It is well known that business acumen and creative sensibilities don't always coexist in the same person. In fact, these two things are often strange bedfellows. Most performers are more oriented toward creative expression and consider business – whether marketing, promotion or legal issues – one of the most dreaded parts of choosing a career in the arts.
For artists in Tennessee, however, there's a resource that provides exactly the support many musicians lack. The nonprofit Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville lends a helping hand so creatives – ranging from musicians to visual artists to everything in between – can focus more on what they are passionate about.
“We exist to provide educational resources and opportunity that artists need to survive and have a sustainable career,” summarized ABC Nashville Executive Director Jill McMillan Palm.
Funded primarily by donations and corporate sponsorships, what McMillan Palm calls the "flagship" program of ABC Nashville consists of volunteer lawyers and other professionals who provide pro-bono legal assistance. This includes things vital to artists, such as contract review, contract creation, intellectual property questions, etc.
“We think of ourselves as the fuel for the creative engine,” she explained.
“We want to make sure all the administrative, legal and business end is taken care of so they [artists] can focus on the creative process.”
McMillan Palm said she has "dabbled" in music, dance, and theater herself in the past, but since she studied business in school, she found herself in an art career that was more behind the scenes instead of in the limelight. It was a perfect fit that aligned with something she has always been passionate about.
“I’ve been a lover of the arts my entire life,” she said. “I realized I could be that person behind the scenes that helps artists make their art happen.”
Just as she gives huge amounts of time to ABC Nashville, she said artists can also join her in helping to create a support community. In addition to taking advantage of what the nonprofit offers, participants can also give back through the organization. In a sense, they can pay it forward when it comes to goodwill.
“We have opportunities all the time through our education programs, especially for musicians, to lend their expertise,” McMillan Palm said.
She specifically highlighted mentorship of other musicians, participation in expert panels, and speaking opportunities. ABC Nashville also offers an “Arts Board Matching Program,” which she said, “trains folks to be good nonprofit board members if they’re interested in serving on an arts board. We want to be the hub for creatives in the Greater Nashville area.”
That being said, the geography covered by this group isn't strict; ABC Nashville also helps connect artists to legal and business resources and opportunities in more rural communities with less accessibility and in places such as Memphis and Chattanooga.
Every May, the organization puts on its biggest fundraiser event to support the charity's volunteer lawyers. The "Arts Immersion" event includes pop-up performances, a silent auction, "local fare and lively libations," and more.
McMillan Palm said while many charities faced hard times during the pandemic, the opposite happened here; the downtime caused many artists to re-evaluate the level of support they required, and those who believed in the mission saw, even more, the need for the work ABC Nashville does.
"We really kicked it into high gear during the pandemic," she said, explaining how they grew from having just two full-time staff members in 2017 to a staff of six full-time employees, one part-time, and several additional contractors. McMillan Palm said collectively, they serve approximately 8,000 artists and arts administrators annually.
“I hope we are serving in the right way,” she said, “and serving in the way artists need.”
If the success and growth of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville is any indication, what this group is striving for is precisely what Nashville-area creatives need.