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Conference sees art from small business angle

MADISON — The Business of the Arts conference at the Madison County Cultural Center on Aug. 17 should be just the beginning of a series of workshops that cover various aspects of the nuts-and-bolts of making a living in the arts world, said Mark McCrary, executive director of the center.

“It’s amazing how guilty artists feel for not knowing this information,” McCrary said.

However, since most artists’ focus is on the passion of creating art, McCrary said, many don’t even realize how much good business practices can help them in their pursuit of earning money for their work.

“It is doable,” he emphasized.

Speakers for the morning session included Lynn Clark, executive director of Mississippi Voices for Children and Youth, on how artists can more effectively market their work; Carolyn Morris, arts industry director for the Mississippi Art Commission on programs and grants available to working artists; and M’Lou Rossie, accountant with Grantham Poole, CPAs, on financial basics for working artists.

Separate afternoon breakout sessions specifically for visual artists or performing artists featured Glenn Sanford, owner of Southern Breeze Gallery in Highland Village, on marketing and pricing for the visual artist and Diane Williams, a professional storyteller and convention speaker, on contracts and other payment-related issues for performing artists.

Clark described her talk as “essential ways to start marketing yourself or your art without spending money.” Identifying a market beyond traditional venues is often difficult, she said. Visual artists should broaden their focus beyond galleries and art shows and begin working on relationships with gift shops, interior decorators and other retailers.

“Think about where people go to decorate their homes,” Clark said.

Paid advertising is passive, while advertising through visibility and participation in the community is active, she noted.

Donating works to charitable organizations for raffles, offering door prizes for chamber of commerce after-hours events and cultivating good media relations with newspapers and magazines are some ways to get your name out in front of the art-buying public, Clark said.

“Word-of-mouth marketing are really the best, the most essential, and the simplest way to do it,” she asserted.

Performing artists services are the focus of Morris’ programs, especially the services in connection with the Mississippi Traveling Artist Roster, the grants made to organizations using those artists and the applications process for the roster.

Currently containing 89 artists who travel around the state when invited, the arts commission often can defray their fee by as much as 50% through grants to organizations offered four times per year. Artists submit a narrative and other materials, and once liste are on the roster for three years.

Morris said the arts commission takes an active role in marketing the artists on the roster throughout the state.

“We are doing our part by sending the list to arts organizations, taking it to workshops and sending it to schools,” Morris indicated.

Researching the galleries in your area for pricing, scoping out the competition in the genre you plan to present and keeping track of cost for materials, framing, and time need to be incorporated into the pricing structure: “Once you set your prices, you need to be consistent.”

Difficulties for performing artists lie in pricing and in negotiating the actual billing process. Often assumptions about payment are made on both sides, leading to confusion and unpaid performances.

McCrary noted that the most common barriers people with artistic talents and passions face are fear of rejection, a lack of confidence and lack of an identifiable market for their skills.

A business-like approach can offset some of those barriers, McCrary said: “(An artist) is a small business owner, and the business is (the artist).”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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