Our Staff Tries to Know What’s Going On

We do talk internally about how we can build better relationships amongst the artist community. We attend as many art exhibitions as we can. We make sure that those in the artist community are aware of the opportunities we have for commissions and the grant funding and any call for artists that we communicate to the public. We have a desire and a goal to leverage our relationships with artists, and, as individuals in an organization, continue in our personal lives to support the work of upcoming and established artists. Whether it is readings, concerts, art exhibitions, participation on panel workshops, we try to engage. And as a staff we try to know what’s going on so that we can, as a group here, be as supportive as we can.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Organizational Capacity

Finding Funding Has Been a Major Challenge

Our program was highly successful and effective for the artists who participated, but we weren’t successful in developing a program that is financially sustainable in the long term. As of right now, we’ve postponed it, and we’re definitely not going to be able to continue the same format. It’s intensive and it’s wonderful and important to those artists, but finding funding for it has been a major challenge. The reworked program probably won’t have the same level of depth as we had in the first three years that we ran the program.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Organizational Capacity

Reorganizing to More Clearly Serve Community Needs

A recent reorganization that we’re going through is to redefine our staff and board goals to make sure that we’re more clearly serving the direct and changing needs of our community. From what we heard through our listening sessions, it was important that we developed an aggregated opportunity and resources center for the local artist community. Now if we know about it, they know about it. We can become that sort of clearing house for anything from an arts fair, to a Midwestern sculpture initiative, to a poetry competition, to other opportunities in the zipcodes where they’re from.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Organizational Capacity

Together We Rise: Artist Offered a Seat at the Table

Artist, Mitzi Sinnott, describes her experiences struggling as an artist and the value of talking openly about these struggles and sharing them with other artists, decisionmakers, and more. 

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I am an Artist Artists Struggle Power

Finding Balance with a Day Job

 As an actor, I was having trouble finding work, so I took the suggestion of a colleague to apply to be a tour guide, since I’m a huge state history buff. I was hired to became a tour guide on one of the boats and would walk off the boats with wads of cash. Then one day, I got the call for a big acting gig. I went to my employer and said, “I’m going to reject the offer if it will conflict with my day job.” But my employer said, “We love you so much. Go do the gig – your job will be here when you get back.” I felt like this was an example of taking responsibility for this stage of my life and finding balance and steady work that is still supportive of my artistic pursuits. Since then, I’ve continued to do the boats and the tours, and that stable income and flexibility have me time to write, produce, and act in two films. So, I think that’s a success story because it’s about asking not just “How can I look at all aspects of my life and protect the creative person?,” but also, “What are my values? What do I want in my life right now? And how do I adjust so I can set those priorities and be honest to them?”

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I am an Artist Artists Struggle Practice

Did You Promote the Show?

A former student left a comment on my blog about an unsuccessful exhibition. Her exhibition had a nice opening, but the work wasn’t selling. I actually emailed her, “Tell me what you did to promote the show,” because I had learned over the years we can’t trust galleries to do that. And she emailed me back “Oh my god, I thought I had done more. I sent out one email and one social media post.”

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I am an Artist Artists Struggle Communicating & Connecting

Partners Surprised at the Value Artists Bring

Each year we stage a big arts fair in our town. And, I’ve got no less than three artists that sit on our planning and implementation committee. These are artists who are regular participants in this fair, as well as a number of other fairs in the region. So, they welcomed the opportunity to be involved at this level, and they’ve been successful and significant contributors to the process in being able to inform us of the artist perspective. At something like an arts fair, it is highly important for the planners to be able to consider this side. This has been an excellent experience in terms of working with the artists on the committee. They’ve been very helpful. To be honest, though, our partners seemed quite surprised at the value artists are bringing to the table. They’ve asked, “Is this a typical experience in working with artists?” I’m glad to share that it is. And to encourage our partners to appreciate the willingness of these artists to lend their expertise and knowledge to help us make the fair bigger and better.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Engaging with Artists

Struggling to Pay Competitively within Budget

We always try to have artists get paid whenever we are doing new work, commissioning new work, or involving them in some way in which they’re actually contributing first-hand to the project. Just recently we had a tenth-year anniversary exhibition and we worked with twelve artists to do some site-specific commissions and also show artwork that they shipped from their studios. In that case, most of the people who were participating in the exhibition were creating works on-site in the gallery, or for off-site locations. We tried to pay them a stipend based on a rate that they felt was competitive or applicable for the amount of work that they were doing, but also we had a max budget. In most cases, we found artists to be really flexible in terms of how much they’ll work for and what they won’t work for. At the time, we appreciated this flexibility because it helped us meet our budget. In hindsight, though, we realized that we need to have an open conversation with artists to acknowledge that we’re not paying competitively right now and create solutions together. We want to be a leader in paying artists fairly as opposed to another organization asking artists to take less than they are worth.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Paying Artists

Knowing What a Life as an Artist Can Look Like

Artist Diane Scott shares her first-hand experience with the importance of showing artists real examples of what making a life as an artist can actually look like to inspire them to imagine their own futures.

