Entrepreneurship and DIY Movements: Models for Artistic Production, Collaboration, and Socially Engaged Practice
Figure 5.1 Mrs. Gallery, Chris Bogia Exhibition, Under the Bonsia Tree, 2019
Recently, much has been written about artists needing to be more entrepreneurial or more business-like. Programs are now being set up in art schools to advance this way of thinking. I too have said, like many others: “when you sell your first piece of art you are in a business.” But after starting my own business (and subsequently closing it) I realized how naive these words were. Art is not like other businesses and artists are not inherently business people, nor should they be, unless they choose to acquire the skills to become one. What artists do need to do is be more financially strategic with their careersand many are taking control of their finances. But to conflate financial responsibility with entrepreneurship is too broad a brush to use to paint these two activities. Creativity can factor in thinking about finances, but when it comes to starting a business the equation changes, as we shall see in this chapter. Later we’ll hear from two artists who started their own hybrid model of a business venture with a DIY passion project.
Being in a business and running it is a separate endeavor to what it takes to be an artist. As it should be. There arc different uses of skills and language for both. Business terms emphasize finding a market and selling a product, while the artist’s attention is primarily on the act of creating something new again and again. To embark on being an entrepreneur is in addition to your art making; you would be working at two professions. These two endeavors can overlap and nurture each other because the creative energies used in making art will always be a part of a new business as well. Artists can be great entrepreneurs, but they will have to consciously choose to be one and that is a big leap for most of us. Here’s why.
The business of art and what business people do are inherently different. Artists are involved in the creative act, while business people arc driven by the sale of the product. Each depend on different mindsets and groups of skills. One involves making a product to market, whereas being an artist is about one’s autonomy in the studio or post studio setting and generally not thinking about what will sell, how to market the work, or find a consumer base. Art is a commentary on how an artist uniquely sees the world, whether it is an inner or social vision. Business is about engaging the world in order to market and sell a product.
But these different approaches to the market are not incompatible. Some of the greatest artists were also great business people, such as Rubens, who basically had a factory model for his paintings, hiring lots of assistants to initially paint his canvases, Rembrandt, who was a self-made businessman, and more recently Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Warhol’s background in advertising definitely helped him market his work, and his work reflected the market right back onto itself, while Koon’s vacuum-cleaner salesman father must have taught him a thing or two about business and marketing.
Let’s break this discussion down even further. The consumer art market is different from the fine art market. What sells in galleries often, but not always, differs from what sells in Christie’s and Sotheby’s. For example, the British street artist Banksy draws attention to these dichotomies in the art world. Consider his recent painting, Devolved Parliament, showing Britain’s House of Commons populated by chimpanzees, which went to auction at Sotheby’s and sold for $12.1 million, setting a record rate for his work on canvas, as opposed to his street murals, which cannot be sold because they are on walls. Banksy paints his public murals for free.
Officially, he does not sell his work. He is not represented hy any institution or gallery. But when he did try to sell his original stenciled print work at a stall in Central Park for $60 only three people bought any over the course of a day. Later, at auction, some of the prints sold for a total of $225,000. A Guardian article dated July 2014 reported that
Gareth Williams, head of contemporary art at Bonham’s, said the Central Park stall was a coup. “The fact that his paintings were original and were being offered at a tiny fraction of their true retail value, raises real questions about the perception of worth and the nature of art as commodity within the marketplace—something that the artist must be acutely aware of.”
And ultimately, Banksy will see none of the money for Devolved Parliament, as a third party sold it in the secondary auction marketplace. His prior statement of shredding a Girl With a Balloon, one of his most iconic images, at $otheby’s auction house in 2018 was expressly meant to discourage the sale of his canvas painting at auction, but the mechanics of the shredder malfunctioned and only partially shredded the painting. The piece went for approximately $1.4 million; the stunt and its only partial success may have increased the value of the painting by as much as 50%. Art and money involve value appreciation of the art, calculated investments in art, cultural trends, media attention, credibility in the dealers, authentication and verification of the artwork; all are parts of the complicated mix of the art world.
In comparison, here is the general equation for a business model of an entrepreneur: there is a customer problem, then the creation of a product that solves the particular consumer issue, after which capital is found to produce the product, which is then marketed, and finally there is the cultivation of a client base to buy the newly created product. This basic equation means without a good product that meets the needs of a client base the entrepreneur will not have a sustainable business. What we have seen with the Banksy example is the more complicated model of the art market. It deals in the relationships between investing, authenticity, culture and appreciation of the product. What is currently hot to buy and what will appreciate in value over time; this market runs on hype, buzz, fashion, and fame. Art is not a business like other businesses.
