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Freelance artists may be more familiar with the process of job hunting than any other group of professionals. As thousands of Americans in the auto and financial industries struggle to cope with the sudden disappearance of jobs once thought of as sacrosanct, uncertain employment has been a reality for artists since, well, forever. That said, artists are far from immune to the recession as opera companies and other nonprofit arts organizations across the country are being forced to make tough decisions in an effort to balance budgets and stay operational. In this climate, it is more important than ever for artists to take a proactive approach to career development in order to be as prepared as possible for uncontrollable circumstances. Here are some ways to remain competitive through these tough times:

Utilize your network. If you haven’t been maintaining a network, now is the time to do it. Every artist should have an inner circle of trusted colleagues. This can include your mentor, teacher, coach, advocate, manager and/or fellow artists, among others. Think of these people as your board of directors and utilize them in planning your business as an artist. Only when you have the support of your core network can you afford to go out on a limb.

Create good networking habits. Blindly canvassing everyone you’ve ever come in contact with is probably not the most professional or useful way to network. With networking, personal touches count, so go the extra mile to be a positively memorable colleague. The street runs both ways, so be a good listener to your colleagues and be sure to help them out as much, if not more, than they help you.

Update your professional image. It seems these days that even our grandmothers are on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Use this to your advantage. Does your online image portray you in a professional light? Is the information up-to-date? Does your Facebook profile shout, “I really like to party,” instead of, “I am a dynamic and responsible artist who would be a joy to work with”?

Now is also the time to make sure your other marketing materials, like your Web site, resume, and headshot, are in tip top shape. Having misspellings, stretched truths and out-of-date information on your resume is a surefire way to get it thrown out the window.

Create your own financial opportunities. While they might seem extinct, there are still opportunities available for individual artists to find funding. Do your homework and research these financial prospects, including grants, scholarships, fellowships, fiscal sponsorship and development awards. Here are some great places to start:

  • Fractured Atlas
  • National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
  • New York Foundation for the Arts (for New York residents)

Additionally, now more than ever small groups of dedicated artists are forming to create their own performance opportunities. Since competition is so fierce at opera companies across North America, some artists are taking their careers into their own hands. OPERA America member organizations Opera on Tap, Intimate Opera Company and Opera Vista have done just that.

Keep learning. Utilize professional development opportunities wherever you can find them. Take advantage of free concerts or lectures in your city or town. See if your local yoga/art/acting studio offers work/study deals. Log on to the OPERA America Web site to listen to Making Connections podcasts, download the Singer Self Inventory, preview the Perspectives series of books or to find something new. OPERA America is in the business of supporting the development of opera companies and individual artists, so take advantage of your membership!

Finally, maintain a positive attitude. The seemingly endless supply of doom and gloom in the news today can foster feelings of depression and helplessness that lead to a lack of personal motivation. To avoid this, it is imperative that you surround yourself with positive people who are happy to talk about items other than the latest unemployment rate or market drop. Regular exercise is also a great way to help maintain a positive attitude as the release of endorphins through physical activity is a scientifically-proven mood elevator. While you may not be able to control the economic status quo, never forget that you have complete control over how you react to it, and with an optimistic outlook, you are already ahead of the game.

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