To achieve meaningful progress in any field, luck is not enough. You also have to hone your skills and acquire new expertise if you wish to succeed over the long term.
It’s no different for visual artists. To earn a sustainable living from their creativity, they need experience and knowledge—and not just in the area of artistic technique. Like other entrepreneurs, visual artists must understand their industry and learn how to manage the business side of their practice if they expect to build a career with staying power.
So how can artists obtain useful business information about a field that is notoriously—and often intentionally—opaque?
The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists (CHF), a national nonprofit organization, will fill these knowledge gaps at its upcoming Art-Business Conferences, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on February 1st – 2nd, and in the Washington DC area on March 23rd – 24th. At these weekend-long business-development workshops, artists will learn how the industry really functions and how they can conquer it.
After kicking off with an inside look at today’s rapidly changing art marketplace, artists will participate in immersive sessions that ask them to look inward, determining where they want their art businesses to go and helping them come up with the best plan for getting there. “At first, I was going to go jumping right back into my career,” says artist Kay Witherspoon, who attended CHF’s Art-Business Conference in Dallas last September. “I’m not doing that now. I’m planning my career. Now I feel like I’ve got a guide, so I can put a plan together.”
The workshops will be led by CHF’s leadership team: Director and Co-founder Elizabeth Hulings, Sales & Events Director Carolyn Edlund, and Education and Messaging Director Daniel DiGriz. As at past conferences, CHF is teaming up with local organizations that have a history of supporting artists in their community. The Florida event is co-sponsored by the Broward County Cultural Division and ArtServe, which is where the sessions will take place, while the partner for the metro DC workshops is Artists & Makers Studios in Rockville, Maryland, the largest art studio center complex in Montgomery County
Participants will learn everything from crafting an effective narrative and distilling their brand story into bite-sized chunks that keep their audiences engaged, to discovering new markets, pricing their work for profit, improving their online sales, and more. They will also have the chance to participate in Q&A sessions during which they can ask the conference’s leaders and other expert panelists their specific business questions.
The Florida panel will feature art publisher Rickie Leiter, artist and marketing executive Ilene Adams, and Janeen Mason, the curator of Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta. Included in the metro DC roundtable discussion will be artists Blake Conroy and Donna Lee Nyzio, both of whom recently completed two-year Fellowships in CHF’s intensive Art-Business Accelerator, a graduate-level entrepreneurial program for professional artists.
The interactivity of these conferences is central to their effectiveness. “In-person professional development draws the artist in to ask questions, discuss, and share their thoughts and insights,” says Edlund. “We find that our students bring an enormous amount of wisdom and experience into the mix. Imagine how many years of business experience there are in a group of artists who are serious about selling their work. That is where transformation happens.”
CHF’s Digital Learning Portal and online community serve to keep participants engaged long after the conference is over, encouraging and supporting them as they implement the strategies that they developed during the live workshops. “Everyone learns differently,” adds Edlund, “and we offer a variety of modalities. Written articles, videos, and podcasts are all part of a robust structure of learning options that are available online.”
Art is a Business, and Artists Should Run It
These Art-Business Conferences are driven by CHF’s overall mission: equipping visual artists to be self-sustaining entrepreneurs. “Art is not a charity,” says Hulings, “and artists should not be expected to work just for ‘exposure,’ or to starve for the ‘privilege’ of doing their jobs.”
As the art market undergoes significant changes, there’s an opportunity for artists to seize the moment and make the industry work for them, but they can only compete effectively if they have the proper business training and expertise. Adds Hulings, “If you plan to make a living from your art—to pay your bills, sell your work, and have the time and resources to create more work and grow as an artist—you must accept the fact that you are running a business, and that you are the CEO of the enterprise.”
Beyond what’s taught in the workshops, CHF’s conferences provide artists with the chance to break out of their often solitary studio environments and connect with their peers—a practice that is commonplace in many industries but still relatively rare in the art world. The weekend-long events close with a soirée where participants can relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and plan future interactions with each other. These gatherings allow artists to capitalize on the connections they’ve made at the conference, and start building or expanding their existing networks of allies.
“There is no substitute for face-to-face meeting, and sitting down with other people to have discussions about art and business,” says Edlund. “This dynamic aspect not only introduces artists to others with similar goals, but also generates a level of excitement that motivates attendees well beyond the event itself.”
That sentiment is echoed by artist Donna Dobberful, who attended CHF’s Dallas conference last fall. When she first heard about the event, her initial reaction was skepticism, but she decided to give it a go. “A few hours into [it],” she says, “I was indeed surprised and delighted. They gave me the tools to expand, change, and stir things up!”
The total fee for the weekend-long conference is $395. Early-bird pricing is available for the DC event at $345 through March 1st. (For the coupon code, see the registration page.) The price of admission to either conference also includes Colleague-level access to the Digital Learning Portal and the online community of artists.
“Attending the [event] was one of the best investments of my time and resources I’ve made,” says artist Bradley Reyes who participated in a CHF conference in Santa Fe. “I feel like the trajectory of my art career has changed because of it.”
For more information and to register for these CHF Art-Business Conferences, please visit:
Ft. Lauderdale, FL: https://clarkhulingsfund.org/florida/
Metro Washington DC (Rockville, MD): https://clarkhulingsfund.org/washington