You may have the skill set to think about working on a business startup or already have and are running one. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone but in thinking about what it can offer can be useful to artists on many levels. If you are not so inclined to run a business, think about starting a project organically and join (an oxymoron) the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement. We’ll look at what it takes to do both in this chapter and begin by what making art, running a business, and starting a DIY project have in common.
Values and goals arc what you need for your art practice, a business, or a DIY project, however large or small.
Values are what you believe in. You already are living by them but maybe haven’t necessarily articulated them. Values are something you consider important, of worth, or believe in deeply. They are your principles or standards for your life. You can stand by them as you believe in with your heart and soul. Take time to identify them in order to move forward with your goals.
Here are a few words that embody different values to get you started.
Do you value honesty, fair play, freedom, autonomy, privacy, integrity, loyalty, power, pleasure, recognition, responsibility, self-respect, authenticity, wisdom, transparency, trust, security, solitude, adventure, fame, order, family, achievement, empathy, consistency, and winning to name a few?
For example, it makes a difference to your business ideals or selfinitiated DIY projects if you say you believe strongly in transparency. It would mean that you envision your work to be transparent concerning your actions, budgets, payments, roles, hires, creative process, etc. In other words, it would be worth it to you to do the work to make your endeavor transparent. Your motivation to be transparent would be your belief and perhaps passion in the importance of transparency in your life and others.
Another actual example is the Joan Mitchel Foundation in New York City, which states on their website that their values are: artist-centered, diverse in demographics and perspectives, responsive, comprehensive, and sustainable. They work from these values.
Being clear about your values is key to any successful project, inside or outside your art practice. Your values will drive your goals. Once you have identified your values and linked them to your goals then a vision for the next steps in your career will emerge. Vision(s) can be large or small and thus take various amounts of time to accomplish them.
Now that you have identified your values, what are your goals? For those who are not clear about their goals or are on the fence about them, here are a couple of ways to think them through.
To identify a goal, ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish? These desired accomplishments or actions will be your goals, short or long-term ones. Goals and visions are entwined. What your vision is for your work and life will generate your goals, and both are inextricably aligned with your values. If need be, step back and re-evaluate your values, thus your visions, and ultimately your goals. If you aren’t sure about a goal, ask yourself if they are part of your value system.
Some goals will take years to accomplish and some a few weeks or months. You may wish to think about them in one, three, or five-year increments. At first, write everything down on your list of short and longterm goals. Later you will naturally prioritize them, as the most important ones always come to the surface, because you will think about them more than the others. If any of your goals don’t sit quite right, go back to your values, compare your goals to them and modify or adjust them. Focus on the short term goals first, then the longer ones. If it helps to look at your goals from another angle, here is another way to nail your goals down. The motivation or reasons for your goals will come from your purpose or aspirations based on your values. For example, ask not what you want to do with your art but what you want your art to do for you.
Goals keep you focused and motivated. They help you create a plan to move forward step by step. Even if your plans change, write them out and be specific so you carefully describe what steps you need to take to make the goal happen. Be realistic and ultimately flexible.
Suggestion: Keep track of what you do so you see how you are moving forward. Check in with your goals and plans every few weeks to see if you are still on track or need to revise them. Be as specific as possible. Instead of “email people,” write down exactly who you need to email and why (one or two words here will do). People who are organization/time advisors say this is a simple way to take the anxiety out of a task and actually do it; by being as clear as possible with the task.
The Pie: Make a circle on your paper and divide it up into the time you spend on things every day: i.e. chores, work, making art, etc. Now make a pie with your goals in mind. Compare the two pies and see where changes need to be made.
Achieving your goals happens in small steps, so try to do one thing a day toward them! A friend does the hardest thing first in the beginning of the day so he doesn’t carry the dread of doing it around all day. Know you will always be planning and revising your plan as circumstances change. Keep the larger picture in mind and try to visualize it.
Action Plans (It Is Not a Business Plan but Can Lead to One)
Write down two or three goals you want to achieve within the next year. Then ask yourself:
- • How can you describe in words or visually define your strategy and specific activities to get closer to your goals? Try to be as specific as possible. Map it out in words or visually.
- • Where do you start your research?
- • Who can help you with your goals?
- • What do you need to do to reach your goals?
Then proceed to a larger vision.
- • Where do you see yourself in five years?
- • What finances need to be in place?
- • Do you have space concerns? Material and equipment concerns?
- • Are there any mentors or role models who can help you with these longer range goals?
And follow it up with what kind of community you wish to be a part of.
- • How do you envision your ideal creative community?
- • What steps do you begin to create it?
- • Who is on your wish list of contacts?
- • Role models and mentors who can help you?
- • What creative examples do you know of to draw from to help you envision this community?
