Watch: "For artists, taking risks is a necessary motivation" | 5:14

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Sustained by risk
Keith Mays
Director of Editorial, Public Affairs Kauffman Foundation
Julie Scheidegger
Editorial Manager, Public Affairs Kauffman Foundation
Christopher Smith
Freelance Photographer

Sustained by risk

The Kauffman Foundation focuses on education, entrepreneurship, and programs that support our hometown Kansas City, so why a package of stories about the arts?

For artists, risk-taking is the oxygen that sustains them, and success isn't just measured financially. #RiskOptimistic

The Risk Optimistic

In thinking about how to best illustrate the concept of risk-taking, it became clear that no storytelling about the topic would be complete without looking to the arts.

Artists who are successful at producing work that taps into our emotions have honed their crafts through, yes, practice, but also through trying and failing, over and over again. That's a lesson that anyone, from students to business founders can learn from.

Beyond what artists can teach us about taking risks, the Kauffman Foundation recognizes how important the arts are to the vitality of a community. Even if funding of the arts is not directly within our mission, we do support Kansas City institutions such as the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, where Alexandra Wilson's dance company, Störling Dance Theater, performs Underground this week. And, through our Entrepreneurship grantmaking, we've supported Artists INC, a program of the Mid-America Arts Alliance that arms artists with the pragmatic business skills any entrepreneur needs. Both Calvin Arsenia, a singer and harpist, and Kathy Liao, a painter, have benefitted from that program.

These organizations address the foundational needs of artists, while also taking risks themselves to stage productions that might not make money, or to put up shows that could stir controversy, but also public dialogue.

For artists, risk-taking is the oxygen that sustains them, and success isn't just measured financially. By pushing themselves through their own boundaries, not only does the artist get better, but so too does the art, as new styles and techniques branch off from the tree, new ideas are explored, and things are said that no-one else is brave enough to say.

In the compelling video, above, Arsenia, Liao, and Wilson help us understand how risk is a motivating force for artists. They provide insight into how it feels to make yourself as emotionally vulnerable as their arts require, but also the excitement they get from forging new territory, embarking on journeys where the destination is unknown.

Sarah Kearn
Meet Calvin Arsenia > Calvin Arsenia
Kathy Liao
Meet Alexandra Wilson > Alexandra Wilson



"The Risk Optimistic" is about belief: the assurance that taking a chance is worthwhile, even without knowing the outcome. It’s also the belief that if we value and support risk – in policy, community, and culture – we benefit from each person's ability to make choices to achieve success. With this initiative, Kauffman kicks off 2020 with insights, stories, and opportunities to explore what it means to take risks, and own your own success, however you choose to define it.

Uncommon voices in 2019

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