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Collector Scoop: Colony Little

Collector Scoop is a blog series of interviews and features on emerging and established art collectors. Today, we are happy to share a conversation with Colony Little of Culture Shock Art about how her collection got started.

Can you share your background with us and how you got into collecting art? Do you remember the first piece of art that you bought?

I created Culture Shock Art in 2010 as a passion project and a creative outlet from my career as an underwriter for an insurance company.  At the time I was drawn to street art I’d discover during my commute to downtown Los Angeles and I came across this incredible JR mural from his Wrinkles of the City series.  I had no idea who created the piece, so my quest to learn more about the artist/photographer led me to his TED Talk and I ended up writing about him on the blog.  JR’s career trajectory and the work he’s created to visually capture the stories of thousands of people around the world was fascinating to witness.  I ended up buying one of his early lithographs in 2011.  Since then I’ve collected art that is best described as eclectic.  My husband and I collect illustrations, graphic art, vinyl records (I love Blue Note covers), photography and low brow art. We have three pieces of art floating around here inspired by the show Arrested Development. I love them simply because they make me laugh!  

 Image from personal collection of Colony Little (Left to Right) Graham Erwin,  I am a Monster!  2012 ; Ralph Ziman,  Mbara Bara , 2014

Image from personal collection of Colony Little
(Left to Right) Graham Erwin, I am a Monster! 2012 ; Ralph Ziman, Mbara Bara, 2014

How do you think that collecting contributes to the artistic community?

Patrons are the fuel that keep artistic communities running.  I’m inspired by creative collectives of artists, writers, designers, musicians and collectors that build synergies to support one another. During the past 5 years, L.A. has seen an artistic evolution taking place among creatives that drove the growth of the Arts District.  This in turn has resulted in a huge uptick in gallery openings there.  In my early years of writing and collecting I found the gallery system exclusive and limiting, but now those barriers to access are slowly disappearing as technology and media encourage galleries to create more open and (somewhat) democratic spaces for building communities.  Additionally, artist-run spaces are cultivating stronger bonds among artists, the community and future collectors. For example, I love what’s happening in Leimert Park--the Hammer Museum has partnered with artist Mark Bradford at Art + Practice and I’m also inspired by Michelle Papillion’s groundbreaking work at Papillion.   

Your career as an arts writer has allowed you the opportunity to discover many established and emerging artists. Has there been a situation where your career lead you to collecting art from a new artist or a similar experience?

When I worked in the insurance industry roughly 1/3 of the business my company produced came from high net worth individuals, and many of them were collectors of fine art.  This afforded me opportunities to interact with collectors, artists and galleries at fairs.  In the early years of Culture Shock Art I would use the blog to research and write about artists that I collected or wanted to collect.  Now that I’m writing exclusively, my wish list of art to collect has grown but my bank account hasn’t!  With that said, there is fantastic art that can be had at any price point. I’m amazed at the growth rate of art purchased on-line in the past few years.  Also, events like L.A.’s Incognito at the old Santa Monica Museum of Art (now known as the ICA and is moving downtown) are a good example of leveling the playing field between emerging and established collectors. 

Incognito was a fundraising event disguised as a fun artistic experiment--hundreds of works of art donated by emerging and well known artists were placed on display, each piece priced the same.  The catch was that the identity of the artist was hidden, so you could potentially walk away with an Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari or Catherine Opie if you were lucky.  At the end of the day there was no wrong choice because you were ideally basing your decision on instinct and love for the piece.  That’s how we came to own a work by Rena Small.  It is one of my favorite photographs because my husband chose it and he was not familiar with her work at all.  Years later we were at the Norton Simon museum and he came across one of her photos of Basquiatthat was part of her “Artists Hands” series in 1985.  Moments of serendipity lead us to beautiful discoveries!

 Rena Small,  Untitled , 2012

Rena Small, Untitled, 2012

What are your favorite resources for discovering new artists?

Hands down Instagram! You can find me @cultureshockart

It has been an amazing platform to virtually interact with artists while getting a behind the scenes look into their lives and their process.  Many of the relationships I’ve cultivated through Instagram have turned into friendships and great collaborations.  Years later I'm still obsessed with Instagram because it is a convergence of all the things I love (art, coffee, handbags, records, photography and dogs). To satisfy my wanderlust, I’ll follow someone like photographer Rick Poon and for creative inspiration I love fashion designers like Duro Olowu and Reuben Reul.  Kim Drew @museummammy curates amazing work by black artists on her blog Black Contemporary Art.  My queen of kawai is Hana Kim @supahcute who introduced me to some amazing work by Martin Hsu (@martinhsuart) and for a shot of pure colorful joy, I love the photography of Kimberly Genevieve (@kimgenevieve).  Another great resource for collectors is One Art Nation.  They have a very informative video series on topics ranging from the art market to protecting your collection.  

 Yoichi Kawamura,  Untitled , 2012

Yoichi Kawamura, Untitled, 2012

Do you have any advice for emerging or aspiring art collectors?

