Tax advisor, entrepreneur, and Jamaica, Queens resident Ricardo Bentham discusses his experience serving as an art producer for the Artist Commissioning Program. Ricardo talked with our Artist Commissioning Program Coordinator, Kelly Olshan, about experiencing the creative process and using his skills to become a resource for arts practitioners. For more about Ricardo, you can check out his full bio here.
Kelly: Tell us about yourself. What is your connection to Queens, and what made you want to become an art producer?
Ricardo: I am proud to say I’ve been a resident of Queens for the last 39 years. It’s where I’ve built my business and raised my children. Being a resident of an underserved community in Queens, originally, I didn’t believe I could make a life in the neighborhood. I thought it was necessary to be corporate, but Queens taught me entrepreneurship.
This community showed me that small businesses in the neighborhood are mainstream, to us, in the same way corporate America is. It provides the resources for my livelihood. My roots are planted in Queens. I’m a part of the fabric of Queens and I embrace that wonderful mosaic. Queens has produced a lot of excellent artists and I’ve always been inspired by what this community can produce. Art opens up the joy in people and allows me to see life through someone else’s eyes.
When my two daughters were younger, they participated in a traveling dance company, KECDE. They performed all over Queens and all over the country. The time that I spent with them at their performances and developing fundraising strategies for the group gave me the opportunity to bring my business expertise to their art form—for me, it was the beginning of having these two worlds collide.
Becoming an art producer gave me the same opportunity to help these artists with the business aspects of their creativity. It was important for me to have a window into the other side of the business to better understand the creative process.
Kelly: As an accountant and an entrepreneur, how have you used your skill sets to assist the program’s artists?
Ricardo: As an accountant and entrepreneur, I’ve had some clients over the span of my career who have been artists. I’ve served as an agent for the artists in their business endeavors. I want to ensure that they are adequately represented and have protected their interests and the work that they produce.
With the Artist Commissioning Program’s artists, my goal is to help them understand the financial process. It may include budgeting, staying in compliance, working with the IRS, bookkeeping, and payroll. I want the artists to know that the work they produce has value and it can produce money; thus, it must be treated as business.
Kelly: You’ve been instrumental in helping put on arts programming in Jamaica, Queens. What was it like to work with an artist in this way, and did you learn anything about the creative process in doing so?
Ricardo: Working with the artists has been a wonderful and reflective experience. It’s been helpful in making a connection with experiences I had with my children in the past and how impactful art and dance was on my children’s lives. Through working with this program, I’ve learned that art has helped me be an involved parent and supportive of my children and their endeavors.
I’ve also really enjoyed seeing and being consumed by another person’s reality through working with the artists during their creative process. It has been interesting to watch them paint their reality and make it into art that entertains people. I’ve been utterly impressed by these artists’ creativity. I envy being able to make the connections they do. My mind works differently than the artists I’ve worked with. For me, I’m very literal: if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. But artists aren’t limited in that way; they have ingenuity, originality, and imagination.
Kelly: What projects are you working on now?
Ricardo: Queens Council on the Arts' Artist Commissioning Program and Tax Season 2018!