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I am an Artist Artists Struggle Planning and Capacity

What It Means to Struggle as an Artist

Artist Andee Rudloff reflects on the many ways that artists thrive and struggle, considering different ways of defining success ranging from monetary to creative fulfillment.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Engaging with Artists

Struggling to Help Artists Survive and Thrive in Place

Robert Gipe, Appalachian Program Director for the Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College, shares experiences with community based arts projects as well as the challenge of creating opportunities for young people who want to stay and thrive as artists in their hometown.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Services and Programs

Arts Festival with No Artist Engagement

A new performing arts festival launched with no artist leadership and without consulting artists. During the first season, there were extensive problems with production, communication, and marketing; many were "disastrous" from the artists' point of view. No effort was made to assess or post-mortem the first year's issues.

Unaware of the issues, and with no mechanism for assessment other than the festival's self-reporting, foundations continued funding the festival. Artists who attempted to communicate concerns to the festival and to funders were brushed off as complainers. Artists began to tell one another: stay away from this festival

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Engaging with Artists

Workshops without Artist Input

After a months-long program hiatus and staff turnover, the new education manager attempted to solicit input from artists about their professional development needs using an online survey. Very few artists completed the short questionnaire and many responses were too broad to be of much use, so the education manager created a season of workshops without a strong sense of artists' perspectives. These workshops were severely under-attended, indicating the focus topics were not of interest or need for local artist community.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Engaging with Artists

Relentless Artist

An artist working in our city is very interested in green/blue infrastructure issues at the city and neighborhood level. This is tied into her creative work to recast fiber as an urban, sustainable and people of color practice. She was relentless in finding out the information about meetings (which are not transparently posted on the city's website), attended meetings and ultimately worked her way on to the task force. The task force now sees the benefit of including artists in their work - but there is no mechanism for this to become the norm for the way the city thinks about constituting its community taskforces, services, planning and departments across the board.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Engaging with Artists

A City Plan Created without Artists

Casey Summar, Independent Consultant and former Executive Director of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville, shares a cautionary tale about the lack of artists at the table for creating the previous strategic plan for the city of Nashville in the 1990s.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Advocacy

Exposure as Compensation

If we have a local artist who’s contributing to the exhibition in some way, we typically don’t pay them an artist’s fee or honorarium unless they’re doing something substantial for the exhibition.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Paying Artists

We Assumed the Artists Were Just Being Needy

Our most unsuccessful program was our attempt to give artists monies to create their own open studio tours in their own neighborhoods. They hated that idea. They really did not want to be responsible for organizing an open studio tour or for creating advertising materials and signage. To us, they felt needy. We believed they wanted somebody else to put a tour together that they could just pop into. After reflecting on the experience, we hope to start a dialogue to learn more about how we can successfully partner with our local artists, rather than basing our actions off assumptions.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Engaging with Artists

Lacking an Authentic Voice

We’ve just had some experiences where we had high hopes that a certain individual, trainer, would be a great resource for our arts community and it just really didn’t work out. They weren’t able to bring the authentic voice that the artist responds to. If the artist starts to find that the person standing in front of the room or across the table from them doesn’t really know what it’s like to walk in the artist’s shoes, then they just become very skeptical of that person’s credibility. We find it’s just not a very productive professional development experience.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Services and Programs

Trying to Find Common Ground

As a Community Development Corporation, we know in theory that working with artists could lead to interesting programming, but we have no idea where to start and how to connect with artists. Some of our staff try to go to places and events where we might find things in common with artists, such as gardening and community events, as well as showing up at openings and such. But there still seems to be a gap between our general interest in partnering and the ability of our staff or the artists we meet to make a connection and advance the conversation.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Community Connections

Assumptions about Artists

In the partner program – because it is delivered by an artist who is totally sensitive to and supportive of the basic enterprise of just being an artist – when he talks about how he manages his time and learned how to do more of what he wanted to do and charge for it, they totally get it and they totally buy-in because it is all couched in terms of the reality of being an artist. Sometimes a business guy will come in and will talk with a group of artists based on his assumptions of who or what artists are…and sometimes that can be a little off-putting to artists who live that life everyday.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Services and Programs