Collectors are largely driven by status, investment or love for the art.  Always stick with love and your instincts! One of the goals of my blog is to make art accessible for my readers because many close friends and family struggle with contemporary art and feel that it is intimidating.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Whether I’m in a museum, gallery, art fair or a studio I don’t try to make sense of everything I see.  I simply trust my gut and ask questions.  What are you drawn to?  What does the piece remind you of?  Does the work make you happy, sad, angry, confused? Allow yourself to go with those simple questions and keep asking why.  If I find myself thinking about a piece days after I’ve seen it, I know I am onto an artist or work that I want to learn about and explore more deeply.   

Learn more about Colony Little and Culture Shock Art
Are you an emerging or established art collector and interested in being featured? Email Rachael at rachael@crusadeforart.org

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Collector Scoop: Joshua Farr

Collector Scoop is a series of interviews and features on emerging and established art collectors. Today, we had a conversation with Vermont Center for Photography gallery director Joshua Farr about how he got into collecting art.

Can you share your background with us and how you got into collecting art? Do you remember the first piece of art that you bought?

I feel almost as though I've sort of stumbled into collecting photographs. You could say it's a side-effect of my job!

Backing up a little bit... I attended the NH Institute of Art for my BFA in Photography, graduating in 2011. My time there certainly helped build a foundation of understanding of both the technical aspects of photography as well as my exposure to many historic and contemporary artists. Since 2011, I have been working as the Gallery Director at the Vermont Center for Photography in Brattleboro, VT. The last 5 years of working at VCP has really exposed me to a whole new world of arts management and curatorial endeavors. The process of jurying exhibitions and seeking new work for our gallery walls each month inevitably exposes me to a diverse array of work.

I can't recall which was the first piece I actually bought, but perhaps the one piece which most inspired me to start actively collecting work is a large portrait given to me by photographer Siri Kaur of a young female wrestler titled "Kristie". (*Photo attached*) This piece holds both a stunning glow of color, creating such a technically beautiful print, as well as a beautiful capture of her subject. The combination of the color, the subjects stark expression, and the simplicity of composition triggered an emotional response in me.

 

  Siri Kaur ,  Kristie , 2007

Siri Kaur, Kristie, 2007

How do you think that collecting contributes to the artistic community?

Collecting artwork seems to me to be a win-win scenario on many levels. When an individual walks into a gallery and decides to purchase a piece they want to take home with them, they are not only supporting the artist financially, they are also supporting the gallery or institution that is hosting the exhibition (which, one would hope, would then support said gallery's ongoing efforts of sharing additional fine works in the future) - and of course, the buyer is also benefiting via a beautiful new piece to add to their home or place of business.

I happen to live in a town with boundless enthusiasm for the arts - which is crucial - but I often see artists struggle because I feel like there is not enough of a buyer-population. I often find myself grappling with the general principles of how many artists price their work simply because I see the time, energy, materials and thought put into the creation of ones work, which can give merit to some of the prices you see work listed at today - however, I feel like it is important for artwork to be accessible by individuals of all financial abilities and for the arts market to not become an elitist or exclusive community.

Do you feel that the notion of collecting art can be intimidating or inaccessible to the general public? If so, how do you think that barrier can be lowered?

As I mentioned in my previous response, I do feel like collecting artwork frequently comes across as intimidating or inaccessible to the general public! Particularly for younger individuals who many not have the means to walk into a gallery and buy a piece off the wall. I'm not sure I have any immediate suggestions or thoughts as to how to actively seek to lower that barrier, but I will say that the majority of folks I have chatted with or spent time with who consider themselves to be collectors have simply decided to make collecting a priority for themselves. I feel like many things as far as our day to day lifestyle and financial abilities come down to priorities. Would you rather purchase a $5 latte every morning for a year, or that that nearly $2000/yr and invest it in artwork? With that said, I do realize that no matter what your priorities are, there are still going to be financial limitations for some of us, myself included. I feel like this is where creative trade & bartering skills can come into play! I've done numerous print swaps with professors, friends, and other artists whose work I admire and I feel like this can be a very non-intimidating approach to getting the ball rolling. You don't (and shouldn't) need to be wealthy to be a collector.

What are your favorite resources for discovering new artists?

I would have to say that one of my largest sources of exposure to new artists has been the juried exhibitions we have hosted at the Vermont Center for Photography. Often times, these calls for entry bring together hundreds of photographers from around the globe, each submitting a sampling of their work for consideration for the exhibit - and even if their work is not selected overall for the show, I do keep a running list of photographers whose work I've come across who I would like to follow up with at some point in the future or at least make mental note to keep tabs on their work. I have been known to find myself tumbling through artists websites after seeing a sampling of their work as a submission for a juried show and wanting to see more. Invariably, their sites have links to other friends sites, and I very quickly get sucked deep into the corners of the world-wide web!

In addition to juried shows, there's always social media (Facebook & Instagram primarily). We are living in an increasingly digital era and it's nearly impossible for me to scroll 3'' through my Facebook or Instagram feed without stumbling upon either a new artist who I wasn't previously familiar with, or new work by someone whom I was already familiar with.

  Joshua Farr's home  - image provided by Joshua Farr

Joshua Farr's home - image provided by Joshua Farr

Do you have any advice for emerging or aspiring art collectors?