The Spirit of Entrepreneurship (What It Takes)
To start a business you will need a great idea and a good business plan. The standard contents of a business plan include: an overview or business concept, the executive summary, a mission statement, a general company description, what the opportunity is for the business, research on the competition, industry, and marketplace, your strategy to create it, your potential consumer base, the team (management and organization), a marketing plan, an operational plan, and most importantly a financial plan or budget over a five-year period.
Before you to start to write your business plan you’ll need to spend some time doing in-depth research into the industry you wish to focus on and the market for your concept. You’ll be using online research, mentors, industry experts, suppliers, associations, and existing competitors to gather this information for the plan. You arc finding out how the marketplace will support and/or hinder your business so you can solve issues or problems before you open your new project. All sections in the business plan must be integrated and cannot stand in isolation from each other. Each should be informed by your research and understood or written in tandem with your partners if you have them. And you needn’t write the plan in the order of the topics you wish to cover. Start with a section you feel most prepared to write first, then follow up with the rest. For example, the executive summary is the first category in an outline of a business plan but is usually written after everything else is completed as it is a summary of the whole plan. A good business plan process will always involve circling back to different sections regularly in order to revise, check outcomes and results of the content as necessary.
Taking Steps into Entrepreneurship
First and foremost, find a mentor or a couple of mentors who have gone through this process before to help you with it. Learn as much as you can about the process of creating a business plan by taking some classes, if necessary, to understand how a business works and ask a lot of questions as you go. Try out your idea on as many people as possible and get feedback before you even start to write up your idea. You want to be as prepared as possible before you open your business.
Startups and Innovation
Business plans often make the assumptions that innovation described in them is a linear process. To be innovative is to embark on a nonlinear process or path that usually involves several false starts. It is said that over 90% of all startups fail. It’s a process that can’t be completely planned in advance, as there are always unforeseen developments no one can predict. It takes constant testing, reanalysis, and revisions of your plan as you go forward, because finding out what your clients really want or need is at the core of any successful business. The “build-and-they-will-come” model is a poor one to go by because it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Models that are tested with real people are the ones that survive over the long run.
Artists are especially good at this process because we arc experts at innovating. We innovate all the time making our art. The same can be said for any new endeavor. 1 started a public high school in New York City and was told by a wise mentor that on the first day of school all the well-crafted plans for managing it, creating curriculums, and organizing the programs would be drastically altered when we “hit the ground” as she put it. She was right. Everything changed when the students, teachers, and administrators showed up. All the things we could never have imagined happening while writing up our plans did. But the plan was the initial and critical template for the school, and essential to get teams of people we needed on board to make it succeed, which it ultimately did.
We’ve covered the traditional business model but there are many different ways to go about planning for a new project or endeavor. New models to create businesses are described in books such as the Blue Ocean Strategy, The Lean Start Up, or Rework.
In Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne, they explain:
Blue Ocean Strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand. It is about creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant. It is based on the view that market boundaries and industry structures are not a given and can be reconstructed by the actions and beliefs of industry players.
While Eric Ries, author of The Lean Start Up: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business, wants to maximize creativity and sustainability in a business so that entrepreneurs can continuously and with minimum effort test and shift directions in order to flourish.
Rework by Jason Freid and David Heinemeier Hannsson, founders of Basecamp (previously 37signals), argue that you don’t need a plan, outside investors, or even to know the competition to succeed in business. They introduce readers to counterintuitive ways to do it your way and invite artists to use their methods to stop the cycle of feeling downtrodden and to “scratch their itch.”
There are many more innovative startup models now, and it is well worth becoming familiar with them to see which one is a good match for your ideas before embarking on the adventure and journey of being an entrepreneur.
Real Estate for Artists: Work Space and Possible Solutions
A major concern for all of us artists is where do 1 find space to work in? What inexpensive space can I find to work in so 1 can also afford a place to live? The standard route is to find some place the general population isn’t interested in looking for or living in, such as old buildings or warehouses in challenging neighborhoods. But as is also the tradition that these spaces, once artists arrive, get fixed up, lived in (sometimes), used, revamped, and often transformed into new communities—all done through the labor, ingenuity, and the imagination of artists, designers, writers, and other creative people. Nowadays, artists are seen as the “initial” step for developers who come after and take over these spaces, ultimately renovating them and setting high prices for their sales which drives out creative communities and, unfortunately, many of the long-term locals who are often collaborators with artists. You know this drill. Developers often use the guise of marketing these
“new” spaces as being places to “live creatively.” Gentrification has become synonymous with the drive to relocate local populations and creative communities.
