Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

Art in the Dismal Economy Opportunities or Unsolvable Problems?

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” – John W. Gardner, founder of Common Cause

This quote well describes the optimist’s take on the current economic mess we find ourselves in. While even the most optimistic among us may have panicky feelings of doubt after listening to too much talk radio, examples of great art market opportunities abound. I set out to find some of the local optimists and opportunities. Here’s what I found.

Find New Opportunities or Make Them
As I spoke to artists about what they are doing to cope with economic conditions, the word “opportunity” echoed over and over again:

[I’m] “agreeing to any opportunity that arises,” says Steve Sheffield. And “I’m taking the opportunity to take a woodblock printing class and trying new subjects, colors, and mediums in my work,” he adds.

Susan Gallacher teaching in the field.

Susan Gallacher is saying “yes to the shows I’m asked to do. Also, I’m trying to be more organized about marketing, which means I have to plan earlier for better marketing opportunities.”

Do you see a pattern here?

· Be open to any and all exhibit opportunities.

· Take the opportunity to learn/practice new marketing skills.

· Find opportunities to learn and try new approaches to your art through subjects and mediums

Steve Sheffield

Don’t Assume No One is Buying
“People don’t want to give up art,” declares Sheryl Gillilan, |1|finance manager for Art Access Gallery. One could even argue that the more depressing are world events and economic numbers, the more people need to feed their souls with art that delights and moves them.

Sandi Olson reports that during the awful week back in October when the stock market took it’s biggest dip, “I sold two expensive paintings.”

Shortly after that, in the Zion’s Bank art show, Steve Sheffield sold ten paintings. “I was thrilled with the response,” he says.

Joy Nunn at Art at the Main

Joy Nunn, founding director of Art at the Main, a gallery featuring emerging Utah artists, reports that “December was one of our best months and it wasn’t just small pieces that sold.”

The lesson here seems to be: Don’t take yourself out of circulation and have a pity party; approach art marketing with confidence and optimism.

Try Novel Approaches to Marketing
Do you have an Internet presence? I don’t necessarily mean an expensive web site from which to show and sell your work. There are many inexpensive ways to use the Web to showcase your work – from low- or no-cost online galleries, to selling on eBay or Etsy. If you’ve always felt you lacked the time to explore all those possibilities because you were too busy making art, maybe now, while sales are slow, you should invest the time and effort.

· Google “online galleries” and check out the features of each.

· Ask your friend who sells on eBay to mentor you, perhaps in exchange for a piece of art.

Can’t find a gallery to exhibit your work? Create your own exhibit opportunity. The most novel approach I’ve heard about so far is Offerings: An Experiment, described as “a special kind of exhibit that gives art patrons an opportunity to set their own price for art works from five different artists.”

Participants in the February 6 event include Don ThorpeJohn Sproul, Jen Harmon Allen, Sunny Belliston, and Loggins Merrill. The experiment started with a conversation about how people would respond if the restriction of a price was removed from the art work. When art lovers arrive at the Sproul home at 1229 S. 1100 East between 6 and 10 pm on the 6th, they will be able to purchase art one of two ways, depending on the label on the piece of art. Some labels will say “pay what you can afford,” in which case the buyer can put money in an envelope and walk out with the art. Or the label will give a retail price along with “make an offer,” in which case the buyer is invited to haggle with the artist to reach a mutually acceptable price.

Thorpe says, “I’ll be really interested to see which version of the experiment works the best. Sometimes when I tell clients, ‘pay me what you think is fair,’ I’m surprised that they have paid me more than I expected.”

Do drop by and participate in the experiment, then consider your own variation.

Charley Hafen Jewelers

Find Alternative Exhibit Venues
A jewelry store and gallery? Well, why not? Charley Hafen has a deal for you. In Charley Hafen Jewelers and Gallery at 1409 S. 900 East in Salt Lake City, Hafen gives local and emerging artists an opportunity (that word again!) to exhibit and sell their work with zero commission to the gallery. According to Hafen’s publicity, “By allowing the artists to price their work for an amount that is fair and reasonable to both the art buyer and the art maker, this benefits both the art maker as well as the art buyer.”

Businesses as diverse as restaurants, architects, consultants, hospitals, and even the Utah Department of Transportation Operations Center have gallery walls for rotating art exhibits. You can find out about calls for entries in the newspaper, at http://main.artistsofutah.org, and through art associations, such as Utah Watercolor Society or Intermountain Society of Artists.

If the subject and style of your work is perfect for a certain type of business, approach the manager with a proposal and portfolio and see what happens. Most businesses view support for artists as a win-win, since the exhibit and opening reception will help promote their business.

Sandi Olson acknowledges that she could probably go get a job in a call center for $15 an hour. “But I could also continue doing what I love – painting – and lower my prices a little.” There seems to be no question about her preferred approach; an approach that, if shared by other artists, makes this a great time to invest in original art.

Reinvent Yourself
Painter and collage artist Nancy Maxfield Lund doesn’t limit her creative products and services to one medium or style. She’s been doing watercolor and collage paintings for years but has added hand painted colorful lizard, spider, and frog pins that retail for $20 at Local Colors of Utah. To that jewelry line she’s added fashionably chunky bracelets, necklaces, and earrings, made with beads and sterling silver, also available at Local Colors.

To these product lines she’s now adding photography, including weddings. “I’m self- trained in photography and I have an artist’s eye,” says Lund, whose paintings are often based on her photographs of people, places, and things. “When I discovered casual pictures I took of friends being used on their Facebook pages because they loved their look, I knew I could do this and make money. I’m reinventing myself again!”

Other reinvention strategies:
· : “I’m considering making and selling prints of my work. I’ll make it easy for people to buy something now…a taste of my work…and when money starts flowing again, they’ll come back for more.”

· Chris Miles: “I’m putting together a body of work to pitch to galleries, including some outside Utah. It’s easier to make a living if you have representation out-of-state.”

· Ruth Lubbers (Art Access): “We’re creating a gift shop area in the front of our gallery where original art will cost $65 or less.”

· Steve Sheffield: “I may do more smaller pieces that are more affordable.”

The Final Word – Have Hope and Continue Creating
Susan Gallacher, who has weathered other dips in the economy, has learned not to get too nervous. “Sooner or later everything will be back to ‘normal.’ So I keep painting and marketing as usual.”

Gallacher is even optimistic about 2009, predicting the art market will be “about normal….probably a little down but not much.”

Sandi Olson acknowledges that she could probably go get a job in a call center for $15 an hour. “But I could also continue doing what I love – painting – and lower my prices a little.” There seems to be no question about her preferred approach; an approach that, if shared by other artists, makes this a great time to invest in original art.



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