I would simply encourage any aspiring collectors to collect what they love. Collect work that moves you emotionally. I can't always explain what it is about every single piece that I own that keeps me coming back to it, but I know that every single piece that I own has triggered some level of raw emotional response from me. Personally, I never acquire or hold onto work because of it's monetary value (or potential future value) - doing so would feel too removed for me - removed from the beauty of the image as simply that...an image - or idea, rather than as an object or possession.

Learn more about Joshua Farr and the Vermont Center for Photography.

Are you an emerging or established art collector and interested in being featured? Email Rachael at rachael@crusadeforart.org

 

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Update on 2015's Grant-Winning Program, LDOC

On the eve of applications opening for our 2016 Crusade Engagement Grant cycle, we thought you may enjoy an update on the progress of last year's winning project. Read co-founder, Danielle Wilcox's update below -

LDOC Summary: LDOC is an arts publication that features Chicago artists and writers on a bi-monthly basis. It is distributed the first and third Mondays of every month at the following Red Line stops: Howard, Belmont, Lake, 35th, and 69th. LDOC was created out of a desire to engage the people of Chicago in an artistic, accessible way. The use of newsprint acts as an unintimidating and familiar material for Red Liners to connect with, while the work of local photographers and writers offers a few minutes away from our phones and screens.

As LDOC progresses into its sixth month of production, the arts publication has found a home in the Chicago photography and literary community, in boxes steps away from ‘L’ train Red Line entrances, in homes via our growing subscription service, and in the hands of commuters all over our enormous city.

For months we established ourselves via press, our website, and through volunteers posted in Chicago’s ‘L’ entrances distributing the issues. In December, we acquired newspaper boxes from an independent press in Ann Arbor that had recently ended their own print distribution. We cleaned them up, designed and produced vinyl stickers at the Chicago Public Library's Maker Lab, and posted them at various Red Line stops around the city, just in time for the cold weather. We have one remaining newspaper box, which we'll be setting up at Hubbard Street Lofts, a collection of artist studios in Chicago's West Town neighborhood.

One of our priorities as editors is to work closely with our featured photographers and writers so that their art is presented on the page exactly as they imagine it. Recently we had the great opportunity to publish the photographs of John Steck Jr., who creates photographs on silver gelatin paper, but never runs the prints through the chemical required to remove the paper’s sensitivity to light. This causes each print to slowly fade as time progresses until it is no longer visible. Because of the specific qualities of the work, we ended up going through 3 presses of one of the issues. We ended up using the third press, after a few weeks of intense collaboration with our printing company and the artist. It was important to present John’s work as he himself would. These are conflicts that online publications don't have to worry about, but we think are well worth the labor. The effect of a tangible print is something ephemeral and unique that only comes from ink and paper.

LDOC has received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from commuters. We distribute at the downtown Lake stop during the train’s busiest hours, which sees a lot of bus and transfers. People are excited to learn about the project. We typically get questions about how we’re funded, who the artists are, and where they might pick up an issue if they miss a distribution date. We also have “regulars” who consistently express their enjoyment of LDOC, stopping to say things like, “Yes, I love this!” or, “Finally, it’s the new one.” We’ve had interactions with commuters who were sad they missed a previous issue. We let them know where to pick one up but mail them one for the time being.

We continue to do press via Chicago’s large network of arts and neighborhood publications: Newcity Art, DNAinfo, our MFA alma mater’s Lesley University and Columbia College Chicago, and more. We’re happy to note that every issue of LDOC is now available on our website via the free publication platform issuu, and we look forward to what the remainder of the year has in store for LDOC.

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Matthew Conboy Wins $10,000 Crusade Engagement Grant

That's right folks! Matthew Conboy will receive $10,000 cash money to implement his program to create newborn collectors in Pittsburgh.

Here's a description of his project, straight from the application:

This project was born from the fact that a local hospital sends every baby home with a Terrible Towel, the towel that is waved at Pittsburgh Steelers football games. While I am a proud Steelers fan, I believe that babies could be sent home with something else that could change their lives and the lives of those around them—art. My project will ensure that each baby born at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania goes home with an original signed photograph from a local emerging photographer. The 3000+ babies born here represent a cross-section of the city and county and include everyone from the most isolated of neighborhoods to the most exclusive addresses in Pittsburgh. These photographs will include biographical information on the photographer and any pertinent information regarding the print. They will then be inserted into the bags that are sent home with new mothers and include other basic staples like diapers or formula. 

Out of hundreds of initial applications for the grant, a group of ten finalists were selected.  These finalists all proposed promising and innovative projects.  The entire list of finalists can be seen here. These finalists’ proposals were reviewed by an esteemed jury of photographic professionals, including Whitney Johnson (Director of Photography at The New Yorker), Karen Irvine (Curator and Associate Director at Museum of Contemporary Photography), and Rupert Jenkins (Executive Director at Colorado Photographic Arts Center). Conboy’s project was selected for its off-the-charts creativity.

Juror Karen Irvine says, "Matthew Conboy’s proposal for new audience engagement displayed dazzling creativity. We are excited to award this grant to someone whose idea feels completely original and unique. We also like the way his project will engage an extremely diverse audience, one that is for the most-part probably not already circulating in the fine art realm."

The Crusade Engagement Grant was created to foster the exploration of innovative programs to connect new audiences to photography. The grant will underwrite the full execution of Conboy’s idea. Conboy says, “The thing that excites me the most about this project is that I am sharing my love of art with an entire generation of kids in Pittsburgh. From the moment they're born, they will be collectors of art and photography and that is something that no one can take away from them.”

