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Classes put meat on bones of starving artists

Nancy Markoe, who owns a self-named gallery in St. Pete Beach, teaches business practices to artists through the Baltimore-based Arts Business Institute. Artists “are the worst at business,” she says.


Nancy Markoe, who owns a self-named gallery in St. Pete Beach, teaches business practices to artists through the Baltimore-based Arts Business Institute. Artists “are the worst at business,” she says.


To hear the experienced tell it, there's a reason for the stereotype of the starving artist.

"Artists think out of only one side of their brains," said Nancy Markoe, who owns her eponymous gallery on St. Pete Beach. "They are the worst at business."

Markoe speaks from her own pregallery history as a potter. Her work was well received and sold, sometimes before she even produced it. And she went broke.

"Artists tend to price their work emotionally," said Markoe, who now also teaches pricing and other business practices through the Arts Business Institute. "The last thing they want to think about is pricing."

ABI teaches various areas of business to artists in traveling seminars sponsored by other nonprofit groups, government agencies and schools, Markoe said. The Baltimore-based group has never conducted a session in the Tampa Bay area, but the University of Tampa is holding its second annual Self Employment in the Arts conference Saturday and will cover some of the same issues in boosting art and business.

"This community is really full of artists, but we have to give them a chance to make a living," said Lenne Nicklaus-Ball, herself an artist and an organizer of the Tampa conference.

As with Markoe's example, artists and craftsmen sometimes struggle with the conflict of art and money.

But artists say creativity comes from working within limits and that money is just another one of those.

"You react to constraints," said St. Petersburg-based artist Robert Stackhouse, who will speak at the UT conference with his artist-wife, Carol Mickett. "Your success comes from how you deal with them."

The shape of the canvas is a constraint, as can be the size of the studio or even its location. Mickett said artists have to work within all such realities if they are passionate about their art.

"You don't want to think about business because you want your vision to be unlimited," she said, "but you've still got to pay the mortgage."

Mickett and Stackhouse say being an artist is a job like any other and requires real work, not some romantic lifestyle where money doesn't matter. Of course, when an artist achieves fame, as they have, there is some latitude, but maintaining a career is also a constraint.

The same applies to a community that wants art at its core. Markoe said she has done seminars in North Carolina, North Dakota and other places where cities are trying to grow an arts reputation for economic development.

"Artists are small-business owners," she said. "This country was founded on small businesses."

The Tampa Bay area has a growing reputation as an arts community, but it could still use some investment, say those in the business.

"People want to look at art as fluff, but there is real meat to it," said Evelyn Craft, executive direc:tor of the Arts Center. Craft said the center conducts occasional classes on the business of art, and they are often well attended because "artists didn't become artists to starve."

The Studio@620 also does its part to assist the hungry creatives, said co-founder Bob Devin Jones. It not only has a "starving artist" membership category, but it mentors young artists and even employs some of them as they get started in their fields.

"It's a bigger return on investment than a lot of other things," he said.

Nicklaus-Ball, who is part of the family-owned Sirata Beach Resort, said the Self Employment in the Arts conference is also about increasing tourism. She says the area's museums are a draw, but so are galleries and shops, including that of jewelrymaker Evander Preston, who has a somewhat contrarian view on art and business.

"It's been said in the art world that if you make something to sell, it probably won't be very good," he said. "I'm in this business for the fun of it."

Preston is well beyond the starvation phase and has a body of work to support a reputation that is the foundation of a business.

In the end, artists agree, it all comes down to the work.

"You can have the best business plan, the best PR, but if you don't have the work, you're in trouble," Mickett said.

Stackhouse agrees but says the art won't sell itself.

"The art of being an artist is not just making art," he said. "Making art is tough, but it's tougher to convince people to pay their hard-earned money for it."

Paul Swider can be reached at or 892-2271.

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Classes put meat on bones of starving artists 04/05/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2008 5:31am]
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