Looking for space has been part of my breathing process as an artist. 1 am always making mental notes when I see a space that holds potential to work and thrive in. 1 am an advocate for this little recognized and celebrated skill set the majority of artists have, such as this one: we have the imagination to transform little loved locations into working neighborhoods as we seek, find, and establish spaces for our creative lives in our communities—no small skill. But because this skill set is unrecognized by local authorities, issues abound; some places are dangerous to work in, let alone live in. The lack of affordable spaces to live/work in for artists, as well as the practice of local agencies to look in the other direction, knowing the safety issues of the buildings all along, was tragically realized in the terrible fire that took place in a well-established artist community in Oakland, California, where 36 people died in a fire on December 2016. The building in Oakland had a name, the Ghost Ship, and had not been inspected for 30 years even though, ironically, a fire station was located right across the street. After the devastating event, panic set in and local authorities suddenly began a series of evictions, endangering artists’ live/work spaces in warehouses around Oakland. Other cities were affected as well. One such place was in Baltimore; the Bell Foundry, a well-established community for artists, was shut down soon after the Oakland fire. And these issues aren’t unique to this country. As He Miao, a curator of contemporary art in Beijing, wrote, “Art is always pushed to the edge. In China, contemporary art cannot be made in cities. Where the urban meets the rural, that’s where art happens.” It seems Chinese artists are also looking for space and affordable rents.
But there are potential models that work and can be recreated that solve the live/work space issue for artists. For example, the Santa Fe Art Colony in California has been around for 30 years. It is a safe, rent-controlled colony for 80 artists. It holds some important answers to the issue of good live/work space for artists. Located in downtown Los Angeles, it was “established as a protected artists’ community to support artists, enhance Los Angeles’ cultural and creative life, and reap the economic benefits generated when the arts thrive.” But it is under threat as well, with a possible rent increase that would price out artists. Having contributed to establishing a vibrant Arts District, developers are eager to cash in on these artists’ long, hard work to enhance downtown Los Angeles. Yet it is well understood that the arts are vital and lucrative to any community, large or small. After the fire in Oakland, its mayor Libby Schaff immediately allocated $1.7 million of funding to artists’ housing. She said, “The arts are at the center of vibrant and diverse communities, and are critical to neighborhood health and wellbeing, yet artists and cultural organizations are increasingly vulnerable to instability and displacement.” And Tom Finkelpearl, New York City Commissioner of Cultural Affairs responded, “We just can’t allow artists to be priced out ... They’re important for the soul of the city, they’re important for neighborhoods, they’re really important for the economy.”
We need many more initiatives like the Santa Fe Art Colony, protected rent-controlled space specifically for artists to live/work in because of the contributions artists make to the vitality of any community. The creative contributions artists bring with them to where they live must be recognized and supported. The revenue artists generate within communities, attracting visitors from other communities to creative places, or the kinds of inherent abilities we have to solve problems, should generate city recognition and support. But as artists we generally have difficulty going through legal processes to secure such spaces and not where we put our energies. But maybe we should start to organize and change this potentially treacherous landscape for ourselves, instead of accepting the habitual live/work space treadmill we all know so well.
What if we take more control of this narrative and join together to advocate for more rent-controlled spaces through city councils, as well as band together to purchase buildings for the greater security and longevity of our careers? Artists worldwide are beginning to do just this. Take the example of Good Arts LLC. When Jane Richlovsky was evicted from her studio in 2015, she and three partners banded together to form the company Good Arts LLC and purchased the Scheurerman Building in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. The bridging offers artists affordable studios, a commercial gallery, and craft store. Their mission on their website: “We believe that economic development should include the creative class as its beneficiary as well as its catalyst. To that end, we also foster connections between, and promote the interdependent prosperity of, artists and other neighborhood businesses and institutions.”1 You can hear about the process of creating Good Arts LLC on a TED talk.
Or consider a larger innovative DIY project started by artist, potter, and social activist Theaster Gates in Grand Crossings, Chicago. He began transforming his neighborhood by acquiring cheap abandoned houses one by one, called the Dorchester Projects. He thinks of it as an extension of his art practice as a potter, as in “house as a vessel,” and then thinks about what goes into it. His concept for this visionary project was to think of the interrelationship between these buildings and their inhabitants to each other, what they do for the community and how to use them to reinvigorate their neighborhood through development, programs, and culture. Using a host of stakeholders, he used housing and land trust to secure the projects. Developers he observed think of buildings as individual structures and don’t take into account how one house could support another one in a diverse community. His houses have names. The Active Building is for exhibitors and small dinners. It later became the Archive House with more programming. The Listening House is a receptor for books. The Black Cinema House shows films by artists of color. And finally a bank was converted, called the Arts Bank Hub, which hosts a wide variety of activities. Now advising other communities around the country, Gates counsels participants to start with “what you’ve got” and go from there. He added, “beauty is a basic service.”2 For more, listen to Theaster Gates’s TED talk, 2015.
