ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 6 * * All Arts News On the Web * * May 17 , 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.


      This is the final column in our three-part series that examines the interaction of artistry entrepreneurs. We have considered when an artist decides to build a business and how to prepare a business plan. This week, I 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.
      Artists Corliss Blakely and Mary Harper, photographers Wayne Tarr and Gustav Verderber, and musicians Andre Maquera and Nobby Reed have each taken some similar steps to build their artistic businesses.
      The artists exhibit in public shows and maintain a retail sales space. The photographers own studio space and present formal classes. The musicians perform regularly and offer CDs for sale. Corliss and Wayne maintain extensive client lists for mailings and personal contacts. Gustav sells a multimedia slide show to presenters like the Montgomery Historical Society. Andre and Nobby stay in touch with presenters like the Arts Council to arrange gigs. All six have extensive web sites.
      Their common thread is their work ethic.
      Full time artist Corliss Blakely sells a mix of original oils, limited edition prints, and new giclee prints on canvas. She is represented by Gallery on the Green and in her Art Showcase at the Sugar Mill Antique Mall. Many of her customers are collectors, so she maintains a detailed database about them as well as an inventory of originals, reproductions and framing materials; she schedules her studio time to stay ahead of demand.
      Bluesman Nobby Reed has a day job, but that gives him the financial security to build his music. "I place CDs in stores and sell 10 CDs at a gig on average," he said. He researches and builds a good rapport with booking agents. He has also formed the production company Living Room Records, joined ASCAP, and created Rev reed Music Publishing.
      "Near as I can figure, when and if my songs get recorded or played, I don't have to give a percentage to someone else," Nobby said.
      My mother, artist Mary Harper said she joined the cooperative Bougainvillea Gallery "to have some place to hang all this stuff." Most of the 19 artists in the co-op are breaking even; some are doing very well. The gallery treasurer, a retired insurance company owner, keeps the business businesslike. They advertise heavily in their local papers and the Miami Herald plus a popular tourist magazine. "We vigorously put brochures in all the motels and visitor centers, and beauty shops," Mary said. My dad frames and ships her work, manages her supplies, and keeps a careful eye on her finances.
      Andre Maquera has built two businesses. West Street Digital is one of Vermont's best recording studios and the band 8 0 8 4 is a popular pop rock group across the United States and Europe. The band tours regularly, produces and sells CDs, and keeps fans alert with email newsletters and regular mailings.
      "This was our playground," Andre said of West Street. Over the years they have built it into a serious studio for other artists. "Once we realized that to pay for the gear we needed, the logical thing to do was to go public." Their success has been entirely word of mouth, driven by good production and extensive tours.
      Professional photographer Wayne Tarr specializes in portraiture and fine art photographs. He has shot sports, weddings, and advertising photos. He opened his St Albans studio in 1990.
      Wayne points to subtleties when considering how his business has grown. He produces one direct mail each year, participates in AAC exhibits, and is careful tracking customers and following up.
      "There are some business things I should be doing," he said. "Showing is important. In an ideal world, I would be putting my work up in more places."
      Photographer Gustav W. Verderber works with photographs and words to explore, teach, and write about wildlife, nature, and environmental issues. He has built the professional recognition that helps him sell by becoming a Vermont Arts Council artist and a contributing artist to Vermont Magazine. He actively sells photographs and narratives to the National Audubon Society, Natural History, Vermont Life, and other national magazines.
      Gustav also combines his images with multiple projectors and musical choreography for an educational and entertaining multimedia concert. He now has decided to produce this show personally rather than waiting for outside booking agents.
      "I just rented the Flynn Center to present my multimedia presentation to a general audience," he said. "I hope to make a profit, but who knows." He is paying for the advertising, the space, and all the other business costs.
      This is sounding like a symposium on consumer goods.
      What do cars, hamburgers, soda pop, artists, and musicians have in common? Brand identity. Every reader recognizes the Ford, McDonalds, and Pepsi names and has a pretty good idea what those names mean. Artists and musicians such as Norman Rockwell and the Beatles carry similar recognition although neither has been "current" for years.
      Novice artists don't have the collectors that brand recognition brings, so they must build a reputation and a collector base to grow their prices. Building that base is crucial to business success as an artist.
      The artists in this roundup keep track of when, why, and what each fan buys. They build a personal relationship with that customer, keep prices consistent, and try to show new pieces at each show.
      Artists can't scrimp on supplies, no matter where else they cut costs. That means using archival quality materials, uniform and appealing framing and matting, and having a good presentation. Musicians need good cover art, professional packaging, and perfect sound. They all need to tour or to attend exhibits, display at banks and restaurants, and to sell at bookstores, and galleries, and any other space with likely buyers.
      Each of these artist/entrepreneurs has a taste for action. They see a need and pursue it. They each stay close to their customers. They know where their buyers are, when those buyers will be there, and what they want to buy. The musicians know when I book festivals and make sure they call me for dates. The artists know most of their customers personally and make sure those customers know when something new is available. They make the business moves they have learned work best.


