Visual artists realize selling work isn’t just about talent
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve finished art school. People even say you’re talented. So why aren’t your paintings selling?
Art education doesn’t often include business education, say some local artists. It’s an issue that’s just starting to be addressed.
“A lot of artists need to realize they are small businesses,” Judy Rigmont, NH State Council on the Arts community arts coordinator, said. The Council started offering workshops a year ago.
“We were just amazed. There were artists who were fairly professional but didn’t know how to promote themselves. We didn’t want to see artists be out of the race, so to speak,” Rigmont said. The workshop series runs September through May with sessions on approaching galleries, pricing work, marketing via Web sites, copyright law, and finding grants and affordable work and living space. The workshops can only accommodate 30 people, Rigmont said. The Council added a second Web site workshop because 55 people wanted to sign up.
This isn’t a new need. Both the Council and artists recognized it, but with much of the department’s annual funding levels frozen for 20 years, there wasn’t enough staff, Rigmont said. As a solution, the Council partnered with MicroCredit NH, which is running two upcoming sessions.
Approaching galleries and marketing are some of the things young artists often don’t know how to do, said Sid Ceaser, a 2004 graduate of the New Hampshire Institute of Art and new City Arts Nashua executive director. The lack of business savvy could in part be due to art schools’ not emphasizing it enough, he said. “We had very light, light business classes. I can’t say it’s still the same,” he said. “But I think there could be more preparing you, business-wise.”
“As an artist myself, had I been taught these skills, I would have been much better prepared for the shock and surprise that happened when I got my first tax return,” said Jessica Kinsey, NHIA’s director of development. NHIA has offered a bachelor’s degree for ten years, and this is probably the third year that the college has required seniors to take a “Professional Artist” course, she said. The college brings in speakers to cover tax requirements and accounting, marketing, public speaking and presenting work to galleries and corporations, copyright law, grant writing and fellowships.
Not all students immediately begin to work solo when they graduate from NHIA, Kinsey said. Some work in design jobs, where there’s more exposure to business skills. Some head to graduate school.
Working artists can take advantage of MicroCredit’s Artworks NH, which started in 2001 with a mission to help artists and creative companies develop business skills, network and access loans up to $15,000, said Jennifer Murphy Aubin, southeast regional manager for MicroCredit and ArtWorks NH.
ArtWorks has 400 artists in 60 networking groups mainly on the seacoast, as well as in the Lakes region and Keene. Murphy Aubin has recently received inquiries from the Manchester and Nashua area.
The mechanics of what a business is and how to make it profitable are the same for any small enterprise, Murphy Aubin said.
“However, we did recognize artists might need to be in the company of other artists,” she said, so they can test out ideas on those in their industry. “Also, it can be very frustrating when you’re operating in isolation,” she said. ArtWorks NH offers an annual day of learning in the fall.
“I think in an ideal world we’d all focus on things we’re particularly passionate about,” Murphy Aubin said, but making a living requires a few more skills. There are systems artists can put in place, goals they can set as a business plan. “It is eye-opening for a lot of the artists,” she said.
Marketing isn’t just important so artists can support themselves. A thriving art scene can attract tourists or bring people downtown. If artists can’t support themselves, the rest of the economy can suffer, Rigmont said.
With little funding to offer services, Rigmont works hard to connect artists with other resources or solutions.