In addressing application questions about target audience, Conboy gave this compelling response:

The target audience includes underrepresented minorities within the city of Pittsburgh who might not otherwise be exposed to the world-class cultural and artistic institutions that their city has to offer as well as those children who will grow up within a culturally rich family. If these families (regardless of socio- economic status) can see from the moment that a baby is born that the arts provide a meaningful and important component of their lives, they will gain an appreciation for the power of art. 

This project will engage my target audience simply by not requiring them to “opt-in.” There is no need to cross the threshold of a gallery, no requirement to sign up for a mailing list, or purchase shares for a CSA (Community Supported Art). In fact, the only way to acquire one of these photographs is to have a baby within the city of Pittsburgh. 

We are thrilled to be launching this grant with such an innovative and democratic way to connect new audiences to art. We will be following Matthew closely over the next 12 months and giving you regular reports on the progress of this exciting project!

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Photographer Heather Evans Smith Tells Us What It's Been Like to be Part of the First Crusade Supported Art (CSA)

In June we launched an art CSA, which sold out in just two days. Six photographers were commissioned to make an image in an edition of 50, and we sold 50 shares for $350 each. Shareholders receive an original, signed and numbered photograph from each of the six commissioned photographers. A few weeks ago we shipped the first two photographs to shareholders.

  Reliquary  by Heather Evans Smith

Reliquary by Heather Evans Smith

The photograph above, Reliquary by Heather Evans Smith, was in the first shipment. We asked Heather to give her thoughts about being involved with the CSA and to explain her piece in the interview below.

 

1. Had you heard of an art CSA before? What were your impressions of the idea? 

I had never heard of a CSA in an art context. I was immediately drawn to the idea as an artist and beginning collector. I often come in contact with people who are interested in collecting but don't have the finances or know where to begin finding the right art for them. The Crusade for Art CSA is a wonderful way to affordably start a collection and introduce oneself to six very different photographers.

 

2. What about the program made you interested in being one of the participating artists?

I am honored to be included in the same program with the other five photographers. The idea of having 50 new collectors of my work is appealing. I also want to, if even in a small way, help introduce a new generation to collecting.

 

3. How has your experience been so far, and what else do you hope will come as a result of participating? 

So far the response has been positive. My hope is that more collectors will become familiar with my work and that the CSA shareholders will continue collecting as a result of the program.

 

4. Please tell us about the piece you created and how it fits within your larger body of work?

My CSA image, Reliquary, depicts religious type acts we perform with our children. Whether it be collecting those first locks of hair, teeth, or scribbles, they are treated as archival relics, symbols of a time that is all too fleeting. This image is part of my series Seen Not Heard.

Seen Not Heard takes its title from the Old English adage “To Be Seen and Not Heard”, a term often used in reference to the desired behavior of children. These images are silent, but they create a voluble visual narrative on the relationship between parent and child. They explore  cycles that are passed down through generations and the tension between tradition and forging a newer, and perhaps stronger, path. As strong as the bond between mother and daughter is, there also exists a distance inherent between two different individuals.

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Turning the Tide in Favor of Photographers

I'm writing this after a long and thrilling day for Crusade for Art, and I have to admit, I'm pretty emotional. When I first thought about creating Crusade for Art as a non-profit organization (as opposed to just a stand-alone project, i.e. the tour) and offering a $10,000 grant, it seemed like a crazy idea. Which, of course, is why I went for it.

When I was driving around the country, talking to groups of photographers and getting my arts engagement groove on, I spent a lot of time trying to think of a way to turn the tide. Galleries couldn't be the only outlet for a photographer who wanted to sell work and grow a collector base - there are simply too many photographers, too much supply. But in a system where artists have been conditioned to rely on other people - gallerists, dealers, publishers, curators - to advocate for them and their work, the prevailing impulse among photographers seems to be to sit and wait.

The gallery path is too narrow. There are not enough galleries to show all of the really strong, salable work, not to mention the work that is not as commercially appealing. But just because a photograph may not end up on a gallery wall does not mean there aren't people who would connect to it and want to buy it. And the gallery path is also narrow in terms of reaching potential collectors. There are a lot of people out there who are not currently seeking an arts experience but would love art, if only they were given the right introduction to it.

If you don't limit yourself to how it's always been done, then the road is wide open. All you need is to be smart - Who is your target audience? Who is most likely to connect to your work? - and innovative - How can you reach these people? How can you create an opportunity for them to have a meaningful engagement with you and your art?

The problem is, most artists do not think beyond the creation process. They don't have the skills or the inspiration to figure out ways to advocate for themselves and their work and to create their own collectors. So that was my puzzle - how could I get a lot of photographers to do this? How could I motivate artists to come up with ideas to connect people to their work?

And then bam! The idea. Cash money.

More than just funding the winning project idea (which will be amazing! Have you seen the finalists' project descriptions??), the goal of offering a grant of this size was to motivate a large number of photographers to think about their work, their potential audience, and how to connect the two. 

