Kalamazoo Artist Job Fair gives artists chance to apply their talents to the art of business

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

KALAMAZOO, MI — Creatives are usually focused on their art and their performance.

But are they also taught the self-marketing skillset that, say, business school graduates learn? Is their career path so focused on the stage (or page, or canvas, etc.) that they never learned how to network?

"Yeah, I think we're all taught how to do our art form. But very few of us are taught how to look at it as a business," KRESA's Education for the Arts director Bryan Zocher says.

Brian Zocher, director of KRESA's Education for the ArtsZocher came from the world of the theatre to join the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency's Education for the Arts program in 2012. He never thought he'd get into any sort of educational career — but it turns out that artists have skills that are in demand in many fields.

That's the thinking behind the Artist Happy Hour: Job Fair, a collaboration between KRESA and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, happening Feb. 11 at Bell's Eccentric Cafe. 

There will be a panel of people speaking on becoming working artists, educators, and gig workers. Then there'll be a chance to hobnob, network, and make some connections with local arts and educational organizations, many of which are seeking the kinds of skills that artists have cultivated.

"Artists in general tend to be," Eric Oliphant starts to say, and then admits " — networking and stuff is a pain for me, and I relate to that personally."

He's a musician and operations manager for the Arts Council. He's run the Arts Council's Artist Happy Hour, a monthly meet-up for artists, since 2021.

The Artist Happy Hour "is a reminder to me that we literally don't hang out with each other when we're not working," Oliphant says. For example, "When I see other musicians, it's when I'm playing with them." Other artists work alone. They need to be able to mingle, for social reasons and work reasons.

For this Happy Hour, Zocher came to Oliphant with a proposal to do a job fair for artists. Zocher told Oliphant he "wanted to collaborate with the several organizations that are all hiring from the same pool of people, and problem solve on how they could make things better for the artists that they needed," Oliphant says. 

He heard from Zocher that local organizations had a shortage of artists-for-hire. "It's kind of surprising because I know Kalamazoo doesn't have a shortage of artists," Oliphant says. "But there is a shortage of connections between those artists and the organizations that are hiring."

Eric Oliphant, operations manager for the Arts Council of Greater KalamazooThey worked to make this event different from the usual take-your-resume-table-to-table job fair, to "try to make it a really nice environment so that you don't feel like you can't talk to an executive director of an organization as a brand new emerging artist in Kalamazoo," Oliphant says.

"Instead of a standard job fair where you might bring a resume and do the whole trading business cards rigamarole thing, hoping for the best," registrants will be encouraged to simply meet organization representatives and chat. After, they can fill out a survey, and check off which organization they're interested in, and the Arts Council will make sure the organizations get the artist's contact info.

The Arts Council's mission is to "serve as a connecting point between artists, arts and cultural organizations, and the public," Oliphant says. "It's right up our alley to provide an opportunity for artists to meet organizations in a relaxed environment." 

Zocher makes the point that artists may find a gig, or a new career, that doesn't exactly fit their art form but can fit their talents. 

"I was going to be an actor, director, playwright, producer. I had, when I got out of college, absolutely no interest in doing anything with education," Zocher says.

"So we're looking for all those folks also that are saying to themselves, 'I don't think this is for me.'  So that they get a chance to see, 'Okay, this is what it's all about.'"

Zocher says, "Even if this doesn't end up being your thing, I think if you've found a connection with more arts organizations and different ways of expressing your art, it's a big win."

Organizations at the Arts Job Fair:
Fontana Chamber ArtsGilmore Piano FestivalFace Off Theatre, Crescendo Academy of MusicKalamazoo Civic TheatreKalamazoo Symphony OrchestraRead and Write KalamazooWellspring/Cori Terry & DancersRooteadBlack Arts & Cultural CenterKalamazoo RESA/Education for the Arts, and Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Scheduled panelists: Dwandra Nikole Lampkin, Associate Professor, Acting and Director of Multicultural Theatre at Western Michigan University; Marisa Bianan, Associate Artistic Director of Wellspring/Cori Terry and Dancers; and Nicholas Jeffrey, violist and Assistant Principal of the Kalamazoo Symphony.

Artist Happy Hour: Job Fair, Feb. 11, 1:30 pm-4 pm at Bell's Eccentric Cafe. The event is free, but participants are encouraged to register.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.