Figure 5.2 Hennessy Youngman - “It’s a Small, Small World,” Maurizio Cattelan’s Family Business Gallery, NYC, 2012
The Spirit of DIY
The DIY movement began in the 1950s but took off in the 1970s. Artists began creating works in storefronts, abandoned buildings, street corners, loft spaces, and unused factories; in public spaces not considered suitable for exhibiting art. The thinking behind this development in the art world was to intentionally challenge the relationships between public and private spaces, the white cube gallery and the status quo it represented. Artists wanted more direct interaction with their audiences on their terms while freeing themselves to explore any topic or genre of creation. Often these events were community and audience-driven.
The new genres of performance arts, happenings, events, installations, and new media art were often temporary, ephemeral, and noncommercial. Alternative spaces were used for many of these events. They became an effective way for artists to juxtapose their message against the art market. The events were a source of community support among artists and were also a direct response to the formal structured and seen as sterile commercial gallery scene. They also offered visibility for topics such as the body, identity, social justice, and gender politics. Importantly they offered artists from diverse backgrounds, often under-represented and working with non-traditional mediums, exposure.
Updating this movement, boundaries between commercial galleries and DIY projects have blurred, with the art world taking the newest ideas and best talent from these non-conventional venues. Likewise, some long time DIY spaces have absorbed the structures and hierarchies of mainstream galleries, even when they have been artist-run. Still, emerging talent and experimentation with current cultural trends is at the core of the DIY movement.
While the 1970s gave birth to working in non-conventional space and the DIY movement in America and internationally, artists today rely heavily on this legacy, discovering the value of creating non-traditional venues for their artwork. Increasingly, artists are questioning the use of static, physical locations for art and beginning to give up the idea of working solely in a studio setting. For example, opting to work on site in a gallery setting, working to create a body of work for one exhibition, exploring earth as canvas/labora-tory, much like the Earthworks art or Land Art artists in the 1960s and 1970s only on a more international scale to include the use of global time frames, creating content across national boundaries, and continuing the traditions of performance art by engaging audiences in activities worldwide that are in themselves the art experience.
DIY and Non-Conventional, Off-Beat, or Unusual Spaces
Do It Yourself (DIY) projects are essentially creating new opportunities and avenues for artists and their work. With some imagination you can take your work into just about any space (see Chapter 3). The benefits can give you more control over how you present your work as well to exhibit your art unmediated by a dealer or gallerist. The DIY movement allows artists to speak directly for themselves and to their audiences. Community and collaboration are at the core of this movement and can create supportive environments for all the stakeholders.
Technology is also allowing artists faster and more direct access to larger groups of people through social media and other online platforms, creating easier, more affordable new avenues for getting art to a wide range of audiences. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other unique platforms can generate over time online communities creating access to new and diverse audiences.
But what is most exciting about this genre is the controversial, experimental and social change content which is often not welcomed or represented in mainstream galleries and can live and thrive in DIY projects and non-conventional spaces. These venues can be laboratories and testing grounds for new ideas and work. Social justice projects are finding more room in DIY projects to explore subjects that may seem too difficult for mainstream galleries to handle.
In cities or towns without major art scenes, it is possible for artists to optimize off-beat spaces with startups to make work visible to the public. Artists living in rural areas, for example, are coming together to create DIY collaborations, supportive communities, and unusual exhibition spaces. For example, an agricultural model involves a reciprocal relationship between artists, farmers, and consumers. The collective gathers for a shared potluck meal and artists are invited to present project ideas to the group. At the end of the event, a vote is taken, and an artist is selected to win the money from the dinner’s entrance fees.
DIY projects are funded through a number of ways such as:
- • Annual fundraising events.
- • Ticketed events and parties.
- • Education programs.
- • Open-submission exhibitions.
- • Public funding at the local level through City Councils or State Arts Councils.
- • Private funding such as through a bank.
- • Memberships.
- • Grants (see next section).
- • Patronage.
- • Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Facebook Funding. Make sure you do some background work on how to create an effective campaign before you start one so it will be successful.
