Future Arts Forward: John Michael Schert

Future Arts Forward: John Michael Schert


When we talk about being a good citizen, you know, it manifests in a lot of ways. It’s volunteering, it’s serving on boards, various nonprofits and for-profits, it’s being a part of what’s happening in your community and lending your voice, your expertise, but I think also sort of you know, your spirit. So i was offered this position at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to become the first visiting artist and social entrepreneur. I’ve never called myself a social entrepreneur before, but, you know founding a non-profit arts organization sort of fit that descriptor. The talk I gave myself is how can I take what we’ve been working on at Trey McIntyre Project, this articulation of creative process and give it more weight and substance. So how can I be a value now to this business world? In leaving being just a dancer and then for a decade being a dancer and an executive director, I learned that it wasn’t so much the product of what I was doing, or the product of what Trey McIntyre project the dance company was selling, but it was our process, the methods and the creative process by which we went about discovering what we were creating that was much much more valuable. The challenge, and it’s really hard and it’s really scary and it’s not easy, but neither is making art, is to learn how to translate that creative process from over here in this sort of closed network across the sort of unknown space over into this sector. We don’t often ask artists, dancers in the same way we ask lawyers or surgeons to be citizens. We don’t necessarily ask them to sit on boards. We began to put our our dancers on these different boards, on the American Lung Cancer Association or our local arts initiative or the school board. To really think of these artists again not just as practitioners of a craft or performers but people that hold the space for this idea of creative process. So what if they were on the team of engineers and scientists and politicians and lawyers and financears who were reinventing a city’s public transportation system? So this is part of what the city of Boston is doing with their artist-in-residence program embedding different artists. They actually in fact I believe have a choreographer embedded right now with the police. What are the skills of a dancer? Not just the hard skills I would say the soft skills, to use the parlance of sort of business speak, and what I found was every single dancer said, yeah I’m really good at reading the room. I’m really good at sort of understanding what’s being said non-verbally. And I thought well maybe that’s that’s a skill that we in the arts world, it’s not so much a performative skill a process, so it’s a way of listening and understanding. And why do we not better espouse that as a value? The biggest deficiency of late career professional dancers is they are not good at verbally articulating that they are good at reading the room. An artist is taught a skill, they’ve spent their entire life training in that way and they want to seek value and retain value through that skill that have been applying themselves to for so long. The hard thing to hear is that’s not enough, you have to be more. But I think the good news is using the 80-20 rule you can still spend eighty percent of your time working on your art and it might only result in twenty percent of your income. But you can start to think about how you spend twenty percent of your time reaching other sectors and being a value, which is what I’m doing, and it might result in eighty percent of your income. But in leaving Trey McIntyre Project I knew I wanted to feel differently. I wanted to wake up and not look at my phone and let my inbox and calendar dictate who I needed to be today. I can do one day of consulting and make my monthly income. Now there’s a lot of prep that I have to bring to bear to do that one day of consulting, but it frees me up to continue to live the life that I really want, to live my creative process, to wake up and really understand everything that’s affecting me and to live, you know, to walk the talk. Artists need to think of themselves more as entrepreneurs and they need to see themselves more as a plurality. They have all these skills. For some that’s scary to rob themselves of their identity by not practicing their art through their medium or through their craft. Many will say well that’s not for me I only want to do it through the way I know how to do it, but I think there’s many artists emerging and many of them are out of the younger generation that’s coming up who say oh yeah I can be much more versatile. I am talking about artists that have achieved a level of mastery already in their chosen medium. Artists need to be artists, they need to be creators. Once we start to see these opportunities and these pathways open up they need to start to figure out, as I have done as others are doing, how they will uniquely create value in their own way.

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