Teaching the Business of Art

By Beacon Staff

When it comes to their craft, artists can be solitary creatures, focused on and dedicated to creating their life’s work. This trait allows them to follow their passion and develop as artists, but it can also leave them in the dark when it comes to the business side of the art world.

That’s where the Montana Artrepreneur Program (MAP) hopes to build some bridges. Created by the Montana Arts Council several years ago, MAP teaches artists the ins and outs of marketing themselves through an eight-month course.

According to Jan Shanahan, a Whitefish artist who teaches the program in the Flathead, MAP has taken off faster here than anywhere else in the state, with 75 to 80 local artists having completed the program already.

“It has grown, which is really nice,” Shanahan said.

One example showing that the program continues to pick up speed in the Flathead is the upcoming exhibit at the Hockaday Museum of Art featuring MAP students, called “Montana Artists: Innovators, Inventors and Entrepreneurs.”

The show, which includes 27 MAP artists from around the state, opens on May 8 with a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and will run until June 21 at the museum.

To Shanahan, coordinating with an art museum for such a show is a coup for the program, because not only will the artists get exposure, they also had to use the skills they learned in the classes to apply for and get accepted to the juried show.

“We’re kind of leading the charge in the Flathead, and that’s one of the reasons I really wanted to look at doing one of these (shows),” Shanahan said. “One of the things that is so hard for an artist is to break into the museum world.”

Shanahan’s hope is that other art museums across the state will pay attention to what the Hockaday and the MAP students are doing with the exhibit, and follow suit.

As one of the artists who will be showing her work in the exhibit, Gail Hansen of Whitefish said she started MAP classes in 2011 as a way to make herself more well-rounded.

“I am always open to learning something, and it just seemed like there would be something there I could learn about the business of art,” Hansen said.

Hansen said she had been painting for many years, and had read multiple books on marketing herself and her work, but the MAP class laid it all out in a simple, straightforward way.

“The whole business, all the nuts and bolts of the business, were presented in an organized way,” Hansen said. “It helped me to do it. I want to paint, I don’t want the writing and the budgeting and all these things, so it was easy to put off.”

During the eight-month program, which includes 10 hours of instruction every other month and workshops during the months without instruction, Hansen learned about business plans, and used what she needed to fill in the gaps in her own knowledge.

The course objectives are presented in a step-by-step way that helps everyone complete them, Hansen said, and the artists in the class – called a cohort – make connections with each other throughout the process.

“Being with other artists who were struggling in similar ways, there was an immediate camaraderie among all the people who were in the creative world,” Hansen said.

Becky Fulton, a Kalispell artist who will have work in the upcoming exhibit, started the program in October 2012 after hearing other artists talking about their cohort and the information they had learned during the classes.

It sounded exactly like what she needed to move her art career forward, Fulton said.

“I’ve been doing art forever but it never goes anywhere,” she said. “(The teachers) are in the business of helping you.”

The local classes are held at Flathead Valley Community College, which also sponsors the program. There, Fulton said she learned how to build a business plan and how to be more entrepreneurial and aggressive in marketing herself.

Looking back, it all seemed pretty simple, Fulton said. Many of the steps are items like creating a logo, a business card, a brochure and a website, and the teachers are there to help along the way.

“It just helps you be more professional,” Fulton said. “You don’t just walk into a gallery; you’ve got your portfolio and they know you’re for real.”

Usually, the MAP artists put on a fall show at FVCC, but Shanahan hoped to be able to bump it up to a level like the show at the Hockaday. At the opening reception, the most recent cohort of students will be able to meet and mingle with all the cohorts that came before, she said, allowing for more connections.

“They’ll be surprised how many friends they’ll make through this and how they’ll help each other,” Shanahan said.

For Hansen, the program helped build her business acumen, but it also provided important support for her and other artists’ work.

“They were so tremendous and supportive,” Hansen said. “Also, what it did for me is said, ‘You are valued; what you’re doing is important.’”
The next MAP class will take place in January, 2015. For more information, email Jan Shanahan at janshan@wildskyindustries.com, or visit www.art.mt.gov/folklife/folklife_business.asp.

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