Grants create new opportunities to develop your art or advance your artistic career. There are all kinds of grants. Some are for artists in specific states, cities or regions, for artists in particular disciplines, for studying in different countries, for teaching in the arts, and gender specific and culturally based grants. There are also grants that you are nominated for such as the MacArthur Genius Grant. Or a project grant in which the funds are used for a series of works or one large enterprise which generally culminates in an event such as a performance or an exhibition. Fellowships and awards help by supporting the development of your work in your studio or work place practice, as it allows you to continue to work on your art. There are professional development grants that assist you with your research, travel, getting to a conference, admission and support for a conference, learning something new about your profession, acquiring new equipment or materials, or developing your career with professional skills such as creating a marketing plan or budgeting for large projects; the outcome of these grants would be some tangible report or document. Finally, there are also emergency grants for artists in need after a flood, fire, eviction, or other disaster. CREFT, Craft Emergency Relief Fund, is an excellent organization for all artists. Once you have applied to a grant you will be selected from a group of applicants by a body or panel of jurors made up of experts in the field or colleagues in the discipline the award is being granted for.
Grants come in two forms: private or public money. The private funds can come from various parties such as a patron, a big company such as Citibank, or a foundation. Public funds come from local, state, or federal government sources.
There are “restricted” grants which means that you will receive the award for the specific project you proposed. You cannot spend the money for anything other than the project you said you would accomplish. But “unrestricted” grants are awards that you can spend on anything you like but with the idea that you will most likely spend it on materials and other expenses related to your work. In not-for-profit organizations this money can be listed as “general operating support.”
A word about the jurors on the panels. You really have no control over what they think about your work. Only you are the real judge of your project, proposal, and what you think of it. If you think your idea and project has merit, then that is the ultimate outcome. So try not to take it personally if you do not get the grant; hard as it may be. And if you do not get the award on the first round, apply again. Sometimes you will get some feedback on your proposal from a panel and if you do, adjust it accordingly and reapply. Taste and the current trends have a lot to do with the outcomes of the panels and grant awards. And
I strongly believe nothing is lost in this process. You may not get the award this time around, but you will have articulated your project, your reason for it, possibly refined the project itself, honed your objects, and your writing ultimately will always improve. Much is accomplished and gained in initially sending in an application for a grant or award.
There are three important things to consider when working on grant applications. One is to ask yourself what your priorities are for the project you wish to do when you are researching a specific grant type. What are your objectives—make sure you are consistent about them in your request. Don’t get distracted with what you think you ought to do for the grant. Second, think about how the organization assesses what the impact of the award will be for you, as well as the community you work in. Create a compelling argument for your needs so that a funder will say yes, they want to support you. The third thing to consider is that you may not get all the funding you need through one grant or award. Your project will be financed but you may need additional money through other sources such as in-kind goods, donations, or even crowdfunding sources to make up for what the award does not cover.
Then there are the ways to go about looking for a grant. First, find out what grant makers serve your geographic area and make sure to find out if the organizations or agencies have supported projects like yours in the past. Read the mission statement of the grant maker, as well as what grants they have given out recently. These strategies are helpful to moving forward to find funding for your work. One last word: grants and awards should be a part of your overall plan, not the whole strategy to support your art.
The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies website offers a directory for state and fellowships awards by specific state art agencies. The America for the Arts website has a grants resource guide for federal and international awards. And the National Endowment for the Arts has excellent resources on how to apply, manage, and select individual or organizational grants. There is a site for current listings of national and international grants and awards at Art Deadline List which, they say modestly, is “the world’s largest source for income and exhibition opportunities.” It is part of the Art Deadline online site which offers more information about opportunities in the arts. Another great resource for national grants across the country is the New York Federation for the Arts (NYFA) online database under NYFA Source. In addition to these resources, two books come highly recommended for understanding how to apply to and write grants. They are: Guide for Getting Arts Grants by Ellen Liberatori and The Artist's Guide to Writing Grants: How to Find Funds and Write Foolproof Proposals for Visual, Literary, and Performing Artists by Gigi Rosenberg.
There arc so many examples of inspirational DIY projects using offbeat or unusual spaces and boundary expanding concepts. Here is a sampling of different ways to think about and envision DIY projects.
Some arc short term and some have grown and established themselves while others are still evolving. Consider creating your own opportunities.
Case Studies for DIY Projects
FOOD, Carol Goodden and Matta-Clark, New York City, America
An original DIY project established in 1971 by Carol Gooden and Gordon Matta-Clarke was a restaurant named FOOD in a then-struggling area of New York City now called Soho. FOOD was a converted run-down bodega space which brought the artistic community together, helped their artist friends with jobs in the restaurant, gave people a place to eat inexpensive good food, and create or discuss art. A dancer who worked at FOOD back in the day recalled how the restaurant supported her with laying her off so she could get unemployment when she needed to focus more on her work for, say, a performance. When the unemployment ran out, she was hired back, and the cycle started over. This option was extended to all employees. Other interesting things came from the establishment such as Matta-Clarke’s $4.00 meal called Matta Bones which was a soup cooked with bones for flavor which, after being eaten, were used to make jewelry. FOOD also had a then-unique open kitchen model which is commonplace in restaurants today. It was also one of the first restaurants in New York City to serve sushi and vegetarian meals. Donal Judd, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns were guest chefs and Mark di Severo wanted to serve meals with his crane. Cooking the meals was seen as performance art. Creativity abounded on the premises, and as important as a good meal was, it was a place where during its renovation Matta-Clarke got his idea for his Paper Walls series that lead him to his famous building cuts artwork. Back in the day it was the place to be. A place to nourish the body and soul, take part in a creative meal seen as a performance piece, or make something from nothing. This was a prime example of how non-convcntional spaces which support creative acts can serve the community and lead to breakthrough works of art.
