Marketing Mondays: "Helping Artists Become Artists"

Image by LiminalMike, from the Internet

Agnes Gund, a force in the art world, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post recently: Helping Artists Become Artists. I like the sentiment, but there’s a bit of the noblesse oblige in her tone, understandable in that she’s a wealthy woman who has supported the arts. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate everything she has done. We don’t have that many allies, after all.

In her article Gund talks about institutional opportunities aimed at artists on a local level, of public art opportunities, and of what she calls “artist-to-artist” initiatives in which “wise and rewarded artists are mounting innovative projects to find future talent.” While none of those ideas is new, they are all good. And welcome.  

Without being adversarial—because, let me say this again, we can use many more people like Agnes Gund in the world—I think the majority of "helping" comes from artists themselves. Because, really, how many of the thousands of artists out there are helped by a benefactor or charitable institution? Here's what I wrote in response to the article:

Due respect to Ms. Gund, but the biggest help to artists is what we do for ourselves. There is no place at the table for anyone in the art world; you have to carve it out for yourself. Become entreprene­urial: Create a pop-up show; write a book, a zine, a blog; figure out what other artists need and offer that service at a reasonable price. Don't be limited by "rules" since there are none, but be respectful of the people who have helped you, and be realistic about the businesses and institutio­ns that exist, because most of them are not all that well funded either. One other thing: As in fashion and entertainm­ent, the media loves to tout the "most famous," the "Top 10" and the flavor of the moment, but that's an unhelpful construct for 99 percent of us (maybe more). Create a support structure around you where everyone has a flavor.
So, let me ask all of you:
. How have you been helped--have you gotten grants and institutional support, or have you been pulling yourself up the ladder one rung at a time?
. Where do you, or would you, go for help?
. What advice would you offer all of us about finding and receiving help? 
. Equally important: How are you offering help to other artists?

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annell4 said...

Great post as always. You have been very helpful. And I do try to help other artists every chance I can.

Jane Davies said...

Thanks for this food for thought. I have discovered online teaching, and I LOVE it!!! I feel I'm effective in helping amateur artists find their own ways with art making. I've taught live workshops, and still love that, but online I can reach more people and don't have to depend on any institution to hire me.

Eva said...

I figured out a long time ago that karma works. To get a show, give a show. I've opened pop-ups, turned my studio into a gallery and created radio shows around art, which is all volunteer.

That's the hard part - keeping at it with no income, but you have to keep doing it. And I must constantly remind myself that opportunities don't come from those I helped. You can't look for a return that way. The help you receive can come out of the blue, from someone you don't know well. But they've been watching.

Christine Sauer said...

Interesting article by Gund and I enjoyed your response Joanne. An important resource not mentioned is how the Internet has changed the power dynamic for artists. It is so much easier to access information and build community, control your message and content (or loose control of it), create interest around your work without an institution, gallery, etc. as a conduit or barrier. For me this has been a radical change as I am reentering the art scene. Recent artist/business training, something missing from my MFA education of long ago, presented by the Arts Council in New Orleans and being chosen for two Creative Capital workshops hosted by the Louisiana Division of the Arts have had a big impact in how I am proceeding with my studio practice. I just received a grant from the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation to fund a business goal that I set in one of my Creative Capital workshops. So, getting some institutional help has been invaluable as a bridge to the next step. But, my mantra has become "If it is to be, it is up to me"(can't remember where I heard this). I also agree with Eva about karma.

Lisa said...

Hi Joanne,

Thanks for this particularly relevant post. I'm currently organizing/curating a project which I started with the idea of inviting artists to work in collaboration with some local scientists. My intentions as they relate to promoting the artists are to 1) mount a show in June of the artists' work along with informational displays by the scientists, 2) create a print catalog for the show, and 3) raise funds to distribute among the artists to help cover their costs of materials. I have a Kickstarter project going right now to support this effort and am also approaching other potential backers. A local gallery has been enthusiastic from the start and is donating the cost of rent for a month.

I don't know how representative my experience is in this effort to support, as you say, "artists becoming artists," or how typical my project is. While the concept has been received with great enthusiasm from both artists and scientists, the fundraising has been slow and the energy output to generate donations is greater than I had expected. I remind myself that the whole project is about bringing these communities together, not raising money, but part of me really also wants to make a statement about artists shouldering so much of the financial burden when it comes to creating their work. My hope is/has been that there are other models we could invent that would support artists.

I also have to admit that the greatest joy I'm getting from this project is working directly with the artists and scientists, so maybe I'm discovering that fundraising isn't my strong suit. While I'm learning a lot about fundraising and PR, those aren't the things that inspire me or bring me great satisfaction. (Though maybe if I am successful at fundraising and able distribute meaningful stipends to each artist, I will find this end of the process more gratifying.) said...

I'm a DIY kind of person and I always have been. So I poke around here and there trying to figure things out and looking for ways to keep painting. It works for me.

I like to help out other artists by buying art, when I can afford it. I wish I had a benefactor so I could be a benefactor.

Diane McGregor said...

This issue confounds me. I definitely could use an award/grant to help move my career forward, but it seems that the only way to receive such a gift is to have a track record of actually having won a grant before.

Kala Pierson said...

Diane, that's a common feeling. Do you have a local city or state arts council? Those organizations sometimes have an annual grant that's explicitly intended as a first grant.

Also search to find grants for emerging artists (emerging is a word that's used in many ways, but in the context of awards, it often includes people who are starting out).

Also search for funding specifically for female artists and for artists in your medium/field/age-range/region/etc. Think of EVERY term that could be used to describe you, and you may find someone's offering a grant specifically for that category of people.

Diane McGregor said...

Many thanks for your suggestions, Kala. You've inspired me to keep trying!

Victoria Webb said...

Thanks for another provocative post, Joanne. Gund's article is interesting in that she notes Artadia as a grant opportunity. Unfortunately the grant system usually operates within traditional boundaries, as Diane has noted here in an earlier post. The artists who won grants from Artadia in Atlanta were already relatively well known in the arts community.

What few dealers or collectors yet recognize is the power of the internet and the masses, in support of artists. I hesitate to mention it - because there is still such a stigma attached to selling art on retail sites - but Etsy as a huge aggregated audience of young collectors, is phenomenal.

Other sites like operate primarily with pre-approved work by critics and gallerists. So that's not really an artist to artist or artist direct to collector type of site.
The Painters' Table is a blog that is exceptional in promoting both unknown and known writings on artists (and from artists).

In my own experience, meeting other artists, showing support by attending their openings and doing the same for galleries, is crucial. As an artist, producing the work is the most important thing, but I'd agree that we're all more or less masters of our own fate.

Kickstarter is another option that hasn't been mentioned, that many artists are using to generate their own 'grants'. I just discovered a new artist's residency funded that way; Rabbit Island, on Lake Superior. Self-made projects that artists are creating.

Wendy Edsall-Kerwin said...

There is a lot of hard workinvolved in making it financially as an artist. I have found some help along the way. The PA Guild of Craftsmen has probably been the biggest helper to me. The have shows, have helped me come up with workshops (and then offered them), and just been generally supportive.

Then there are the other artists and arts advocates (like Alyson Stanfield) who have offered me support both in real life and online. Without them it would be hard to keep getting back in the saddle after each set back. I'm so thankful to have all this great help!