Making It Work: The Business of Art

Charlotte creatives discuss how they live and survive as artists

By Alicia Benjamin

Creativity takes courage. That’s what Henri Matisse, one of the most famous painters of the 20th century, said. And his contemporary and friend Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist.” The problem, he said, is “how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

The reasons for that are surely multifaceted and vary for each child. But what about those who remain artists or return to their passions somewhere along the way? Perhaps Matisse is right — they’ve got courage and will do whatever else it takes to make it work.

These Charlotte creatives —  actor Tracie Frank, podcasters Roderick (Rod) and Karen Morrow, and vocalist and visual artist Tanya Templeton — are courageously making their living as artists.

Tracie Frank /

Actor Tracie Frank started her acting journey when she started taking acting classes and performed in a local theater production. She quit her job in 2015 and dedicated her time to pursuing her professional acting career.

“I booked my first commercial that May, so I guess that commercial booking marked my first professional (paying) gig!” she said.

It was her pursuit of voiceover work that led Frank to explore into acting. Her voiceover coach said acting classes would help improve her voiceover technique. “But I have to admit,” Frank said, “acting became the bigger priority for me! I’ve wanted to be an actor as long as I can remember, so it felt like I was finally doing what I was meant to do when I started taking those classes.”

Although she said she has done some work for free in the past, she’s less likely to do so now. “In the early days, I was happy to do it” she said. I also did lots of student films — for the experience, to build my resume, and to get some footage for my reel!” She said any free work she does now would be for passion projects or work with her actor friends, when she’s available.

In addition to her work as a professional actor, Frank is also a voiceover performer and coach. She has appeared in such films as “The Angry Girl and Her Monster,” which was shot in Charlotte; “Dopesick,” starring Michael Keaton and Uzo Aduba; “The Hill, starring Dennis Quaid; and many more projects.

Frank consistently books work as a voiceover actor and coach, and that work has helped to fund her home studio, she said. Frank’s agents find on-camera, and national and international voiceover work for her. “They’re amazing and have given me opportunities well beyond what I could have found myself,” Frank said.  

She supports herself entirely with the money she earns as an actor and voiceover performer, she added. “And frankly, I’m very proud of that!” she said. “I remember the people who laughed when I made the decision to pursue my dream. Yet here I am. I’m very proud and very grateful.”

Rod and Karen Morrow  /     

Husband and wife podcasters Roderick (Rod) and Karen Morrow have been producing their comedy podcast “The Black Guy Who Tips” for 15 years from their home in Charlotte. Four or five days a week, the two muse on various topics and issues from the news of the day to random cultural issues.

It was Rod’s idea to start the podcast, but Karen has been his cohost from the beginning. “We’re like 3,000 plus episodes in and there’s never been episode without me on it.,” Karen said.

The couple decided to monetize the “The Black Guy Who Tips” about nine years ago when Rod was laid off from his job. That’s when the state cut the maximum time people could collect unemployment payments to six months and also capped the payments at $350 per week. “Imagine trying to make that work,” said Rod.

Karen continues to work her day job in accounting. “Maybe it’s just being Black in America to be like, ‘Well, you always got to have a backup plan type of thing if something goes wrong,’” Karen said.

Rod handles the technical and day-to-day tasks for the podcast. “That’s part of the partnership of being married and being working partners on this thing. That’s just to balance out the work so that Karen isn’t basically working two jobs all the time — even though she still puts in a lot of work for the podcast,” he added. “I want to make it so that she can just show up, be her bright self and be funny.”

Rod also worked as a writer for the “Game Theory with Bomani Jones” TV series and the podcast “Drapetomaniax: Unshackled History” with Michael Harriot. Rod also appears at least once a week on the Karen Hunter Show, a SiriusXM radio show.

Several companies have also advertised on the “The Black Guy Who Tips. Rod said, “We used to spend a lot of time pursuing advertisers, but it’s very hard for black podcast to get advertisers.”

For several years, the podcast has been bringing in enough money for the couple to live on – outside of Karen’s salary, Rod said.  “If something happened and we had to just strictly make money off of being podcasters and nothing else — we can make that work and still maintain our life right now.”

Audience members can donate once, monthly, or become paid premium subscribers to “The Black Guy Who Tips.”

Kenya Templeton / Instagram: @kenya_templeton_does

Kenya Templeton has been singing since she was a child but began performing professionally in 2013.

When she was a North Carolina State University student, Templeton sang with New Horizons, an African American choir, and played the upright bass for a community orchestra.

She quit performing during her junior year, but it wasn’t until local performer Quentin Talley encouraged her to sing at a jazz show at Petra’s Bar that she started performing again. “I had nary intention to sing in public. I only sang at that jazz jam as a dare by my friend, Wendy,” Templeton said.

“I consider myself an energetic sound curator. If you ever see me sing the way I honestly desire,” she said, “I often go into trances or scatting that is out of the realm of what most consider as scatting.”

Templeton also creates jewelry and wearable art. She said her design business, Griot Designs, allows her to explore her “creative tendencies.”

Last fall Templeton was awarded a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant to upgrade her mobile arts, science and Black history classroom called The Velo Griot. She also draws, paints and teaches the arts.

She performs at several venues around Charlotte, including Charlotte Shout! events, the VAPA Center, Harvey B. Gantt Center, Duke Energy Theater and other places.

Regarding the pay she receives as a vocalist, she said, “I feel that most creatives are severely underpaid. That certainly includes musicians, especially singers. … The cost of living has certainly surpassed what I make as a singer.”

Templeton said about two-thirds of her income comes from her creative endeavors. “Luckily, music is a tertiary creative practice for me at this time.” She said she continues to solidify her design, education and tour businesses.

Templeton is looking forward to what’s to come. “I’m ecstatic about what I’m getting into creatively right now. For those that have supported me for a while, I’m most grateful.”