The Frieze Art Fair recognized the contributions of FOOD to the artistic community in 2013 by inviting several chefs from the original FOOD to participate at the fair. Goodden and Girouard both contributed to the tribute to FOOD with Goodden preparing her famous soups and Girouard paying homage to the pig roast under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Art-o-mat, Clark Whittington, North Carolina, America
Clark Whittington, from North Carolina, founder of Art-o-Mat and Artists in Cellophane (AIC), collaborates with artists all over the country in an art vending machine project. He solicits small original artworks the size of cigarette packets in order to sell them to the public (generally $5 per artwork) through refurbished cigarette vending machines. Each artist gets half of that amount or $2.50 dollars for each piece sold. An artist makes about $125 dollars with each shipment of 50 cigarette sized pieces. The recipient gets an original work of art, instantly becomes a collector, and a portion of the proceeds go back to the respective artist. Currently there are nearly 400 participating artists from ten different countries for more than 100 active machines. Submissions from artists work are open year-round. You can find Art-o-Mat machines in art stores, food markets, coffeehouses, art centers, galleries, and museums across America as well as England, Germany, and Australia. The mission from the website: “Our mission is to encourage art consumption by expanding access to artists’ work. Art-o-Mat has created an opportunity for anyone to purchase original artworks while providing exposure and promotional support for artists. It combines the creative energies of artists with commerce in an innovative form.” Whittington continues, “We believe that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable.” He added, “It’s a small baby step to getting people to live with art.” This DIY project is an original way to support artists through the sale of their work, showcasing it and connecting to a larger audience. Check the Art-o-Mat website to see the converted vending machines.
Correspondence of Imaginary Places, Scott Seaboldt, Jill O’Bryan, Alex Wisser, Sarah Breen Lovett
The Correspondence of Imaginary Places was a unique collaborative exhibition and part of the festival Cemental? in Kandos, New South Wales, Australia, as well as at the ABC No Rio gallery in exile in Manhattan, New York. The show engaged a group of 14 artists to examine how they imagined distant places by asking each one to create a work of art in a location they had never been to before. The work would be installed by an on-site artist-partner either in America or Australia. The show explored the different cultural realities of navigating two unique societies across real and imagined conceptual, environmental, and sociological political distances that it spanned.
The event took place in two stages with two groups of artists; seven in Manhattan, paired with seven Australian artists working in the forests of Kandos, Australia. Drawings, photographs, and online discussions were part of the process. In the first phase of the collaboration, each of the seven Australian artists conceived, discussed, and directed their American artist-partner to create an artwork based on the instructions given them in a chosen location in Manhattan, after which it was documented and installed at ABC No Rio gallery in exile. The second phase of the exhibition was the reverse relationship between the
American artists and their Australian artist-partners; each artist having communicated and instructed their work to be installed or enacted and documented by their Australian counterparts in the Kandos forest. The final project was launched as the two exhibitions, one in Manhattan and one in the Kandos forest, which were held simultaneously with a live feed connection between the two locations. All the artworks were documented and published in a catalog with a feature of each artist’s work, email correspondences between the curators of the shows in Manhattan and in Australia, as well as an essay about the project.
ABC No Rio or AS220, Steve Englander, Director, New York City, America
“Our dream is a cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists,” writes Steve Englander, director of ABC No Rio in New York City on the website.
ABC No Rio is a collectively run arts organization on New York City’s Lower East Side. Founded in 1980. It is a space for art, music, performance, educational and community workshops and events, as well as a meeting and office space for other organizations. It features an art gallery space, a dark room, a silk-screening studio, a public computer lab, and a zine, and small press library that has been collecting work for over two decades. It is also a collective of collectives with programs such as Food Not Bombs, Books Through Bars, the Visual Arts Collective, the Ides of March building wide semi-annual exhibition, COMA (citizens ontological music agenda), and the Darkroom Collective, all of which have a good deal of autonomy in running their projects. If there are issues with any one of the projects or programs they are addressed in collective meetings.
