Photo by Max S. Gerber

“Art schools are fabulous but don’t address the issue that artists need to be self-employed,” says businesswoman Judith Luther-Wilder, who two years ago co-founded the Center for Cultural Innovation, a nonprofit corporation that focuses on the financial and business needs of artists ( “I realized that most artists had limited experience as business people. They don’t know how to negotiate or price their work.”

Nearly 2,000 actors, dancers, filmmakers, writers, sculptors and painters are currently enrolled in the Little Tokyo–based center, which offers access to attorneys, scholarships, medical and travel benefits, and collateralized loans up to $30,000. “Artists are almost a part of an underground economy,” notes Luther-Wilder. “If you say you are an artist, you have a fat chance of getting a loan.”

Luther-Wilder, who headed the city of Long Beach’s Cultural Affairs Department in the 1980s and was the executive director of the 1990 L.A. Festival, has also rallied around women’s issues in Third World countries. In Cambodia, she helped set up an entrepreneurial program for women and amputees. In 1995, she founded Women Inc., a national organization that provided around 30,000 women entrepreneurs with access to capital to start up or expand their businesses.

“I think that women haven’t had a level playing field in any industry, and it has also been true of artists. I realize my life must sound fragmented, but in reality my involvement in the arts, Third World issues and women’s issues has been natural and fluid,” says Luther-Wilder. “Every action we take has an impact we can’t predict and may lead us down paths we didn’t plan to take. Who we become is a result of all these interesting and seemingly unrelated journeys.”

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