Why there needs to be a greater emphasis on business skills in arts education

Arts education needs to put more emphasis on teaching business skills to help artists make money from their craft and ensure they have longevity in the sector, says the founder of a Dewsbury-based arts organisation.

Supriya Nagarajan founded Manasamitra in 2005. Last year, she launched the Women Composer Mentoring Project, looking at helping women of colour hone their artistic development.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Nagarajan said: “If you want to survive as an artist, I think the business of art is more important than the art itself in the long run.

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“You do it because you love it but you have to pay your bills and the love can only take you so far. You have to be able to at the end of every year reconcile your accounts and feel satisfied.”

Supriya Nagarajan founded Manasamitra in 2005. It launched a mentoring programme for women last year.

She believes key business skills such as bookkeeping, setting rates and networking are often overlooked because of a lack of training and exposure. Prior to setting up Manasamitra, Ms Nagarajan worked in corporate finance. She credits her training at HSBC as hugely influential, even in the arts.

“I had fantastic training from HSBC in different aspects,” she said. “We had a whole training course where HSBC taught us how to accept no as an answer. I use that hugely in my work. I talk to my mentees about it all the time.”

Ms Nagarajan feels that arts education should have a business element to give people fundamental skills to make a living off their work.

She said: “One of the modules that I think should be taught with art is the business of art. A few universities do it.

“It should be taught right from school level upwards because any business that you undertake, whether you are undertaking art or something else, you have to think about how it will work for you through life.

“I think it’s the responsibility of education and institutions to consider teaching some of those skills.”

The founder of Manasamitra says artists could face frustration and feel isolated if they’re unable to make their work pay.

“If you’re not successful as an artist, both financially and opportunity-rich success, then what happens is you feel isolated,” she said. “It knocks your confidence as well.”

The challenge for women from South Asian backgrounds is even bigger, Ms Nagarajan said.

“It might be seen as something every struggling musician experiences but I think when you’re a South Asian woman it carries on for a long time. That is the difference.”

The mentoring programme, which had five people on it last year, also shares business skills with mentees.

Satnam Galsian, who was a mentee last year, says she has benefitted from the contacts she has been put in touch with by Ms Nagarajan. She added: “My work has really picked up since I went through the mentoring.” This year there are six mentees on the programme. One of them is Ramya Tangirala, a South Asian classically trained musician, who plays the veena.

Ms Tangirala said: “As a creative person myself, I find challenges in the admin part of the job – the networking, the marketing, updating your profile on social media.”

The mentoring programme is also helping her think outside of the box when it comes to her creative work.

Manasamitra is also putting on lunchtime performances at Dewsbury Minster called Tunes & Talk.

“I’m really keen to encourage the artists locally to perform,” Ms Nagarajan said. “I find the Minster is a very welcoming, warm space.”

She added: “We have everything from folk, gospel to pop and Japanese Koto.”

Living and breathing music

The name Manasamitra is taken from sanskrit.

Supriya Nagarajan said: “I looked into Sanskrit for a suitable name and Manasa could be mind or heart and Mitra is friend, so friend of the mind or heart fitted perfectly with the ideology of what the organisation would do going forward.”

Ms Nagarajan is originally from Mumbai. She set up Manasamitra at the age of 40.

“That was a turning point for me and I thought now is the time, if I’m going to make a change it’ll have to be now so I did,” Ms Nagarajan said, having always had a love for music.

“I live and breathe music every second of every day.”

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James Mitchinson