Rujeko's Artist Business CanvasWhere did the Artist Business Canvas come from? At ArtSpark, we get asked this question all the time.

So here’s the story….

A couple of years ago at a Start Up Weekend in ABQ, I pitched an idea that was voted on and selected by the weekend’s participants. Very quickly, a team was assembled and we dove in to the amazing and arduous process of building out a mere business idea over 36 hours and then pitching it at the end of the weekend in front of an assembled mass of people, including judges and potential investors.

That weekend I fell in love with the Business Model Canvas contained in the book “Business Model Generation” by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur of Their Business Model Canvas gave us step-by-step guidance to develop and iterate our business model. The walls of our room for the weekend were soon papered with flip chart paper, sticky notes and tons of handwritten notes. It was a fabulous experience!

Bill Smith @

Bill Smith @ photos/byzantiumbooks/

During that weekend, I also had one of those proverbial “light bulb” moments. I had recently surveyed artists who had participated in ArtSpark activities over the past 18 months to see how they were faring, and particularly to find out if they were still using the tools and skills they practiced during the ArtSpark workshops. The feedback I got back was dismal: less than 20% of artists queried were still on track (still using the tools and skills) and many had jumped ship. Fortunately, I also did ask, “What else do you need to support what you learned in the XYZ workshop?” and the answer was pretty unanimous: WE NEED MORE OF A FOUNDATION IN BUSINESS. Good to hear, but I honestly didn’t know what to offer them as I’d already experienced how the usual business planning process didn’t work for – or, maybe more importantly, engage – creative people. Yes, there were options like the Right Brain Business Plan, but artists and creators generally want something more interactive.

I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of sharing the original Business Model Canvas with artists and creators. Why? It was a (fairly) simple way to build a stellar business model (check!) and it was a “Canvas” which is a nice word for artists (check!). It was the first artist-friendly approach to business planning that I had come across and I also had the experience of using the Canvas successfully over a short period of time for my own creative idea during the Start Up Weekend.

Next step was to huddle with a small, diverse group of artists and talk about modifications. Lots of questions came up, like should we keep the headings of the nine segments of the original Canvas since they contain business jargon for sure… e.g., “Value Proposition” and “Channels”? (Answer: Yes. It’s important – and empowering – for artists and creators to learn and use these business terms.)

In September, 2014, the first Artist Business Canvas (ABCanvas) workshop was held in ABQ, and we’ve been facilitating the ABCanvas process ever since (in New Mexico, the San Francisco Bay Area and Canada). And every time we teach the workshop we ask participants what they liked, what they didn’t like, and their suggestions for improvement. So we have an iterative process going, and the ABCanvas gets better and better each time. More importantly, the impact of the workshop on ABCanvas participants is impressive. Outcomes are happening! For example:

• Increased revenue/funding;
• Business loans (e.g., micro-loans);
• Increased communication skills;
• New, successful business opportunities;
• New organizations (both for- and non-profit);
• Expanded and/or focused audience/customer base;
• Increased creative/art education and training;
• Increased confidence;
• Connecting more with and ongoing relationships with peers; and,
• Better alignment with “day job” or other employment.

In fact, the ABCanvas is going so well that we’re launching an online version this fall (2016). We’ll be blogging all about it, including offering special deals, so make sure to subscribe to ArtSpark and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.