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The WORK of ART: In An Arts Town, Most Artists Still Need Second Jobs

Lots of artists know that feeling. Friends and family don't understand their careers. Determination looks desperate from a distance.

Tredent, who stands 6 feet tall, never doubted herself. She never stopped singing. She never forgot the way she felt in her first opera.

"When it hits you, there's no words for it -- you just know," she says. "This is my destiny. It sounds cheesy, but that's how I feel."

More realistic education Aaron Dworkin, a professor of arts leadership and entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan, believes arts education needs a reality check.

Even at the college level, the odds are against arts students, especially for the dream jobs that everyone wants. A vast majority will never play for a major orchestra, never appear on a Broadway stage, and never see their work in a famous gallery.

Harsh, but true, and something young artists need to hear.

"The thing that frustrates me is that these realities are all known," Dworkin says. "Yet they are not told." He tells students that it's much more likely they will get an arts-related job that requires communication, cooperation and management skills. He recommends coursework in innovation, entrepreneurship and career-building.

More and more universities and arts institutions are turning in this academic direction.

Standing in the way are centuries of tradition, not to mention some of the most powerful forces in human nature. Students follow dreams of work and sacrifice that lead to fame and fortune. Teachers try so hard to encourage young artists that they worry about discouraging them with unpleasant truths.

Dworkin was a classical violinist who earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Michigan. As an undergrad, he founded the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit for the development of young black and Latino musicians.

This was about the time he had his own epiphany.

He was not destined to become America's next great violin soloist. And that was OK. He would build a career as an arts educator, administrator and entrepreneur.

When Dworkin faces students today, he tries to be realistic yet encouraging.

"Go for it, absolutely," he tells them. "But know the reality."

Clucking 'Happy Birthday' Few actors start out in Sarasota -- there's not enough work -- but many struggle in New York and Los Angeles before landing on the Gulf Coast. Some come to earn master's degrees in theater at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.

Summer Dawn Wallace, co-founder of the Urbanite Theatre, is a Conservatory grad who lived the life of a young actress. She did odd jobs. She did odder jobs.

"I was a cheese demonstrator at Walmart," Wallace says. "I did singing telegrams -- dressed up as a chicken, clucked out 'Happy Birthday,' and laid eggs."

Even when she did land a theater role, it didn't last.

"I did a tour in Singapore and it was amazing," she says. "Then I didn't work for 10 months."

Her Asolo classmate and Urbanite co-founder, Brendan Ragan, helped start a theater in Baltimore with drama friends from college. He worked day jobs to pay his bills.

"I was a matchmaker for a year," Ragan says. "I applied for a customer service job and, being an actor, I did really well in the interview, and I wound up getting a job I was wholly unqualified for. And it was terrible.

"I'm way too much of a feeler. The memberships were super-expensive and all of these people were angry and single and taking it out on me. I went home every night with the burdens of these people on my shoulders."

Ragan and Wallace laugh. It's easy to laugh now. At the time, it was less funny and more painful.

"As a young artist, as a young actor, doors slam in your face constantly," Wallace says. "You have to decide if it's worth it."

Tips for a dancer/waitress Mary Allison performs with Sarasota Contemporary Dance. She teaches dance to children at the Woodland Fine Arts Academy. And she waits tables at Bonefish Grill.

Sometimes the 30-year-old does all of these things in a single day.

"Yesterday, I felt like a zombie," she says. "If I can schedule a nap in between, I will."

When Allison moved to Sarasota, she was married. All of her jobs were dance-related, even if some of them didn't pay very well. She kept busy and earned a reputation in the dance community.

Then she got divorced and life changed.

Dance didn't pay her bills. Debts mounted. She got a retail job at the mall, which she hated, and then became a waitress.

"That was really hard for me -- hard for my ego," she says. "I felt I had to prove I could make it just through my field. So this was like a huge reality check and wake-up call. You know, how am I going to survive?"

Allison is from Niceville. Her family would like to have her back in the Panhandle, but she's committed to the Gulf Coast and Sarasota.

"Art is really valued here, and it isn't everywhere," she says. "Not where I'm from."

Working and performing have helped teach Allison time management and discipline.

This year, she decided to give up coffee, television and staying up late at night. She's grown more interested in yoga, vegetarianism and nutrition.

Allison would like to teach full-time, while continuing to perform, but doesn't know if that will happen for her.

"I have thought, 'What is my life going to look like in five years?'" she says. "And my mind can't go there. I can't determine what's going to be in my future."

'Classic snakes and sparklers' Ralston, the Main Street tattoo artist, has long hair and a full beard, but his glasses make him look less like a hipster and more like a sci-fi nerd.

His cargo shorts and T-shirts reveal the ink on his own arms and legs. His tats are mostly traditional designs. "Skulls, demons and all that," he says. "The classic snakes and sparklers."

He laughs at his own joke.

"It's from a movie," he explains. "'Joe Dirt.'"

Ralston studied art in high school and college, but never had a career plan. Freelance work and fate led him to tattoo art. He started out as an apprentice.

"It's a bigger learning curve than I thought it would be," he says. "Every skin is different, every body is different. There's a lot of adjustment with it."

Not just the medium was new.

Like so many artists, Ralston was uncomfortable negotiating terms with bosses and prices with clients. He made mistakes and tried not to repeat them.

"It's hard learning the business aspect of this," he says. "How not to get beat up on price. When to stand your ground. Trying to get what you're worth."

Ralston charges $150 an hour, but that's only time with an ink gun in his hand. Concepts and preliminary sketches are on his own dime.

Working at Oddity Tattoo helped him build a client list. His girlfriend helped him create a website. He promotes his work on Facebook and Instagram.

Ralston doesn't dream of opening his own shop one day. Too much hassle. He does respect artists who can manage a business while continuing to create.

"These people, they live for this, they live for their art," he says. "The people who can balance it out, those are the people I admire. They're doing it right."

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