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According to one survey of COVID-19’s impact on the arts, 95% of artists in the United States have lost employment due to the pandemic. Most of them do not have a plan for getting back on their feet. More than half of the artists surveyed reported having no savings. Organizations launched generous coronavirus relief grants that have been an invaluable source of immediate aid, but now more than ever, the nation’s creators must focus on developing long-term financial expertise and security.
At Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, an initiative is helping artists and designers cultivate the one skill that a traditional art education rarely offers: how to make a living while working in the cultural field. The Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator (RA+DI), launched in 2017, is a fellowship program where participants learn everything from marketing and professional networking to product scaling and packaging. Essentially, the program aims to transform artists’ unique abilities, passion, and creativity into strong business chops.
“There are a lot of incubators around the nation where people are learning about entrepreneurship, but there are very few that deal with arts and design specifically,” said Jacek Kolasiński, the program’s director.
He says that the goal is not to help fellows find employment but to become employers themselves.
There is also a focus on diversity and inclusion, both in the selection of fellows and in the projects they pursue. For instance, Chris Friday, a mixed-media artist and third-year MFA student at FIU, used her scholarship at the incubator to develop highly-customizable clothing designs that are accessible and appealing to different body types and identities.
Housed in FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts, the incubator offers one to two-year residencies to a cohort of FIU students each year, with 22 fellows currently enrolled. Last month, RA+DI received a $2.5 million gift from the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation to fund the program and support initiatives such as micro-credentialing, co-curricular and experiential programming, and competition and entrepreneurship showcases.
Applications are currently open to FIU students and selected each July.