A Portrait of the Artist as an Entrepreneur

I recently said goodbye to my ten-year career working at a non-profit arts center. As a painter and a writer, working for an arts organization made sense to me: it checked all the boxes – my need to be creative, my need to be surrounded by creative people and my need to earn money.  Until it didn’t make sense anymore.

A few months ago, I switched careers and began working at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship.  At first glance, one would wonder what made me think I was qualified for this job. (Damn, I thought that!).  But then I dug a little deeper and started researching the field of entrepreneurship. I realized that many of the qualities that it takes to be an entrepreneur are the same qualities that it takes to be an artist.  Actually, me + Drexel University + the Close School made sense.

An example: In the mid 2000’s, I took a leap of faith and launched my own entrepreneurial venture – MamaCita – A Mother’s Cooperative in the Arts.  I was a stay at home mom at the time with two young children and I was an artist.  I felt fulfilled but a connection to other artists was missing. Once the idea to form an artist cooperative popped into my head, that was it – I was done. I knew it was the best idea EVER (said with a valley girl accent and the same thing I said when I launched this blog site!) I believed with 100% conviction that even though I knew literally no other moms who were also artists (or any artists at all for that matter), I knew that they had to be out there. If I built it, they would come. 

And they did – out of the wood work and across the fields of corn, they came! And more than a dozen years later, MamaCita is still going strong with 25 members who also are moms. 

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I wanted to take the opportunity to honor the artist-entrepreneur members of MamaCita by writing about five of the characteristics that artists and entrepreneurs share and five of the artists of MamaCita who exemplify these qualities.

Characteristic One Creativity 

The most obvious of the characteristics that an artist possesses is creativity. But creativity is also critical for entrepreneurs – it is responsible for the ideas behind successful start ups.  

Artist Teresa Shields is one of the most creative artists I know.  When I first met Teresa, she was creating paintings that featured circular patterns. Teresa has always been obsessed with circles. Over the years, her art evolved and she returned to her first, true love – fiber arts.

Teresa writes:  “I am happiest when I am making things with fiber…it feels like home. I have denied it many times in my life by calling what I do with fabric and fiber ‘experiments’, but the truth is I love the act of making.

I am inspired by circles and have been drawn to them for close to twenty years. When I thought I was ready to change directions, I became obsessed with wood grain patterns and then realized it was just another way to look at circles. I use circles in my art to magnify the complex insides of vegetables, cloud formations and microscopic cellular structures.”

A definition of creativity is “the use of the imagination or original ideas in the making of something.”  Teresa uses her imagination to see the circles that make up the world around her and then transforms them into something surprising and out of the ordinary. 


Characteristic Two – Openness to Experience 

Higher brain plasticity is the result of exposure to stimuli. People who prefer variety in the day over fixed routines have more bendable brains that are open to new ideas and ways of thinking. Openness to new ways of thinking is essential for the success of an entrepreneur in an ever-changing world and market.  Artists use new experiences to stimulate creativity.

As artist Rebecca Schultz writes: “My creative practice has two primary manifestations: two-dimensional works, including drawing, printmaking, painting, and collage (the personal and spiritual); and participatory, community-engaged installation and performance (the public and pluralistic).”

Rebecca uses her community-based art experiences to feed her inner extrovert and to inspire her when she is working alone in her studio on her abstract, nature-influenced paintings, drawings and prints. Rebecca also uses her extensive travel experiences to expand her mind and inform her art. Despite the fact that she is a mother of three, Rebecca has completed residences in Iceland, Ireland, Ontario and Wyoming. These new experiences are essential to her artistic process and Rebecca knows it! rebeccaschultzprojects.com

Characteristic Three – Passion 

Passion is a feeling of intense enthusiasm or compelling desire. Without this intense emotion, both entrepreneurs and artists would never be able to withstand the failure and rejection common to both entrepreneurs and artists. 

Artist Rashidah Salam is extremely passionate about her art. She is constantly creating, moving from one project to the next, without hesitation or fear of failure. Born and raised in Malaysia, Rashidah is inspired by the verdant flora and fauna of her native country. One can see this floral motif again and again in Rashidah’s work as well as the influence of Malaysia’s craft traditions in her inclusion of shoe imagery, patterns, linear details and silhouettes.

Rashidah lets her passion take her from one idea to the next. One day, she will work on a traditional stretched canvas; the next, a series of mixed media wreathes that celebrate the lives of people near and dear, here and gone; and on the third day, an element from one of her works will break free and find a central place of its own on a gallery wall. She is passionate about the art-making process; the finished piece of art is a by-product of the process.

Rashidah Salam is represented by the Muse Gallery, Philadelphia. Her show at the Muse Gallery runs from May 1 – June 1, 2019. Check it out!

Characteristic Four – Vision 

Whether an artist or an entrepreneur, creative people perceive the world differently than others.  It is vision that allows a person to see a problem or outcome in their own unique way. As Karen McLaughlin, puts it, 

“In 2000, I had a vision and jumped into business.

While working my day job (print graphics for over 20 years), I created my very first HTML website. It was fun and I loved learning to code! Over the course of several years I redesigned that first company site a few times. I taught myself as I went, and then jumped into designing for others. KM Digital Design in part-time/mini-mode was born.

As the print industry changed, and digital marketing grew in leaps and bound, my day job closed its doors for good. I decided to take my business to the next level, to follow my vision, and turned KM Digital Design into a full-time business.”

Karen saw the inevitable death of the print industry and she saw that digital design was the future of marketing. She took a situation that might have knocked a person with less vision to their knees and turned it into an opportunity. Additionally, the success of her digital design company gave her the confidence and the freedom to pursue her fine art career.  Not only is she the CEO of her own company, she is also a successful artist/printmaker who exhibits her work nationally. 

kmdigitaldesign.com – karen-hunter-mclaughlin.com

Characteristic Five – Risk Taking

When an artist puts her art out into the world, she runs the risk of rejection and failure. It takes a strong stomach to keep moving forward with the possibility of failure looming overhead. The same is true for entrepreneurs.

Gillian Bedford is an artist whose paintings personify risk. From her website: “Gillian’s paintings often reflect on the contrast of “inside” and “outside”, perhaps as a metaphor for life as we know it, and also, life beyond our senses. Gillian is unafraid of painting what is physically impossible.”

Gillian never compromises her art because of fear of a negative outcome. Although her paintings are based in this world – they depict flowers, nature, everyday life – she fearlessly attacks her canvases with color and gesture, turning what could be considered just a pretty scene by a lesser artist into a multi-dimensional piece of art that is as much about the “outside” appearance as the hidden “inside.”

She is also a risk taker in her life. She recently convinced her husband of 25+ years to pack his bags and take a work sabbatical so that they could nomadically travel the country together (not once, but twice!), with Gillian painting along the way. gillianbedford.com (BTW, her website was designed by Karen and KM Digital Design.)

These five artists are just a sample of the wonderful artists who comprise MamaCita. On April 27th, stop by the Elkins Park Station for MamaCita’s Mother’s Day Show and Sale and to meet more of the artist-entrepreneurs of MamaCita.


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