ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 6 * * All Arts News On the Web * * May 3 , 2002


      ArtBits always features a calendar of the goings on of Franklin County artists. Check out these events around Franklin County. Each issue includes the entire text of our weekly newspaper column.

      Stop in for the AAC CoffeeHouses at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. These gatherings bring new opportunities, gossip, "show-and-tell" and workshops. We come together on the second Wednesday for a booked musical performance and an art exhibit at Simple Pleasures in St Albans. On the fourth Wednesday come to the Kept Writer in St Albans for acoustic Open Mike Night featuring music, readings, and more from the best new artists in Vermont.


      I have a dilemma. There are very, very few occasions that a writer should pay to publish a work. On the other hand, many artists and performers do exactly that. They pay to press a CD or to exhibit a painting. So my dilemma is this: when is an artist an artist and when is an artist an entrepreneur?
      This column is the first in a three-part series in which we will examine that question. This week, we look at how an artist decides whether or not to "pay to play." In the next column, we will tackle Business 101, a look at how an artist can prepare a business plan that leads to commercial success. In the final installment, I will interview some of the artists and performers in our area about the steps they took from their first sales to making a living in the arts.
      Let's start at the beginning. Webster's defines an artist as anyone "who professes and practices an imaginative art," a "person skilled in one of the fine arts," or "a skilled performer." An entrepreneur is "one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise."
      Should a writer or an actor be a business?
      Some "publishers" say yes. They charge unpublished writers thousands of dollars to print a few hundred copies of an opus. Some literary agents charge $500 or more just to read the work. These businesses feed on the hopes and confusions of the novice. The situation is so dire that author Jim Macdonald coined Yog's Law, "Money flows toward the writer," not the other way around. Yog's Law is useful, he said, primarily "for detecting scams."
      The back pages of every writer's magazine include advertisement after advertisement for literary agents, literary services, and book publishing. The book publishers trumpet inducements like, "Publish your book at a price you can afford" and "Get Published! Do it yourself! Are you tired of having your manuscript turned down or rewritten? Keep the rights to your books and the profits, too!" The ads don't mention that these companies expect the author to assume the expense and risk of publication including the printing cost, the marketing, and all of the distribution.
      The Writers Digest includes this note on their advertising pages, "Before entering into a legal contract with a literary service... Writer's Digest recommends that you [ask] if the author shared in the cost of publication."
      Both Macdonald and the Writer's Digest remind us that professional writers rarely pay to play. It is the publishers' job to assume those costs and risks.
      Actors, like writers, do not underwrite the production costs of staging a play. Here in Franklin County, that task falls to volunteer production troupes like Gate Players and Exit Stage Left whose members finance performances with sponsorships, advertising, and ticket sales.
      On the other hand, musicians and painters self-publish as a matter of course.
      Most Franklin County bands have no recording contracts with industry publishers. Rather, they take on the task of promoting and publishing as a cost of doing business. The typical band engages a studio to record, edit, fine tune, and produce each track. They hire a designer for the cover art. They carry the master recording to a CD producer. And they buy a run of CDs. Then they place ads, send mailings, build a web site, and deliver the albums to retailers for sale.
      Many artists create reproduction or fine art prints of their original paintings. The printing, matting, framing, handling, and advertising costs are significant. Like the musicians, these artists switch their creative and business hats regularly.
      So how do we decide whether an artist is to be a producer of content or to be a creator and an entrepreneur? Is the answer some do, some don't?
      Quantity defines our answer. Books and magazines and newspapers and scripts and slim volumes of poetry are produced for the mass market. Paintings and sculpture and original photos and concerts are individual products.
      Thanks to the economies of scale, a commercial publisher can license a work, produce and deliver it to the mass market very efficiently. The money flows to the writer who can function solely as the content creator.
      Local artists and musicians do not mass produce. They need to learn business, to plan to spend money in order to make money. They must create the content, then manufacture and market it.
      Of course, when the "limited edition" prints or albums outsell the originals, it's time to write a business plan or seek commercial help.


      Bob Chevalier of Swanton won the limited edition print of Corliss Blakely's Blue Cupboard in the All Arts Council raffle. Sue Tessier drew the winning ticket at the Maple Festival Main Street stage. The raffle proceeds will help the AAC continue to underwrite popular exhibits and concerts.


ST ALBANS-- Fresh from his triumphant debut at the Maple Festival, singer/actor Tim Stetson and His Invisible Friends will present a few more of his favorite gospel and country songs at the AAC CoffeeHouse at Simple Pleasures next Wednesday, May 10, at 7 p.m. The paintings of Mary Harper will be on exhibit. The artwork will remain at Simple Pleasures through June.
      The All Arts Council sponsors the CoffeeHouse with music, networking time, and "show-and-tell" at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. Admission is always free, but donations are appreciated.
      The illustrations and paintings of AAC member Josh Derner are featured this month at the Highgate Springs Welcome Center, immediately south of the U.S.-Canadian border crossing.


ALBURG--Cabaret Shakespeare presents Shakespeare as you've never seen him. Jim Hogue will perform Bawdy Boisterous Flashes of the Bard at the Ransom Bay Inn. Curtain time is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.
      This light take on Shakespeare is funded by a grant from the Vermont Council on the Humanities and sponsored by the Alburg Library and Island Arts as part of the ongoing Shakespeare awareness series at the library.

EVERYWHERE--Saturday is the 31st Annual Green Up Day in Vermont (always the first Saturday in May).


      Illustrator Denise Ortakales was curious about the lives of other female illustrators. Her site is a brief and casual look at the history of children's book publishing and some of the women involved. Ortakales chose the included artists because they "had interesting life stor[ies] to tell."


      Lynn Crocker of Sheldon is a project manger for a construction company. "I'm not an avid reader," she said, but she did pick out a set of books that she likes.

CURRENTLY READING: Lynn collects Lippincott farming manuals on, the Internet auction site. Written in the 1920s, the manuals describe how to produce food for farm animals. She "dabbles in farming as a hobby."
      She is also reading some miscellaneous gardening books, primarily on herbs and a medium-sized garden.

FAVORITE KIDS' BOOK: Lynn liked the Dr. Seuss books as a child and is a fan of children's book author/illustrator Tasha Tudor whose signature watercolors pay tribute to a simpler past. Corgiville Fair, published in 1971, is Tudor's favorite book. With her profits from Corgiville Fair, Tudor bought land in Marlboro, Vermont. She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Vermont. "Her books are collector's items," Lynn said.


      ArtBits features a quick weekly peek at the bookshelf or night stand of the folks you know in and around Franklin County. That popular feature has a page of its own at the Franklin County Bookshelf here on the AAC site.


AAC dancing logo

All Arts Council of Franklin County

Support Free Speech on the Internet
Dick Harper, Chair
P.O. Box 1
Highgate Springs, VT 05460
email us

Go to [ Dick Harper | All Arts Index | ArtBits Archive ]

      This article was originally published in the St Albans Messenger and other traditional print media. It is Copyright © 2001 by Richard B. Harper. All rights reserved. Archival material is provided as-is. Links are not necessarily maintained (if a link in this article fails, try or your favorite search engine).
      Thanks to recent misuse of copyright material on the Internet by individuals and archival firms alike, we emphasize that your rights to this article are limited to viewing it and printing it for personal use only. You must receive explicit permission from the All Arts Council and the author before reprinting or redistributing this article in any medium.