ABI: Business Skills for Artists | Midwest Arts Business Workshop Gives Creative Entrepreneurs the Skills to Succeed

The way I thought about my jewelry business changed in the spring of 2005, when I attended the Arts Business Institute (ABI) at Haywood Community College in Clyde, North Carolina. Even though I barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I vividly remember the seminars I attended  three years ago. Each gave me important insights into what I could do to change my business for the better.

I started selling art jewelry in the spring of 2002, with my first consignment to the Des Moines Art Museum store. I specialize in translating various textile techniques into metal, which creates a distinctive look. From the start, it was difficult for me to figure out exactly who my customer base was and where I should go to look for them. Key assumptions, such as putting my most professional look forward, seemed to backfire. For example, I discovered that early catalogs I had created were too “slick” looking, giving the impression that I was an importer instead of a single artist working in her studio.

ABI gave me an understanding of the business side to art that I didn’t have before. Some classes, such as “Your Slides and the Jury,” gave me the opportunity to get behind the scenes. In this class, Bruce Baker, a nationally known artist and motivational speaker, showed slide sets that he had spent years accumulating. This gave us a very graphic feel for what works and what doesn’t when a jury sits down to make decisions. After looking through one dreadful slide set after another, we developed an eye for the slide sets that worked—they sang out clearly, like bird song on a spring morning. 

Bruce Baker also taught classes on booth design and sales techniques, both of which immediately impacted my bottom line. By implementing his suggestions, sales at my next retail shows were much better. For me, a huge change was to stop demonstrating. Because my technique is so different, I felt that I had to spend time showing people how it was done. In his class, Bruce warned against creating “edu-tainment.” The key question is, “Are you selling, or are you educating/entertaining?” It seems so simple in hindsight, yet once I started focusing on selling, my sales went up. It literally doesn’t pay to be entertaining at an art festival!

But the largest change for me was the boost in confidence that ABI gave me. Because I have no formal art education (I actually dropped out of the only art class I ever had in college), I was worried about how legitimate my work was. After a mentoring session with a major craft-gallery owner, who told me that my work was solid, cohesive, and very distinctive, I decided to apply to the larger shows and exhibitions I had previously shied away from. This confidence is still paying dividends, as one of my pieces, Pearl Filled Crown Sinnet Bracelet, has just been accepted into the Handweaver’s Guild of America’s “Small Expressions 2008” exhibit at the Tampa Museum of Art!

I do have one downside to report about ABI, though—there were so many interesting classes that I didn’t have a chance to them all. There were classes on marketing, writing press releases, effective ways to use Quickbooks—all of which intrigued me. Fortunately, I now have another chance to learn from ABI during the Midwest Arts Business Workshop to be held April 11-13, 2008, in Fairfield, and this time I don’t have to travel all the way across the country to do it. We are very lucky to have this resource coming to our region, and I hope many of you decide to spend the weekend learning how to take your arts business to the next level. 

To Register
For more information on the Midwest Arts Business Workshop, contact Cathy Wadsworth at cwadsworth@iowatelecom.com, (641) 233-8883, or log onto www.fairfieldartwalk.com. The registration fee is $150.

Tahmi De Schepper resides in Fairfield and successfully makes a living as a jewelry artisan full time.

The Midwest Art Business Institute Workshop is sponsored by Arts Business Institute, 1st Fridays Art Walk, Fairfield Iowa Convention and Visitors Bureau, Fairfield Entrepreneurial Association, Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, and the Fairfield Cultural Alliance. 1st Fridays Art Walk is funded, in part, by a grant for the Iowa Cultural Grant administered by the Iowa Dept of Cultural Affairs.

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