04/10/2013 06:24 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2013

Artwork Is Work

An artist gallivants about a studio waiting to be possessed by a muse, as a work of art comes to be as if by its own volition. The ephemeral beauty or dark angst manifests for the consumption of patrons and the agent of creation fades back into the studio's sanctuary.

A young, starving artist subsists on a cup of Ramen a day, barely able to afford rent in a studio apartment. She could have gotten a degree any number of "practical" things, but her compulsion to perform led her to take her chances and her family wonders when she'll get a "real" job.

Romantic, isn't it? The artistic soul in a constant struggle for creative actualization. But is this really how art is made? What happens when we lift the curtain and step backstage?

Artwork is work. Art does not come into existence in a single fell swoop of expressive resolution. Art is not a hobby to a professional artist. Art is labor. Choreographer, painter, composer: these are occupations.

The contemporary artist does not have the luxury to gallivant around a studio waiting for the muses to arrive. She must at once act as creator, director, marketer, entrepreneur.

In small dance companies throughout the country, Artistic Directors are creating budgets, writing grants, securing performance spaces, managing payrolls, commissioning costume designers and composers and lighting designers, renting rehearsal space, proofing press releases, managing ticket sales. This is its own compositional process. Many choreographers start companies with the intention of having the freedom to make their own dances, but what these artistic directors are truly choreographing is the entire performance experience.

A dance company is not so different than a commodity. A company owner is compelled to become entrepreneurial with her product. Just because a dance company is a not-for-profit entity does not mean it's not a business.

As funding for all sectors of the arts is being squeezed, dance company directors are forced to apply their artistic creativity to actionable business models. There are deeply entrenched ideas about how dance companies function. It often seems that in order to retain artistic control and market share, one must necessarily avoid fraternizing with the competition.

But has the status quo been optimizing the resources and creativity of dance companies throughout the city, and even the country?

The answer, for the founders of the strategic partnership known as FlySpace Dance Consortium, is no.

FlySpace is an umbrella arts organization formed among four leading Chicago contemporary dance companies. FlySpace is comprised of Jan Bartoszek of Hedwig Dances, Margi Cole of The Dance COLEctive, Michelle Kranicke of Zephyr Dance and Joanna Rosenthal of Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre. The groundbreaking model allows the companies to pool resources and have a common strategy for marketing. The collaboration, while navigating uncharted waters, offers the potential for replication in other regions and across other art forms. With innovation and cooperation, perhaps the administrative shackles can be loosened just a little and artists can have just a bit more time for their artmaking.

Along with the novel business arrangement, FlySpace also hopes to take advantage of technological resources that are often underutilized in the performing arts. With the advent and proliferation of social media, content is democratized in a way never before seen. Audiences of performance art have historically been passive consumers. Companies and organizations that learn to engage and converse with their audiences over these new mediums have the potential to empower audiences to become personally invested in the work. Audience feedback sparks discourse and the experience of the performance remains alive outside the confines of the performance space.

As the world evolves, the relationship between artist and audience becomes more complex but also more personal. A piece of art is no longer a monologue, but rather an invitation to dialogue. The quaint vignette of the flighty, starving artist working in isolation is a relic of another time and place. To do the work of art takes incredible intelligence, ingenuity, commitment, organization and tenacity -- but the artist also knows that the audience is an integral ingredient to the final product.