Navigating the business of The Arts

Most artists spend a lifetime perfecting their craft. But whether someone is an actor, singer, dancer, writer, designer, or painter, he or she may not be completely comfortable in maneuvering the business side of the arts.

Longtime arts administrator Julie Hennrikus decided to do something about that. She recently launched, a broad-reaching online arts administration school built especially for artists.

After working for 30 years in arts administration, and 10 years teaching at Emerson, BC and BU, Hennrikus had seen that a lack of business acumen was impeding artists from developing a smooth pathway to career success.

Your Ladders study sessions focus on finance, marketing, developing business plans, budgeting, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a clear vision.

Born in Duxbury, she moved to Maryland in her teens and returned to Massachusetts to study at Boston University. After graduating, she worked for several of Boston’s smaller commercial theaters in box office and house management positions before turning to assisting with exhibition shows at the Museum of Fine Arts as well as the renowned Mapplethorpe show at the ICA.

Next, she was hired by Harvard University to create and manage the box office for the iconic Sanders Theatre where her expertise led to her promotion as programming manager. A position as general manager and director of marketing for Emerson Stage came next.

Most recently, Hennrikus served as executive director of StageSource, a nonprofit providing leadership and services to empower the Greater Boston arts community to realize its greatest potential.

In addition to her arts work, she’s also a successful mystery writer under the pen names Julianne Holmes (“The Clock Shop Mystery” series), J. A. Hennrikus (“The Theater Cop” series) and Julia Henry, whose new “Garden Squad” series launches shortly with “Pruning The Dead.”
We spoke recently about Your Ladders and her writing career. Here’s an edited look at our chat.

Q. What sparked you to create Your Ladders?
A. I was teaching - and still am teaching - arts administration. And when I talked to my former students, they all said, “Julie, the best class you taught me was Excel, not because I loved doing spreadsheets because I was afraid of them. And it wasn’t until after I took the class that I understood how I could use them.” So I thought about that, and I thought about how many people are graduating from arts programs without any business classes. They don’t understand how the business works.

Q. How do you see your role?
A. In the performing arts, my role has been of service to the artist. This is a continuation of that role. I want to help artists do their work. And I really want to help the grass roots, the solo practitioners, and the small and fringe companies who are really trying to figure this out.

Q. What can a Your Ladders student expect online?
A. Each class has four modules, and there are video lessons in each module with worksheets. They’re short lessons. I don’t know about other people, but me sitting through a half hour video is not where I live . . . People can go through them at their own pace . . . You can do them all at once, or you can go back and redo them . . . If I change things or I add things, you’ll have access to that, too. It’s a self-paced class.

Q. In terms of your own writing, how did you get started in mysteries?
A. I was writing short stories and things, and they were boring! (Laughing) I was talking to somebody and she said, “Every time you tell me about what you’re reading, you’re reading a mystery. Why aren’t you writing a mystery?” So I dropped a body in the beginning of my boring short story and all of a sudden it became less boring. And I found my mystery writing community . . . It took me a long time, about 15 years to get published. But in 2015 I was published, and by the end of 2019 I will have had 7 published books in three different series.

Q. Your pen name for The Clock Shop series is Holmes. Was that a tip of the hat to Sherlock?
A. Everyone thinks that. I wish I had been that clever, but no, it’s a family name. My father’s mother. Her father was from Scotland and her mother was from Ireland. She’s a Holmes. So it’s a tip to her.

Q. As a working writer, you know first hand both the challenges and joys of being creative.
A. This is part of why I decided to do what I’m doing now. Being a writer is curious and creative and wonderful and hard - and almost impossible to make a living at. The difference between being a writer and being a performing artist is that, as a writer, if someone keeps buying “Clock Shop” books, I’m going to make money. It exists beyond me . . . When you’re a performing artist, not only do you have all the other challenges of being a creative person in our culture . . . but you’ve also got one shot. If you’re running a show for three weeks, you’ve got 15 performances to build up an audience and get people to come.Otherwise the opportunity is gone.

Q. You’ve said that the arts and artists are just what we need right now to make the world a better place.
A. Our culture isn’t supporting the arts at all. There’s a belief that because artists have joy in their work and in their lives that they don’t deserve to get paid for it.

Q. Yet the work of artists lasts for generations and serves to define our culture.
A. And makes people better citizens and better human beings . . . That’s why I’m excited about Your Ladders. A year ago this wasn’t even a pipe dream . . . but I had a spark of inspiration last spring and here I am!

R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of
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