We got a lot of feedback like this:   "It's just a very different type of application"and project focus, which as artists, we don't always think about.” That is the point.  Many of the early applications were photographers submitting artist statements, not a plan to engage people with photography.  This grant really stumped people and made them think about creating demand for their work for possibly the first time - which is exactly what we’re trying to do. Ultimately the applications that were on-point started streaming in. Narrowing them down to ten was incredibly challenging but also very validating.

I think we are on to something here. And this is just the very beginning.

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Art Subscription Programs Deliver Financial Support, New Audiences for Artists

By offering collectors an opportunity to subscribe in advance to receive a certain number of artworks, art subscription programs are helping to fund the work of photographers and connect them with new audiences of collectors.

By Jennifer Schwartz

Finding ways to engage new collectors and give artists the freedom and funding to create new work is no easy task. But art subscription services, which deliver new work to subscribers on a prearranged schedule, are popping up all over the country to do just that. They are a win-win for artists and collectors alike, and photography seems to be a perfect match for this platform, because photographers can easily produce multiples of their work for subscribers.

Finding ways to engage new collectors and give artists the freedom and funding to create new work is no easy task. But art subscription services, which deliver new work to subscribers on a prearranged schedule, are popping up all over the country to do just that. They are a win-win for artists and collectors alike, and photography seems to be a perfect match for this platform because photographers can easily produce multiples of their work for subscribers.

Andy Sturdevant, the director of Minnesota’s Springboard for the Arts and project coordinator for Minnesota’s CSA (Community Supported Art) says their program was inspired by a desire to provide an entry point to art for people who may be interested in collecting but felt intimidated by the process. “It was a way to put local artists directly in contact with people who were interested in getting their feet wet with collecting art,” Sturdevant says. These subscription programs are inspired by agricultural share programs (also called CSAs – Community Supported Agriculture), where shares of a local farm are purchased in exchange for regular deliveries of produce. 

While similarly structured art programs already existed, Minnesota’s program was the first to use the term CSA.  They have since created a replication kit to encourage other organizations to adopt the CSA model, and to date there are approximately 30 in existence around the country, according to Sturdevant.

In a typical Community Supported Art program, fifty shares are available for purchase for around $300 per share (Sturdevant has seen the range go from $75 to $500, and the number of shares available can also vary).  Artists are paid in advance to create work for each shareholder, and shareholders receive original works several times per year. On average, organizations run one or two CSA cycles per year and include nine artists in each.

Depending on the economic setup of the subscription program, artists can be paid well or negligibly for their work. But there are benefits to artists beyond the paycheck. For one, it puts the artist directly in touch with 50 people who are interested in buying art, creating an opportunity for relationship building. Sturdevant feels this format allows artists to try out a new project or smaller idea that may not fit into their regular practice.

Subscription services also give artists incentive and support to work. “I think artists… have to work so hard to make ends meet that it leaves very little time for studio practice,” says Chandi Kelley, co-founder and artist-member of Project Dispatch, an art subscription program based in Washington, D. C. that allows subscribers to select an artist and opt to receive monthly works for either three-, six-, or nine-month periods. Subscriptions are available for $30, $60 or $90 monthly. “If I can do something to encourage the process of art making while helping artists gain exposure and sell work, then I feel my efforts are worthwhile,” Kelley says.

Kristoffer Tripplaar, who is part of the Project Dispatch roster, is a news photographer by day and says the subscriptions encourage him to spend time creating art.  “It is motivating to keep working on your personal work knowing you will be sending an image to someone,” Tripplaar says. “It is validating after a few weeks of working on press conference photos to get an email saying someone subscribed. I can switch gears and be creative and print an image I’m proud of to send to someone who is really interested.”

“Knowing that someone has specifically chosen you as an artist they would like to subscribe to is incredibly empowering and motivating,” says Jerry Skiscim, another Project Dispatch artist.  Skiscim is a Washington, D.C.-based photographer who had been intimidated to try to break into the art world prior to joining Project Dispatch. “Being a part of this group of talented and accomplished artists pushed me way ahead of what I could have done on my own,” Skiscim says.

TBW Books is an independent photography book publishing company that also uses a subscription model.  Each year, TBW Books invites four photographers to create a body of work for book publication in that year’s subscription set.  Artists are encouraged by TBW to experiment and think in a new way.  “These publications are not intended to be full-blown monographs,” says Paul Schiek, founder and publisher.  “They are intended to be experimental capsules to allow the artist to go outside their normal practice and try something new.” According to the TBW website, “The books provide an unparalleled glimpse into the thinking processes of who we consider to be four of today's most exciting image-makers.”  Beyond the creative output, the entry-point pricing is also appealing (previous subscriptions cost $100, the most-recent is priced at $150).

A huge part of the draw for subscribers seems to be the element of surprise. “People like the surprise and the mystery of not knowing what will come in the mail.  Maybe it’s not even about collecting art for some people, but the experience of the surprise and supporting the creative process for the artists who are involved,” Kelley says.  The idea for Project Dispatch came from her long-distance friendship with Rachel England (Project Dispatch’s other co-creator who no longer runs the program but is still a participating artist).  Kelley and England would send each other packages of artwork in the mail, and they loved the excitement of receiving artful surprises in the mail, so they decided to create a model to share this experience on a wider scale.

