How to use Excel in your art business

Using Excel in your arts administration:

Arts Administration – for many artists it’s the side of their practice they’d rather not think about, but in our economic culture it’s an integral aspect of any successful Art Business. Luckily with the advent of technology, we have tools at our disposal that can help us manage this side quickly and easily.

Spreadsheet applications like Excel are my favourite way to manage the administration of art – in fact I consider it an artform in itself. The beauty of Excel for me is the simplicity of its function, and its ability to be manipulated to perform various tasks.

How to use Excel: The Basic Theory

Quite simply, Excel is a sheet of rectangles, or cells, into which information can be entered. This information can be two types:

  • Data
    • Words
    • Numbers
  • Instructions involving other cells
    • Total the list above
    • Calculate the total price times the number of items
    • Add up the total hours worked for each day

So it can be used either as a database or a spreadsheet. What do these terms mean?

A database is a record of information that can be maintained and sorted through easily. Some examples of how artists could use a database are:

  • Using Excel as a Contact list
    • A mailing list of people to invite to exhibitions or performances
    • A list of contact people in the industry
    • A list of possible venues to stage events in
    • A list of galleries that can be sorted by the area they are in or the styles they show
    • A list of annual competitions that can be sorted by area or genre
  • Catalogues of works
  • Timetables for events

For example, here’s a database for galleries you may approach for exhibitions:

 

Galleries in Melbourne

name

suburb

painting

sculpture

photography

contact

email

Star Gallery Sunshine

x

x

Bill a@b.com
Moon Gallery Blackburn

x

x

Sam c@d.com
Ocean Gallery Fitzroy

x

x

Judy e@f.com

Using this database we can then use Excel to sort a list of all the galleries in a certain suburb, or which medium they exhibit. And you have the contact details recorded for easy retrieval. And as you discover new galleries, you can add them to the list as you go and have a comprehensive list to draw from.

A spreadsheet like a blackboard with rows and columns marked to create rectangles where they intersect. You choose what the rows and columns mean, whether they are some data or an instruction. Some examples of how artists could use a spreadsheet are:

Using Excel to keep track of costs of a project:

  • the budget for a project
  • time slot calculations for events
  • ticket pricing for events

For example, you may want to work out the budget for an art project. You would make the columns represent the cost of an item and the rows represent each item:

 

 

Arts project budget

projected cost

actual cost

materials

paint

cost

cost

brushes

cost

cost

spray compressor hire

cost

cost

total materials

total above

total above

admin

wages

cost

cost

contractors

cost

cost

studio rent

cost

cost

transport costs

cost

cost

total admin

total above

total above

total budget

materials plus admin

materials plus admin

 

We can use this for the projected budget and then the actual budget on the same page, so we can compare how accurate the projections are. You can see that we also have two sections, materials and admin. This could be any number of sections, depending on how complicated your project is – an arts festival might have sections on venue hire, technical services, equipment hire, admin, volunteer expenses, commissions…

The purple boxes are where you would enter the data, as mentioned at the start. The green squares are where you would enter instructions, in this case the sum of all the costs in the list above. The orange squares would also contain an instruction, but this time it would be the sum of the two green squares above, to add up the cost of the materials plus the cost of the admin.

 

 

Arts project budget

projected cost

actual cost

materials

paint

10

20

brushes

20

15

spray compressor hire

180

180

total materials

210

215

admin

wages

180

270

contractors

400

400

studio rent

360

360

transport costs

40

75

total admin

980

1105

total budget

1190

1320

 

The beauty of using a spreadsheet to calculate budgets is that once you have all the cells programmed, any changes you make to the cost of an item will automatically alter the total figures. The project can be planned with a budget limit in mind, making the job of projecting a budget quicker and easier – you can see the effect of the changes in the total immediately.

These are just a couple of simple examples of how to use Excel to make the process of managing your art quicker and easier. I’ve also used it in events to create colour-coded timetables, in corporate administration to extract accounting information from reports and even in classical music composition to calculate musical pitches from manipulations of formulas.

It can be a really useful tool and well worth a small effort to familiarise yourself with it.

If you don’t want to go to the extent of purchasing Excel there is a wonderful Open Source Program called Calc that is part of the Libre Office Suite.

Clicking on the logos below will take  you to their respective official websites so you can download the program.

 

 

For more great resources on running a successful Art Business see our resources page here….

3 Comments

  1. A good article by Scott who has demonstrated in easy to understand terms how an Excel spreadsheet can assist your art business to the next level and very efficiently. As he mentioned, alot of creatives (including myself) would prefer not to have to deal with this side of their business. But with the user friendly nature and power of an Excel spreadsheet, once the raw data is entered and sorted the cross referencing abilities can be very effective and added to when you need. Aside from that, if you’re like me using the function Ctl + F (Control Find) could very well be your best friend in Excel!

  2. I use Excel to cost my art jewelry and I like that I have complete control over the functions (math), size of columns/rows and can add an image. I also use Excel to log the galleries I contact. I sort by state to make it easier and color code after I’ve contacted them for easy reference (red is NO and green is YES then another color for “not yet but keep sending them info”).

    I think it’s also important for an artist to FILE their reports neatly (by season/year or project/collection) so they are easy to find.

    Thanks for the information!

    1. It’s so easy to lose track of your notes, ideas and contacts that having a neat and tidy Spreadsheet where you can find everything easily really makes running a business easier.

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