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Match made in art/business heaven
22 December 2012

Student John Nagel plots-out the lines of brick wall in a mural. DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

BISMARCK (UTN) – You’ve heard the term “starving artist.” It conjures the image of the committed soul who only has a slim chance of coping with day-to-day realities, like making a living. Fathers deride them. Mothers pray for them. Employers avoid them like the plague.

That’s why “starving artist” is the model to be avoided by students in the United Tribes Art/Art Marketing Program.

“The lesson is about how to handle your work like a business person,” says Wayne Pruse, program director. Under his leadership over the past 15 years, UTTC students have been exposed to the philosophy that art is a job and economics are involved.

Art schools are coming around to that point-of-view because students are demanding the skills to survive, he says. “They want to be an artist but they don’t want to go home and live in mom and dad’s basement, work for Wal-Mart and win a ribbon at the local art show every once-in-a-while.”

Business Partnership
Now Pruse has forged a partnership in Bismarck that fits his teaching model like a glove. He and his students have teamed-up with the I.D.E.A Center, a non-profit business and workforce development organization that supports entrepreneurs and mentors students. The name stands for: Incubator for Developing Entrepreneurial Activity. Their motto: “All Great Products or Services Begin with an IDEA.”

To which you can add “All Great Partnerships,” and the idea for this one is on the wall. The curved and angled walls throughout the Idea Center are the canvas for a multi-year, art murals project. And who better to partner with than students learning that art can be their business.

“It’s more than an art project. It’s about the business of art,” says Julie Kuennen, I.D.E.A. Center executive director. “We get to show the talents of the students. And we get to introduce them to different business people, and network, and show what they’re capable of doing.”

Wayne Pruse airbrushes the mural of a bistro at the Idea Center. DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

Creative Space
The work itself is an exercise in illusions. Pruse and two students, John Nagel and Quinn Austin, have pursued the current project since summer. Using the ancient art technique known as trompe-l’oeil, they’ve created the optical illusion of realistic images on walls facing an area where traveling clients and entrepreneurs sit and work. Tricking the eye involved tedious hand work with brush strokes, followed by airbrushing to emphasize depth of field, making it look like the objects exist in three dimensions.

“We’re really excited about this project,” says Kuennen. “It’s about keeping the ideas flowing, that this is creative space. We often talk about wanting to see a vibrancy in our communities and we said, ‘let’s create it and show them what we’re looking for.’ We’re really proud of the work they’re doing and it’s going to change our place even more.”

Opportunities Open
Clearly, the Idea Center extends a student’s opportunity to learn. For this project, it started back in the spring by dealing with the challenges professional artists encounter when prospecting for work: preparing a proposal booklet, including all measurements and costs; pitching the idea to the client; and doing the work.

“And then they have to track their time to see if they make any money off it,” says Pruse. “If they underbid it and they lose, they still have to finish it. It’s a learning process one way or the other.”

And it seems there’s so much to learn.

“Out in the community you sometimes hear that new grads don’t really know how to take a problem and propose a solution or begin a project plan and describe how it will work for the business,” says Kuennen. “We offer internships to help with the soft skills and technical skills needed.”

At the very least, being in a business incubator location creates opportunities to meet business leaders and get acquainted with people who might hire them or make referrals. The center employs a student coordinator on staff, and maintains relationships with the other colleges in Bismarck for involvement by students in a variety of disciplines. In particular, the center hopes to involved business students – not only those who plan start-ups but those who might work in support roles, such as accounting, bookkeeping and marketing. Demand is strong now because of the number of businesses serving and supporting energy companies in western North Dakota.

“Every entrepreneur needs a U-Tube video or a training or promotional video. Social media is changing how we market,” says Kuennen. “As we get to know the students we learn what they’d like to do and we can put them in contact with entrepreneurs to offer those services. And, some freelancing happens.”

Frank Assessment
A final service in this collaboration of art and business involves student assessment. The Idea Center staff will be involved in interview sessions where a panel of evaluators will review a student’s portfolio presentation and give a working-world assessment. Pruse promises they will be frank encounters.

“It does them no good to be easy,” he says. “When they interview for jobs it can be pretty tough. Employers take the view, if I have to pay a person, they better know what they’re doing. So, we can’t coddle ‘em. If you’re ready to graduate and go into the work world you better be sharp about what you know.”

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