Being an artist can be a lonely occupation. Isolation is often a necessary part of the creative process, providing time to explore, reflect and innovate. Rejection is common, especially for fledglings new to navigating the landscape of galleries, exhibitions and commerce.
But collaboration can and does occur, and resources are available.
Enter the Artist Trust. Established in 1987, this nonprofit organization supports and encourages individual artists working in all disciplines. To enrich community life throughout Washington, the Artist Trust serves as a free professional information source, provides financial grants through a peer review process, and works to create connectivity amongst artists statewide, said associate director and communications manager Lila Hurwitz.
“Our mission is to support artists in their careers and to help them develop their entrepreneurial skills,” she said.
A competitive edge
Enamored with feathers since the age of 12, Olympia resident Chris Maynard took the natural step of pursuing a degree in biology. However, after his mother, a renowned Pacific Northwest artist, passed away in 2008, he was inspired to follow a different path.
“My mother was a truly amazing artist, and after she died, I felt called to explore that part of my life and honor her in that way,” he said.
Four years later, Maynard has developed his passion for feathers into photography and constructed displays. Feathers aren’t cheap, though, and despite gaining a reputation through word of mouth, Maynard admits he hasn’t yet captured the attention of gallery directors and exhibition organizers.
“My professional development only began last fall when I took a daylong Artist Trust class,” he said. “It really set me in the right direction and introduced me to EDGE.”
Designed in 2003, with the help of professional artists, curators and educators, the EDGE Professional Development Program is offered as a weeklong residency program or as seven consecutive weekend sessions. It provides a comprehensive survey of professional practices through a hands-on, interactive curriculum that includes instruction by professionals in the field, as well as specialized presentations, panel discussions and assignments.
EDGE is a competitive program; artists apply and are selected by a juried panel. Maynard joined 15 artists from around Washington this week for a weeklong course at Centrum.
Making the cut
One of Maynard’s classmates is Kim Tinuviel, a mixed-media artist from Langley who applied for the program in 2010, but failed to make the final cut. However, hearing from friends and colleagues that EDGE had “changed their lives,” she reapplied and was accepted.
“I heard that if you want to take your fine art career to the next level, [EDGE] is the one focused activity that will make the biggest difference,” Tinuviel said.
Applying for EDGE tests the exact skills artists are eager to hone. Steps include reading and completing an application, and submitting a written essay and 10 digital copies of their work. This process, repeated and replicated infinitely in the arts world, can mean the difference between landing a gig and being looked over.
“Artists are like everybody else pursuing a passion; they want to spend their time doing their art, not filling out forms and doing paperwork. But that’s what being a successful artist is about; if you can’t do it right, you’ll get rejected,” Tinuviel said.
In a classroom setting, students tackle a variety of challenges, from funding their work and designing a budget to contracting with galleries and their legal rights as an artist, to marketing and networking. While they work on those challenges, a team of professionals who are familiar – and experienced – in buying, selling and promoting art, introduce solutions.
At the end of the course, each student makes a formal presentation on what they have learned, said EDGE program manager Nichole DeMent. The public is welcome to attend.
“[The presentation] is the final culmination of everything they’ve learned about themselves, their art and the art market,” she said.
A former gallery director for a Seattle nonprofit, DeMent said she could instantly tell which artists were EDGE graduates based on the clarity and professionalism of their portfolios.
“It is really the caliber of the teachers and speakers that make the program,” she said. “They’ve been there, they’ve lived it.”
A 2006 EDGE graduate and professional artist, Gloria Lamson of Port Townsend said she left the program with a better understanding of the challenges faced by professionals and feeling more confident about her ability to compete in the market. Lamson spoke to the various methods for finding and obtaining funding, which is essential to creating a long-term vision and detailed plan to be able to support oneself through art, she said.
“The cliché ‘starving artist’ isn’t realistic,” Lamson said. “Artists are people, too; they need to be able to pay the rent, care for their kids and pursue their passion.”
And while the coursework provides a comprehensive road map, Lamson said, a professional artist evolution is never truly done. “It’s a lifetime of learning and adaptation.”
Dement, an artist herself, added that she senses the difficulty of balancing professionalism and competitiveness while remaining true and authentic.
“You have to straddle that line,” she said. “Yes, there are steps to being a strong cohort, but if there is passion there and it shines through, you’ll see an artist doing what they love and loving what they do.”
In addition to coursework, the program provides ample time for the artists to collaborate, communicate and participate in the creative process, said DeMent. And while many of the organizers and students remain true to the fact that art is a solo endeavor, the desire to create a community is very prominent said Lamson.
“I think there is a whole slew of ways artist can work together and support one another, whether that be collaborating on projects or shows, or just reviewing and critiquing one another’s work,” Maynard said.
“I fully expect that two or three collaborations will come out of this program,” Tinuviel said. “I hope to make a few lifelong friendships with folks that I can do some really amazing things with, in some really great places.”
A sustainable life
Represented by the Brackenwood Gallery and featured on the Whidbey Art Trail studio tour, Tinuviel has had success showing and selling her photography and encaustics. However, making ends meet is still difficult. By learning how to optimize her time in the studio, she said that 40 hours a week should equate to sustainable income.
“Artists tend to live as artists; it doesn’t stop at 5 o’clock, so it becomes pretty easy to spend all of your time on your work without thinking about how that relates to income,” she said.
By conversing with gallery artists and promoters, Tinuviel said, she hopes to identify some simple adjustments to her products that maximize their selling potential.
Lamson is scheduled to host an informational meeting on programs and resources offered by Artist Trust on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the Jefferson County Library, in Port Hadlock. This event is free and open to the public.