The starving artist trope has haunted the creative community for too long. Ad Summit aims to put an end to this.

Hosted this past Saturday at the University of Toronto Mississauga, the second annual Ad Summit conference educated students about the creative opportunities available to them and how they can pursue art as a career rather than a hobby. This year’s theme is “The Well-Fed Artist” and the goal is to communicate that art can be a profitable and fulfilling career.

The conference featured talks by industry professionals along with interactive workshops that explore these careers such as SEO and copywriting. Ad Summit also partnered with Miami Ad School Toronto to host an advertising competition and the finalists presented their proposals to a panel of judges.

Domenic Lisi, the art director at “Cruel” and the keynote speaker at this conference, shared his own journey as a Toronto artist. Lisi remembered his doubts about pursuing a creative career as a student and how lost he was about his future at the end of his fourth year at Queens University. His speech expressed that while hard work and persistence are necessary to move further in the arts, success is more accessible than it seems. The key is to recognize that for a career in creativity, skills aren’t enough.

“You need to build a brand and show it off,” he advised. That means that you market yourself, build a portfolio, and do whatever work you can. He recounts the hours of work he did for free and how that’s helped him become successful in the industry. No matter how insignificant or unprofitable the job seems, it’s worth it if it helps build your portfolio.

The competition proposals followed Lisi’s speech. The four final teams presented ideas for advertising campaigns to promote Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico. The proposals employed social media and consumer insights to present creative solutions that inspire curiosity.

Tara Magloire, Runda Dong, and Hayley McOstrich judged the competition and were featured as the panelists later in the conference. Magloire is an art director at Rethink Toronto. This agency has worked with a range of brands such as Ikea, Shaw Communications, A&W, Wonder, and WestJet. Runda Dong and Hayley McOstrich work for Leo Burnett, as art director and copywriter, respectively. Leo Burnett’s clients include Samsung, McDonalds, Coca Cola, P&G, and General Motors. They shared their experiences within the industry and demystified these career paths.

The workshops—“The World of SEO” and “Copywriting Ins & Outs” —operated in a similar vein. Led by professionals currently working in the industry, they provided students with relevant knowledge and an interactive experience. “The Struggling Artist Discussion” focused on how the trope has influenced young artists and cut their creative careers short. Many don’t recognize the financial potential in their creativity, or they don’t know how to translate a self-taught skill into a marketable product.

Although we’re constantly surrounded by advertising and the products of creative work, there is still a misconception that one must sacrifice financial stability in order to work as a creative. Art makes money and that may be uncomfortable to hear, but this discussion is necessary.

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