Whether a painter completing an ethereal landscape, or a writer crafting a page-turning plot, creatives among us add substance and beauty to the world at large. No matter how intense the talent, however, the painters, writers, sculptors, the weavers, potters, playwrights and poets unaware of how best to connect with the buying public often languish professionally.
“Just because you make it doesn’t mean people are going to buy it,” said Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) Executive Director John Bateman. “It is possible to make a living doing this. It’s just learning how to make it work. It does require people to put themselves out there.”
To support the creative community — and the area’s creative economy as well — Bateman and the SAAC board began looking at how they could assist. About two years ago, they began a series called Business Skills Workshops.
“We realized there are a lot of things no one’s teaching artists,” the director said. Those topics might range from how to write a strong grant, fellowship or festival application, how to best utilize social media, or better understand sales taxes. After offering four workshops the first year, SAAC realized it needed more bandwidth to support the project to the extent desired. The workshops paused.
“But now we have paired up with the Oxford arts council because they are doing the same thing,” explained Bateman. “The idea is we’re trying to do 10 workshops a year between the two arts councils. The goal is to help artists get the skills they need to market themselves. We want to build our artists up so that they stay here, that they understand how to sell their work, instead of them leaving here for (places like) Nashville or New Orleans.”
Adapting in pandemic
Early workshops were all in person, but COVID-19 has moved them now online.
“Zoom has opened up a lot of opportunities,” Bateman noted. “Even when we go back to in-person, there will be Zoom options.”
In a year when arts organizations everywhere have been unable to maintain many regular events or programming, focus has sometimes turned to collaboration. That has encompassed not only Starkville and Oxford, but also Columbus.
“Several of us have started to talk regularly and looking at ways we can help our artists,” Bateman remarked. “And if we join forces we can share the resources; our ultimate goal is to do joint block grant writing.”
The workshops themselves can be a tool for weathering the pandemic.
“Because it’s been such a hard year, through having these, artists can share their struggles with each other and maybe share ways they have adapted to make it better,” said SAAC board president and artist Mary Switzer.
“A lot of times, artists tend to be kind of solitary, so I think it’s nice to offer opportunities where they can get together and communicate with each other, throw ideas out there that maybe others could benefit from.”
Bob Brzuszek of Starkville markets his acrylic paintings online. The year 2020 made it more important than ever to maximize his virtual presence.
“With all the art shows and different types of fairs that have closed, online sources are about the only way to be able to market any type of art products,” he said. He attended a Business Skills Workshop to learn as much as he could about resources and sites available to him.
“It was extremely helpful to have artists who are already doing this and have experience and helpful tips and techniques for different stages of your business,” Brzuszek said.
The painter welcomed the socially-distanced virtual format from a personal health perspective. He also appreciated the reduced time required vs. attending an in-person event.
“Sometimes when you have your own small business you sort of feel all alone,” he remarked. “To talk to others and get helpful tips is comforting, talking to other people who are in the same shoes.”
The next workshop
The next free virtual Business Skills Workshop is at noon on Feb. 2. The title is “Facebook Marketing Basics for Creatives” with Kathy Jacobs of Kathy Jacobs Design & Marketing. Participants will learn about Facebook campaigns to promote their arts business and more. Register online at starkvillearts.net. Spaces are limited. A Zoom link will be sent with your ticket confirmation email. Although this session will be recorded, you must register in order to access the recording.
The workshop is presented by SAAC, Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in Oxford and the MS Presenter’s Network as part of the $kills for the Creative Economy series.
“The (sessions) are free and fun and super casual,” Switzer said.
Bateman added, “They are designed to help our artists put their best foot forward.”
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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