      "Having professional help saves anguish," said Simeon Geigel of the Microbusiness Development Program. "Entrepreneurs who need a loan will need a business plan. They are more than welcome to use our organization." Microbusiness Development provides free technical assistance and a gateway to a number of traditional and nontraditional lending sources. Simeon is available to meet people in the Franklin County on Thursdays. Call 800-287-7971 for more info.
      Microbusiness Development will host a free eight-week business planning class in Burlington on Tuesdays, May 29 - July 29. There will also be a free four-part accounting workshop in June
      Other technical assistance is available at local libraries, as well as from Meredith Martin at the Women's Small Business Center (802-846-7160), Connie Burns at the Small Business Development Center (802-658-9228), and the U.S. Small Business Administration (802-828-4422).
      The Vermont Department of Employment and Training is a good supply of skilled labor. Call 802-524-6585 for info.
      Vermont Job Start is a lender for low to moderate income Vermonters


ST ALBANS-- The AAC and The Kept Writer present an open mike evening of acoustic music at the AAC CoffeeHouse next Wednesday, May 16, at 7 p.m. The paintings of Alan DeMont will be on exhibit and available for sale.
      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 every month. Admission is always free, but donations are appreciated.


OUTDOOR SCULPTURE (May 25)--Sculpture park in Missouri seeks eight projects for a children's area with a theme of literature, art, and nature. e-mail for info.
THE HALPERT BIENNIAL (May 31)--National, juried, visual arts competition and exhibition at Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Appalachian State University. Original paintings, mixed media, traditional and non-traditional materials (photography is excluded). Entry Fee. Click here or e-mail for info
ENVISIONED IN A PASTORAL SETTING (June 7)--Shelburne Farms 14th annual exhibition and art sale highlights the work of regional artists who interpret idyllic settings with canvas, paper, fiber, wood, and stone. Interestingly, acceptance is by artist, not by the specific piece of art. "Slides do not necessarily have to be the ... items you plan to show." Call Sarah Demong Stahl (802.985-8686) for info.
INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION (June 15)--All or partly 2D photography, created in the past 3 years, for the juried "The Convincing Lie" in St John's NF. Entry fee. e-mail for info
SIXTEENTH ANNUAL ART COMPETITION (June 25)--The Bosque Conservatory Art Council exhibit and sale for all representational artists.$5,000 Jones Award. Entry fee. or e-mail for info.


      The AccessMusic team of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is building its audience reach through technology. Their site offers interactive edutainment with Stravinski's Firebird. Visitors can read explanatory text, compare the instrumental parts in crucial passages, hear orchestra members discuss the work, and watch animated videos as the symphony plays brief excerpts of the work.
      This site offers one of the few classical works online with exceptional participation from the performers. As the site grows, we can hope for more music, more (and better) animation, more (and longer) interviews.


      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.


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      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).
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