Lemonade Stand? Cool Kids Sell Art In Their Frontyards

A year ago on Quartz a list appeared by former Stanford dean, Julie Lythcott-Haims, outlining what every 18 year old should know.

I briefly toyed with the idea of doing a post about how the arts, especially performing arts, provided experience in most of these areas. Among them were that an 18 year old should know how to: talk to strangers; manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines; handle interpersonal problems; cope with ups and downs, and must be able to take risks.

While, “contribute to the running of a house hold,” another on her list, may not appear to exactly fit into the performing arts, in her reasoning she says this teaches “respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.” Those are skills you pick up when working as an ensemble.

As I was reading the article, I was envisioning kids in school, after school and summer arts camps/programs acquiring these skills since that is where arts experiences would likely teach these skills prior to someone turning 18.

So when I hit the eighth thing an 18 year old should know, “be able earn and manage money,” I realized that wasn’t something most arts programs would teach kids.

But if we are going to talk about the need for artists to manage and monitor their own careers,including finances, maybe elementary budgeting and accounting skills should be introduced to teen and even tween students.

Oh, but that is such a yucky, boring topic right? The kids want to have have fun making art, that will just scare them away.

I am not suggesting that you pull out your college accounting text. You can introduce cost and pricing in a fun way at an age appropriate level.

With younger kids, you start out saying – You made this painting or ceramic piece and now it is time to sell it. How much will you sell it for? How many do you think you can make in a week? How much could you make if you sell every thing at the end of the week?

This type of instruction hits on the cross-discipline approach schools are looking for these days. You can also get kids excited by the idea of how much money they might make.

Any kid can have a lemonade stand. Cool kids sell paintings, pottery and tickets to sidewalk performances!

Later you introduce the concept of material costs and time invested into the mix and take a more sophisticated approach to pricing. In certain situations maybe you have high school students participate in budgeting production costs for costuming and set building for performances. If they are involved in making the decisions required of a budget cap, all the better.

By connecting the idea that art has monetary value, you create a greater appreciation for art in students when they are young. It isn’t just something you do for fun and shouldn’t expect to be paid for.

While this runs counter to the idea that art should be created for its own sake, not with the goal of remuneration, the absence of this instruction hasn’t prevented people from claiming the arts should be self supporting.

Still, executed poorly the focus can be all about maximizing commercial viability over illustrating a connection between basic economic skills and art. Kids shouldn’t be given a message their work is bad simply because no one has bought it. And let’s not drag 14 year olds into the debate about doing something for exposure vs. being paid.

Given that not every person in an after school program or summer camp is going to enter an arts career, involving some basic economic considerations in art instruction when kids are young can shape attitudes and perception about the validity of arts and cultural endeavors over the long term.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Lemonade Stand? Cool Kids Sell Art In Their Frontyards”

  1. I agree that performing arts training can help students learn to work in diverse groups and make them comfortable in a number of different presentation settings. My son has been taking acting classes since he was 5, and has been in over 80 productions and courses—he is now 21.

    At age 18, my son and a friend of his started their own company, designed a new product, did a Kickstarter campaign, contracted with Chinese manufacturing companies, dealt with a major design flaw that needed to be fixed after manufacturing, and still managed to ship their product. Their company (Futuristic Lights) made a bit of media splash locally, because they met their Kickstart goal in about 15 minutes: https://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/futuristic-lights-media-page/

    Incidentally, three years later they are still in business (though still not making enough to pay themselves engineering salaries). They have designed and manufactured 3 different products (all “gloving lights” for the dance form know as “gloving”). My son now knows far more about contract manufacturing, qualifying vendors, and product pricing than many MBAs, as well as having an excellent grasp of microcontroller design and embedded systems. He’s done all this in his spare time as a full-time computer science student, in addition to keeping up his acting hobby. (He’ll be Peter Quince in Midsummer Night’s Dream at UCSB’s Shakespeare in the Park performance June 10 and 11.)

  2. Perhaps the first thing we should teach is the psychological effects of turning a calling into a job. Money isn’t a neutral influence on psychology, and psychology isn’t a neutral influence on what we do. If money can affect our motivations it makes sense to figure out where it helps us and where it hinders. As it turns out, getting paid/rewarded for what we otherwise would enjoy doing is NOT benign for many (not all, obviously).


    “In 1973, Lepper, Greene and Nisbett met with teachers of a preschool class, the sort that generates a steady output of macaroni art and paper-bag vests. They arranged for the children to have a period of free time in which the tots could choose from a variety of different fun activities. Meanwhile, the psychologists would watch from behind a one-way mirror and take notes. The teachers agreed, and the psychologists watched. To proceed, they needed children with a natural affinity for art. So as the kids played, the scientists searched for the ones who gravitated toward drawing and coloring activities. Once they identified the artists of the group, the scientists watched them during free time and measured their participation and interest in drawing for later comparison.

    They then divided the children into three groups. They offered Group A a glittering certificate of awesomeness if the artists drew during the next fun time. They offered Group B nothing, but if the kids in Group B happened to draw they received an unexpected certificate of awesomeness identical to the one received by Group A. The experimenters told Group C nothing ahead of time, and later the scientists didn’t award a prize if those children went for the colored pencils and markers. The scientists then watched to see how the kids performed during a series of playtimes over three days. They awarded the prizes, stopped observations, and waited two weeks. When they returned, the researchers watched as the children faced the same the choice as before the experiment began. Three groups, three experiences, many fun activities – how do you think their feelings changed?

    Well, Group B and Group C didn’t change at all. They went to the art supplies and created monsters and mountains and houses with curly-cue smoke streams crawling out of rectangular chimneys with just as much joy as they had before they met the psychologists. Group A, though, did not. They were different people now. The children in Group A “spent significantly less time” drawing than did the others, and they “showed a significant decrease in interest in the activity” as compared to before the experiment. Why?”

    If we don’t even ask that question, how can we be sure that teaching art students to make money actually HELPS them? Before we go about teaching students, perhaps it makes even more sense to teach the teachers about the downside to what they are so eagerly pushing. We are a society that preaches industrialism and are now suffering the consequences of global warming. Our gaze is so shortsighted that in all our problem solving we end up killing the patient with our ‘cures’.

    If the problem we are trying to solve is how artists can survive and make a living, part of that consideration needs to be how they are able to sustain their motivation for art in the first place. And if money and extrinsic rewards has a debilitating effect, that too should be considered.

    My feeling is that we focus on the ‘success’ stories and avoid conclusions about every potential artist who fell by the wayside. We take the people who DO make a living at art as the example of all our acceptable aspirations. We aim them at the perceived ‘success’. But that is a misguided assumption. Another fascinating essay from David McRaney sums this up:


    “The Misconception: You should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful.

    The Truth: When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible.”

    The rest of the essay is fascinating, one of the best things I have read. We simply need to stop modelling ‘success’ on the people who are making a living doing art. It is the most explicit example of survivorship bias I can think of…..


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