“Anticipation is a great motivator,” says Schiek. “With TBW Books’ subscription service, you don’t know what you have paid for, but you trust the publisher and the photographer, and you are willing to put your money on the table and see what comes your way. Consuming photography this way is surprisingly unique because we live in such a screen world, and getting tangible books in the mail is exciting.”

Sturdevant agrees that surprise is important. For their CSA pick-up events, they have begun creating staging areas where shareholders can sit and open their box of art goodies.  “Dramatizing that moment has enhanced the enjoyment of the experience,” he says. But he also stresses the importance of getting artists and shareholders in the same room so the artists have an opportunity to talk about the work. “In a lot of ways that’s what people are paying for – not just the art, but the social element of connecting to other people interested in art and having opportunities to meet the artists,” Sturdevant says.

Kelley also notes that the physical shows Project Dispatch produce to give additional exposure to their artists always result in a spike in subscriptions.  She feels the opportunities to see the work firsthand and to engage directly with the artists are powerful motivators in attracting subscribers. The exhibitions are another advantage of participating – artists get the opportunity to have gallery shows and meet collectors first-hand, providing a platform to launch their careers.  Skiscim just had his first solo show in the same space as his work was exhibited in a Project Dispatch exhibition.  “Project Dispatch has allowed me to build an audience for my work, which was the thing I just could not figure out how to do on my own,” Skiscim says.

The reproducibility of photography makes it a natural fit for CSAs. For a CSA where 50 shares are sold, each artist has to create and send 50 unique works to shareholders.  Sturdevant says they do not want the final product to suffer because of the volume, so they tend to select artists whose work can easily be scaled (photographers, print-makers) or artists who are used to working in high volume (ceramic artists).

But many of the photographers participating in art subscription programs go beyond shooting an image and creating an edition of fifty single photographs. Areca Roe created stereographic images and sent a viewmaster and slides to each shareholder.  Stefanie Motta shot a tarot deck with herself as the model, and every shareholder received a full deck of the tarot cards.  Gene Pittman and Rebekah Yaker collaborated to create a photo-based fabric design. Each shareholder received some of the fabric and a sewing pattern.  “When I think about some of the projects I have really loved over the years, many of them have been photo-based”, Sturdevant says.

When Julia Vandenoever, a Boulder-based photographer, found out she had been selected as a participating artist for the 2014 CSArt Colorado, she knew she wanted to go beyond creating a single image for shareholders.  “I wanted to make work that told the story of the change in the boulder landscape, and so I have decided to create a small photobook to be able to better convey the entire story,” Vandenoever says.  “I really want to take the opportunity to explore another way to exhibit and show my photographs.”  Vandenoever is also looking forward to expanding her creative community, getting more exposure for her work, and connecting with 50 new collectors. Artists across the board seem to share these same hopes and successes, making subscription art programs sound like a dream come true.

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FAQ for the Crusade Engagement Grant - Or, Is Marketing a Dirty Word?

We’ve had a few questions over here at Crusade for Art regarding the grant and what exactly it’s for.  We want you guys to feel clear on why we designed this particular grant, so you can let your ideas solidify and get in the game for this cash!

First, let’s address the subject of marketing in general.  Marketing can oftentimes be viewed as a dirty word in the art world.  All too frequently an artist can be so eager to express their creative ideas and put it out for the public to see, they forget that not everyone in the public shares their same enthusiasm for their chosen subject, or even understands it.  This can breed resentment, on both sides of the artist and the public.  This is what we over here at Crusade for Art are trying to combat.  We want the artist to feel valued for the creative work they are producing, but we also want the public to understand and value the work they are seeing.  Marketing comes into play here.  It’s not just about shoving products into consumer’s faces.  Marketing goes deeper into the psychology and motivations behind people and their actions.  It addresses how people connect to products and what entices them to buy.  As an artist, it’s not enough to just put your work out there and hope people flock to it (though we wish it were).  It’s not that the work isn’t deserving, it’s that the public doesn’t understand and isn’t engaged.  This grant isn’t designed to manipulate the public into buying art or turn the artist into a marketing professional.  It is designed to educate and engage the public in a new way that fosters appreciation, knowledge, and yes, hopefully motivation to purchase works of art they treasure and value in a way that feels authentic to the artist.

Second, why should the artist have to spend time working on the marketing when they already struggle to find time to make their work?  The mission behind Crusade for Art boils down to creating demand so the arts can continue to flourish and artists can be supported not just through grants and initiatives, but through public acquisitions as well.  This grant was created so that new ideas can be put forth to attract more demand for art.  We all know the economics behind supply and demand.  If the public isn’t educated or doesn’t have access to art, it doesn’t matter how much art you make, your business won’t be sustainable.  With any business or vocation, there is a balance between the practical and creative elements – both are vital.  This grant aims to bring together groundbreaking ideas and methods to champion the arts, so that artists don’t have to constantly worry about how they are going to sell the next piece.  It’s about getting creative with how to engage with the public, getting creative with how to put your message out there, not just being creative in your particular medium.  No one knows your art better than you, and today’s world appreciates connection and feedback.  The market today is moving toward a desire to support a person, a vision, not just a filler piece they bought at Target. We believe the connections between artist and viewer are invaluable, and we aim to bring together ways to forge stronger connections through this grant.

