Mills Quarterly, Spring 2014

Page 16

t E i n t i L

When creative entrepreneurs learn to build a business, starvation becomes a thing of the past By Jessica Langlois, MFA ’10  •  Photos by Dana Davis hen Kiala Givehand speaks, she tents the

weeks, her journal had a name, Generations; and in less than a

long, slender fingers of one hand on the

year, she had published her first issue.

t w t i n w t i n w i n

tabletop before her, working them across its


surface. As she considers a new idea, or casts

w w

about in her mind for the perfect words to

Nancy Thornborrow, head of the Economics Department,

express her next thought, she leans back in

had recognized the need to create a course for students like

her chair and smiles, delighted to be considering new approaches.

Givehand. In a conversation with Professor of Music Fred Frith,

At her side, she keeps a small notebook, ever ready to jot down

Thornborrow learned that MFA music courses don’t cover

the name of an article to read later, a business model to research,

the practical issues of being a working artist. Thornborrow, a

or a new person to contact. When her phone buzzes (every 10

lover of opera and the arts whose late son had been a practic-

minutes or so), she gently taps it, looks at the incoming message,

ing painter, and Frith, who is also an actively touring musi-

and seamlessly returns to her conversation. On a sunny winter

cian, joined forces to fill the need of students who wanted to

morning, Givehand is sitting in a Jack London Square café, both

gain the necessary skills to launch and sustain their artistic

discussing and enacting creative entrepreneurship.

endeavors. The College’s strengths in both art and business

When Givehand came to Mills as an MFA poetry student

provided a natural setting for them to create a course answer-

in 2008, she was already a seasoned writing instructor at the

ing that need; and so, in 2008, the course The Business of Being

secondary and college levels, and had traveled widely to train

an Artist was first offered.

faculty and administrators in teaching strategies. At Mills, she

“We asked Mills faculty to participate, and Fred talked to

was planning to hone her craft as a poet, and also hoping to

people he knew, artists who have day jobs,” says Thornborrow.

discover ways to make her art a part of her professional life. She

She selected over a dozen guest lecturers for the course, artist-

had a vision to combine her passions for education and poetry

businesspersons who could speak from experience. Today, the

by founding a literary journal that would publish both young

lecturers for the class represent many fields in arts and busi-

and established writers. She served as poetry editor of the cam-

ness—from dance to visual arts and from marketing to taxes—

pus literary journal 580 Split, working closely with Professor of

and focus on the diverse topics that go into learning how to

English Juliana Spahr, who offered a decade’s worth of experi-

make a living as a creative entrepreneur. By putting artists in

ence in small press publishing. But, still, the idea of starting her

conversation with business students and professionals commit-

own journal was daunting. It remained unnamed, more a cluster

ted to the arts, the class is not only giving individual students

of possibilities and hopes than a concrete product. Then, in her

the tools to become self-sufficient in pursuing their art, but

final semester at Mills, Givehand enrolled in a new interdisci-

also helping to ensure the sustainability of the arts in today’s

plinary course, The Business of Being an Artist. Within a few

technology-driven, entrepreneurial landscape.


M i l l s Q u a r t e r ly