Dig Baton Rouge

Artful Business

By Tara Bennett

Currently on display at the Firehouse Gallery is a group exhibition, featuring works by recent alumni of the Artist as Entrepreneur program.

This multi-media group exhibition is on display until Friday, Sept. 5 at the Firehouse Gallery, located at 427 Laurel Street in downtown Baton Rouge. The exhibition showcases paintings, digital art and prints, woodwork, fabrics, jewelry and photographs by 19 local visual artists who completed the eight-week professional development program.

“It’s a way for artists to learn lessons on how to run a business as an artist,” said Sandy Parfait. “Because artists they focus on and this is how to give them tips on professional development on how to run their business.”

According to Parfait, the program’s model was originally created by the Arts Council of New Orleans and was taught in conjunction with the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Gene Meneray of the Arts Council of New Orleans, recognized the problems artists face in making a living off of their craft, and decided to create the Artist as Entrepreneur Program to help artists take control of their careers with a focus on the business of art, business skills and how one can apply those skills After achieving success in New Orleans, Meneray partnered with the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and taught the program in Baton Rouge along with Sarah Cortell Vanderspyen and Parfait.

“I think [this program] is very important,” said Parfait. “We have some wonderful schools and education programs for artists that teaches the skills of being an artist, but a lot of those are not as comprehensive on the business side of art. I think it is key for artists to want to have that knowledge and it gives them the tools needed to be successful.”

Over the course of eight weeks, students received information on how art is sold, what determines the art market, creating an elevator speech; writing an effective artist statement, bio and resume, marketing via the web and social media, creating an artist brand, how galleries operate; things to consider when approaching a gallery; art shows, commissions; public art opportunities, creating a personal business plan and career planning and goal setting.

“It’s all those things that are really important to know when you’re trying to become an artist as your main business,” said Parfait.

Participants in the program advocated the necessity of such programs as many artists are not formally taught business and marketing skills.

“Even for those of us with formal training, the sad reality is that many art programs around the country spend little or no time teaching students how to make a sustainable business of their craft and we’re left to figure things out for ourselves,” said program participant Carl Jacobson. “And let’s say some us were lucky enough to get trained in a program that did take an integral approach, the likelihood is that for most established artists in our community, they received that training before the Internet or social media, and I don’t need to tell you that changed everything.”

“The program was perfect for where I am now in my art career,” said program participant Nanci Charpenteir. “It came along at just the right time. Participating in this course over the eight weeks was worth the time and the money. It’s brought a great deal of focus to my work.”

Different Baton Rouge businesses were involved throughout the course of the program as well, including Assistant Director of Ann Connelly Fine Art Chelsea, Norris and Orhan McMillan from the Walls Project. Each guest brought their own specific skill set and knowledge each week, which was well received by the participants.

“For me, my ‘a ha’ moment was when Orhan McMillan gave a presentation about The Walls Project,” said Jacobson. “It never even occurred to me that I could be a public artist. I was so inspired and because of what I had learned in the program, I knew exactly what I needed to do to apply. I ended up getting accepted, and Casey Phillips and I have already started collaborating on a building project. This is the most significant achievement of my career and it never would have happened without the Artist as Entrepreneur class.”

According to Parfait, another Artist as Entrepuener program will be offered in Spring 2015.

“Since it’s been such a successful first run, we’re definitely going to offer this again,” said Parfait.

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