Third, why can’t I use this money to make a body of work?  This is where we think you can have some fun.  There are plenty of residencies, programs, schools, and projects aimed toward supporting artists to make a specific body of work.  We are encouraging you to approach this grant in the same creative way you would any body of work, except with a restrictive purpose.  How can you connect an audience to your work in a way that hasn’t been employed?  How can you promote the arts in a meaningful way that is aligned with your ideals and provokes the public to invest in your work?  The opportunity to engage with the marketplace, introduce your work, and cultivate relationships with the public is wide open.  We believe art and the message of art is vital to the world.  We also believe art in general is severely underappreciated, and largely due to miscommunication and misinformation.  The aim of this grant is to bridge the gap between misunderstanding and appreciation, perception and reality, and a general underlying belief that true art is inaccessible to the public.

Please comment and let us know your feedback and opinions!  We are always open to hearing new ideas.

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Why You’re Not Selling Any Artwork by Cara Ober

This article is reprinted by permission from bmore<art>. Original article was published on January 22, 2014.

I recently attended an art opening for a terrific painter, a friend and colleague I have known close to a decade. The exhibit was in a Baltimore warehouse gallery in a not-completely-safe part of town and you had to climb several sets of dark and smelly stairs, full of spiders and cigarette butts, to get there. Once you entered the gallery, the exhibit was gorgeous! The space was professionally curated and well-lit and the artist’s new work was outstanding, but you would never have known this gallery existed unless you had visited before or came with a friend.

Andy Warhol The Silver Factory
Andy Warhol The Silver Factory

As I photographed some of the artwork and the surging crowds, I noticed something: everyone at the opening was wearing black or gray. There was barely a smack of beige or tan. Then, I watched as a blonde, middle-aged couple, obviously non-artists, entered the space. How could I tell? She was wearing a brightly colored floral dress and heels and he wore a melon colored polo shirt with the collar turned up. Both had haircuts that looked like they were professionally done, unlike anyone else at the reception.

The couple looked around nervously and then picked up a price list. I watched as they scanned the paper and shielded themselves from the rest of the room, where no one acknowledged them. It was obvious that they didn’t belong there and their presence wasn’t welcome at the event. In an attempt to save face, they furtively looked around at a few pieces of art in the room and then, within a few minutes, were gone. At which point the crowd became a homogenous mix of black and gray clothing, messy hair, and zero art sales.

Why am I telling this story? For one, because it’s true. But mainly, I am sharing it because I am tired of hearing Baltimore artists whine about the absence of an art market. I am tired of hearing Baltimore artists complain that local collectors purchase work in New York instead of here, that opportunities for sales are few and far between. We live in the richest state in the country. Money is not the problem.

While I will admit there is no actual connection between preppies at art openings and sales, there IS an obvious connection between art shows attended exclusively by artists and NO sales. Although I am a proponent of artists buying local, affordable works, we all know this is not going to keep galleries afloat or grow art careers. The most ambitious works of art are beyond the price range of other artists, and this is how it should be.

Baltimore’s plethora of DIY warehouse spaces are terrific and brilliant. We are lucky to have them. They offer large and excellent gallery spaces to artists for high-caliber exhibits, but they are not reaching the market. They are not reaching any market. If artists and galleries are to survive, sustain, and grow, we need to do a much better job at reaching out to those who can actually afford to buy our products.

As artists, we tend to focus on other artists, and not those who might want to own our work. Baltimore’s art community is an incredibly warm, supportive, and almost familial group, but, as a gallerist friend from out of town noted that night, with distain, “It’s just artists at these shows. Who buys anything?” It was an obnoxious statement, and he earned a punch in the arm from me, but it made me consider the event from the perspective of someone who regularly sends checks to artists. What is this point?

Maybe not all of us make work intended to sell, and that’s okay. Regardless, we can all do a better job as ambassadors for our cause, which is generating support and enthusiasm for the arts within the general public. In an age when even art language has evolved to be exclusive and make people feel stupid, artists need to be conscious of the message we are sending to those outside of our community because we won’t survive without them.

Think of it this way. Do we want people to care about what we do? Yes. Do we believe that non-artists can benefit from experiencing our work? Yes. Do we want the general public to support arts funding? Yes. Currently what we are communicating is NO, because we are more interested in our own comfort and individual ambition than reaching out.

If you want art sales to improve, even a little bit in this town, the next time you go to an art opening, scan the crowd for new faces. See if there’s anyone at the event you don’t already know. Take a minute to say hello and make them feel welcome. It’s terrifying to attend a party where everyone knows everyone and you know no one, so put yourself in their (possibly expensive) shoes. Does this make you feel like an Evangelist? I’m sorry, but this is the field you have chosen for yourself. You have amazing ideas, but you make a product that can’t be eaten, worn, or lived in. As a community, we will all benefit from a dose of friendly public relations.

Art openings are social events. They are parties, but there’s a reason I rarely drink the free booze at them. It’s because I’m working. Whether it’s my show or someone else’s, an art reception is a professional opportunity to make new connections and, hopefully, garner support for my cause, which is all you people reading.

