Project Management For Artists – Part I

Gantt Chart for an Artist Project

The most important step in any project is to determine the major tasks to be completed – by when, by who and how much

Artists and creative professionals live and thrive in a world of projects. Projects can be large or small, last from weeks to even years and involve only the artist or a multitude of people. Whatever your project, you need to be efficient in managing your projects as this will have a big impact on your bottom line.

Most art projects start with some kind of deadline when a work needs to be delivered to a client or to meet a show opening date. Project management will help you identify and schedule all of the steps or activities that need to be accomplished for a project to meet its deadlines. Meeting your deadlines is a key ingredient in your art business brand, so don’t take your commitments lightly. Remember: It is better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver!

A project differs from day to day activities such as doing the books or sweeping the floors in that projects are typically unique and are temporary in nature. A project may take weeks, months or even years to complete. Some projects may involve creating and showing your art while other projects may involve more mundane things like installing a new accounting system or upgrading your studio and facilities. If your project involves a fair amount of time and resources, people working together and timing then project management tools and techniques can help you.

Some of the projects you will probably encounter in your art business include:

  • Completing a customer commission
  • An art installation or gallery opening
  • Creating a public art work
  • A new direction for a body of work
  • A film or video project
  • Buying and installing new equipment
  • Building or remodeling your studio or facilities
  • Building a website
  • Installing an accounting or other business systems

Project management challenges

If you have managed an art project such as a major show or installation you know that project management is a lot like juggling many balls in the air. There are many things to keep track of and you are always planning your next move. When you are learning to juggle, the more you practice the easier it becomes, the same holds for managing a project. Some of the challenges every project manager faces are:

Planning the project

  • Putting together the project planning team
  • Determining the scope and objectives of the project
  • Determining project due date and major milestones to be accomplished
  • Indentifying the major components or activities that make up the project
  • Determining the necessary people, materials and supplies for the project
  • Developing a project schedule
  • Developing a project budget

Managing and completing the project

  • Organizing the project to make sure that the proper people, materials and supplies are available when needed
  • Measuring planned progress with actual progress
  • Making sure the project stays within its original scope and budget
  • Managing and maintaining quality
  • Taking corrective action to make sure project deadlines are met

Developing a project schedule

The most important tool in managing any project is developing a schedule or plan for your project. There are many tools available to help you create a project schedule. If your project is not too complex or has only a few activities you could just use a sheet of paper or calendar. As your project becomes more complex and involves more people and resources, it may be hard to keep track of all of the things you need to.

A project schedule will tell you:

  • What activities you need to accomplish
  • When these activities need to be started and completed
  • How long these activities will take
  • Who will be responsible for each activity
  • How much you have budgeted for each activity
  • Your overall project progress with regard to time and budget

The bottom line(s)…

An artist’s life and business consists of projects. Making sure that deadlines are met requires that projects be actively managed and monitored. A well managed project will allow you to meet client expectations, keep surprises to a minimum and be more profitable. In Managing Projects Part II I will take a look at a simple yet powerful project management tool – the Gantt Chart and how you can apply it to managing projects in your art business. If you would like to learn more about building your art business and selling more art I invite you to check out my book – The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox. Good Luck!


Neil McKenzie is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver where he teaches “Marketing the Arts”.

Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto