goals. It’s incredibly fulfilling work and I’m very proud of our members and what we do in our community.

I also had this side hustle doing public relations, freelance writing, and marketing. I’d never taken it particularly seriously, but at some point I realized that I had a “real business” and maybe I should treat it as such. We took our formerly part-time business full-time and Graziani Multimedia became an agency. We help businesses to grow, and that is such a wonderful privilege.

Yes, you can make a living in the arts

None of it happened overnight, and looking back it’s interesting to see how my career has evolved, and no doubt will continue to do so. As a kid I never would have dreamed that I’d own a digital marketing agency, in part because the internet didn’t really exist then, but also because I lacked exposure to the vast array of cool careers that exist. And I certainly didn’t think about creating something that didn’t exist, like Tog Loft.

As it turns out a combination of education in the arts and psychology is the perfect blend of art and science that makes my mind wired wonderfully for marketing, especially in a digital age. The most important lesson I’ve learned along the way is that sometimes the perfect job will never be posted on a job board. Occasionally it is up to us to make our own luck, and that has made all the difference for me.

All jobs are real jobs

I’d also like to point out that there are many paths that artists take, and sometimes a person’s day job is a means to support their work, but not their creative work. Many a gifted artist have worked non-arts jobs in the post office, as did William Faulkner, as theater managers like Bram Stoker, or even as a stockbroker, like Paul Gauguin. Sometimes art as a job takes the joy out of the work and another job is a better service to the artist.

Whenever I hear someone snark that a foolish college kid is going to end up working in a coffee shop or bartending forever because they chose to pursue the arts I cringe. Many great artists have done just that, and were all the happier for it. I know I am.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *