Let’s dispel some of the myths about artists and creatives. For example, if you’re an artist, then you can’t balance your checkbook, or you can’t match your socks. (Never mind the possibility that maybe you just don’t want to.) Or that artists have to struggle. Or that artists can’t build a viable career with a fine arts degree.
Elizabeth Hulings, the director and co-founder of the Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists, has another message.
Hulings believes that artists’ innate creativity is entrepreneurial, if not visionary. They can make art, she says, and make money, too.
The third annual Santa Fe Art Business Conference, which is sponsored by the Clark Hulings Fund, aims to offer some strategies for doing just that. The event runs Monday, Sept. 16, to Wednesday, Sept. 18, and includes presentations and interactive sessions on topics like developing a brand, pricing your work, and building a network of peers. The goal isn’t just to help you, but to help the larger community, by getting more creative individuals to engage with society as leaders.
The Clark Hulings Fund, based in Albuquerque, was founded in 2013. The organization offers career planning programs for artists, such as nationwide live training events and a 12-month Art-Business Fellowship that’s led by industry professionals, as well as a virtual platform for members of The Artist Federation, a network of working artists seeking to organize and collaborate. Last year, 46 artists and a collection of local business leaders attended the conference in Santa Fe.
Pasatiempo spoke with Hulings about the need for artists to embrace their left-brain thinking and the challenges facing them in the Information Age.
Pasatiempo: Do you think that artists, in general, undermine themselves when it comes to pricing their work too low or accepting too high a commission from a gallery or dealer?
Elizabeth Hulings: Artists who don’t allow themselves to focus on the business side of the practice, as well as the artistic side, definitely will undercut themselves, just as a chiropractor would, or anybody else who’s in business. If you’re not allowing yourself to say, “This is my business. This is my career, and I will engage in it and focus my attention on that side of it, as well,” then definitely.
Pasa: Before the internet age, if you didn’t have a stellar résumé, a fully developed body of work, and a reputation, just getting face-time with a gallery was a challenge. How has technology changed things?
Hulings: You’re seeing auction houses online. Your website is your new business card. Whether you’re a dealer or an artist — whoever you are — that’s just a fact of life. There are skill sets around that are brand new. ... The technology is moving so fast. That’s an advantage that artists have never had before, because nobody knows how to do it and it’s all about expressing yourself, being creative, and being resourceful. I actually see that younger artists don’t feel the stigma that older artists do when it comes to embracing the business side of their practice. Part of that is the market shift. You can sell work online. You can get involved in a bunch of different things that didn’t use to exist at all.
Pasa: Has this shift helped artists connect more directly with collectors, without having to give a portion of the sale away to a gallery, say, or a dealer?
Hulings: Yes, but everybody always assumes that when I say that the Clark Hulings Fund is interested in helping artists with business, that it means we’re going to undercut the dealer. That is not what we’re trying to do at all. Obviously, you need partners. You need people who are going to help you achieve your career and business goals. I do think that artists should know who their collectors are and who their prospective collectors are. Not just today, but 30 years from now, when a museum calls and wants to do a retrospective, the artist can say, ‘Here are the people who own my work.’ If you don’t know any of that then you’re really hamstrung. It affects your legacy and your ability to perpetuate your career down the road. ... The internet offers shortcuts, but it does not replace the need to know who your target market is, who your customers are, and to clearly and powerfully express your brand and your story. Whether you do that through a gallery or you do it directly, or you do it at an art fair (eyeball to eyeball), or you do it on Twitter, the basic concept remains the same.
Pasa: The conference offers opportunities for artists to improve their skill sets when it comes to the business side of things. There’s a real need for that. College and university art departments could do more to help get artists started on a real career path, couldn’t they?
Hulings: The status quo is not to offer that. It takes a long time for paradigms to shift. I’m hopeful about it, and we’re certainly pushing for it. We started with professional working artists. We define professional as any artist who wishes he or she would be able to earn a living from the art, not only the ones who already do. We started with that crowd because we found resistance in the schools, and because the people already out there, even with three or four decades of experience, are still coming to us and saying, “We need your help. We want to know more.”
Pasa: In the articles on the Clark Hulings Fund’s website, you’ve written about the need to create a network of allies, because no one person can do it all. But it’s really a balance, isn’t it? You need helpers, but they can’t do it for you.
Hulings: Everybody says, “I need to get a millennial to run my social media.” Well, do you? Do you know what you want to say? Because, if you know what you want to say, then that’s probably a great idea. ... But in terms of the story that you’re trying to tell, and getting your work out there, nobody is better able to do that than you, the person who creates it. ◀
▼ Visual Artists Third Annual Art-Business Conference
▼ Presented by The Clark Hulings Fund
▼ The Santa Fe Community Convention Center, 201 W. Marcy St.
▼ Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 16-18
▼ Registration required at clarkhulingsfund.org. The fee is $795.
▼ For a complete schedule of events or for more information,
call 505-983-4339 or visit clarkhulingsfund.org.