It has an illustrious history, starting with the controversial and first of its kind exhibition such as The Real Estate Show in 1979 when members of the Collaborative Projects “reclaimed” an empty City-owned store front in order to stage the exhibition, which commented on the then beginnings of real estate buy-ups by corporations in New York City. Those artist forebears accepted the City’s offer to rehouse them at 156 Rivington Street where they renamed the collective ABC No Rio. The project grew organically from a common desire for a space to house boundary-pushing events and programs based on interrelationships between art and politics which is still at its core mission today. In the words of the collective board members and volunteers on their website,
Our community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society’s disenfranchised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.
A model to consider for other exhibition spaces, artists who show at ABC No Rio get paid to show their work. The amount may not be large, but the gesture is. It’s an acknowledgment of the efforts of the artist to make their work and it validates them. For example, art in a show called “In Sickness and In Health,” which featured works by artists who had gone through major illness as well as in health, received $50 to exhibit their work.
Hybrid: A DIY Entrepreneur
Early Futures, Heidi Gustafson, Washington State, America
Heidi Gustafson a graduate from MICA, Maryland Institute of Art, became enamored with the array of the different natural colors of ochres (her definition is: any natural material made up of iron and contains oxygen) after the reddish rock came to her in her dreams. She started looking for the color while living in the Bay Area, eventually moving to rural Washington State in 2017 where she now runs a worldwide archive of the color ochre. She uses the ochre in her own artworks and with a knife and magnet (to detect the iron in ochre) she looks for the color in her surrounding environment and through her travels. A number of archaeologists, scientists, artists, and pigment makers forage for the color in different countries and contribute to her ochre archive. It has become her life’s work. She also grinds ochre color down to pigment and sells it to artists, as well as engaging in a multidisciplinary approach to the color through its scientific, spiritual, and symbolic projects. She received a master’s in philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness from the California Institute of Integrated Studies. She wrote on her website, “[Ochre is] bigger than me, and has a future that extends beyond me.” Hence, perhaps the name of her passionate endeavor: Early Futures?
O’Plerou Grebet, Zouzoukwa, Ivory Coast, Africa
At the age of 22, an arts student, O’Plerou Grebet from the Ivory Coast, realized there were only Western emojis that everyone was using in his university in Abidjan. Using a YouTube tutorial on how to create an emoji on Photoshop he started to make some that depicted African culture. Now he has over 365 free emojis on his app Zouzoukwa, which he hopes to expand, that depict everyday foods, fashions, activities, and gestures from Africa communities. It’s a startup but he hopes to create an e-commerce and a virtual reality program to share his culture and others from the African Diaspora. A project of passion, Mr. Grebet says what he likes about his work is the interaction between him and the people who get in touch with him to suggest a new emoji. He explained,
I have to travel and discover other African countries. I have to immerse myself in their cultures in order to create emojis that truly represent them, instead of looking for pictures on the internet about meals I have never tasted or places I never went to.3
He was named by the African Talents Award for best app of 2019.
Aligning your values with your identity as an artist will help you to set you short or long-term goals. Whether you choose to go a business route or a non-conventional path with a DIY project or event, make sure you find serial mentors to help you with these goals. It is important to recognize that no one can do it alone and that building community to help you move forward is essential for your success, however you define it. Two old sayings are helpful to think about. They are, “success has many parents,” and “it takes a village” to accomplish just about anything.
Take the time to think about what is a good match for you as you proceed forward. And you may follow a goal you set for yourself, but as you start to work it could turn out to not be the right one, so you’ll need to quit and move on to another idea you’ve had. As artists we do this all the time with our work. We start in one direction to manifest an idea, follow it only to find out it wasn’t the right path, so we abandon it or take parts of the project to start in it another direction. These same skills are of use outside the studio environment.
To that point; I realized as I threw myself into creating a business that 1 was essentially not a business person. 1 couldn’t easily think in a business way. It was frustrating and it’s not that 1 didn’t try. 1 created four startups with various partners over a number of years, but ultimately the online world of business wasn’t where my values were. I was too conflicted philosophically with Big Tech to immerse myself in it for the long haul. But what the experience did was help me get back to something I always wanted to do: write a second book; ultimately,
Entrepreneurship and DIY Movements I I 3 a happy ending. As Maya Angelou, the great American poet, singer, writer, and civil rights activist said it so well, “Life likes it when you take it by the lapel and say: I’m with you, let’s go.”
- 1 www.goodartsoncherry.com/mission-statement
- 2 Theaster Gates, TED talk, 2015.
- 3 “A Digital Language from African Life,” Alex Hawgood, New 'York Times, December 15, 2019.