Becoming a nonprofit organization is a form of incorporation. The process of obtaining your 501(c)(3) status is the same for an arts organization as it is for any other nonprofit organizations. You must be incorporated as a nonprofit organization before applying to the IRS for 501(c)(3) status.
The actual process of incorporation varies from state to state and takes some time because it requires approval from certain state agencies. It is a good idea to receive legal advice when considering any issues of incorporation.