Let’s try this, shall we? Let’s make our community a little bit bigger and see what happens! Here’s a proposal: the next time you hear about an interesting art exhibit, invite a few non-artists to attend, especially those who might consider purchasing works of art. And, when you see an individual in a peach polo shirt at an opening looking uncomfortable, don’t do what everyone else does and hide – start a conversation.

You never know what you might learn from someone from the other side of the trenches. At very least, the conversation is an opportunity for you to explain how great the exhibition is and convert this Philistine to our cause.

* Author Cara Ober is the Editor in Chief at Bmoreart and teaches Professional Development Classes at MICA.

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Have You Sent Holiday Greetings to Your Collectors?

One of the things that absolutely makes me crazy is when photographers do not regularly check in with their collectors and advocates.  These people like your work and support you.  Make them feel special and appreciated.  It does not take more than a postcard or personal email twice a year to build a relationship that will pay dividends your entire career.

Holiday greetings from Heather Evans Smith
Holiday greetings from Heather Evans Smith

I first wrote about it in this post, but goodness knows if you have ever heard me lecture, attended a workshop, or just sat with me for more than ten minutes, you've heard this speech before.  So it came as no surprise to get this bit of awesomeness in the mail today from Heather Evans Smith.

To be fair, Heather has heard my rantings many times over, but it sunk in!  The top is a hand-written note wishing me happy holidays, and the bottom is an envelope stamped with her logo (seen here) on one side, and then when you open it up, it says Happy Holidays and includes two small prints (brand new images).  #nailed it

The holidays are a great time to reach out to your collectors and all of the other people who have been advocates for your work (whether they own a piece or not).  And by "collectors", I mean each and every person who owns a piece of your work.  Say hello.  Tell them you appreciate their support.

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Art Cloud Helps You…Do Everything

Art Cloud is an art management system designed for galleries, but with functionality (and price points!) for artists and collectors.  And it is amazing.  I sat down with Alex West (the brains and super friendly and arts-minded person behind the operation) this week for a demo, and I was blown away. When I started my gallery almost five years ago, I looked into the available software out there and felt like it was too expensive and not significantly better than my suped-up spreadsheet (I love me a spreadsheet).  But this is not only affordable (for galleries: $500 activation + $99/month, for artists: no activation fee and $19/month - seriously), it is basically a brain, alarm clock, manager, schmoozer, and organizer all in one.  This system is incredibly robust.  And easy.  And affordable.  And no, I'm not getting any kickback, I'm just a huge fan.

OK, here's how it can work for you gallery/artist/collector -

First, you can keep track of all of your inventory, with every bit of information about each piece you could imagine.  And if you (artist) and you (gallery) both have Art Cloud, the information can automatically sync up.  It's a cloud thing.  Brilliant.  Galleries can also have the inventory sync to their websites, so you don't have to update both places.  Also awesome for galleries - you can automatically generate pricing sheets and wall tags for shows (the wall tags export into a label doc that's already set up for the Avery pre-sets), create invoices, track partial payments (once the invoice is paid, the piece automatically takes it out of inventory). . . swooning.

But the best part (in my obsessed with creating demand for art opinion) for artists and galleries alike is the client management component.  A few posts ago I talked about the importance of regularly communicating with your collectors and advocates.  This software makes it so easy.  You can build profiles for each person you enter, add notes ("reviewed at FotoFest and liked my barn project", "met at this cocktail party and said was interested in coming by the gallery", "Super Artist Friend suggested I show this person my work"), set reminders to reach out, and keep track of the type of work they like.  So if you have a person tagged with "abstract", and you add a new abstract piece into inventory, it will remind you to communicate with this abstract lover. . . and you can email the abstract lover the image and info about the piece directly from Art Cloud.  It's genius.  It makes my spreadsheets look sad and wimpy.  And I'm ok with that.

Check out Art Cloud here:  www.art-cloud.co.  You won't be sorry.

Looking for more help to connect new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.

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The Easiest Way to Grow Your Audience

Sometimes common sense eludes us, and the answers to our toughest questions are literally staring us in the face.  Case in point – all artists want to know what they can do to sell more work.  Here is the answer:  Keep in touch with the people who already support you. Cultivating the relationships you already have is the easiest and most important thing you can do to grow your audience.  As a collector, you can have one of two experiences.  You can buy an image and hang it on the wall, or you can buy an image, hang it on the wall, and know that you have helped support the artist that created it and have an ongoing relationship with him or her.  If you were the collector, which would you prefer?  Which artist would you be more likely to buy work from again?  Which artist would you want to continue to support and introduce to others?

Artists should be reaching out to their collectors and supporters at least twice per year, and it should be in a personal way.  While email newsletters are important to keep a wider audience up to date on your work and successes, your core supporters should also receive a hand-written note, a very small print or postcard with your newest image, or even a (gasp!) phone call.  Do not underestimate the power of the personal connection.  After all, it’s what drew these people to your work in the first place – they saw your image and felt a personal connection to it.  Increasing the depth of that connection will only benefit you both.

Looking for help connecting new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.

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3 Ways Email Newsletters Help Photographers Tell A Story

Welcome guest-blogger, Dean Levitt - co-founder of Mad Mimi (the Communications Sponsor of the Crusade tour and the best email newsletter company I've worked with by far)!  

3 Ways Email Newsletters Help Photographers Tell A Story

We have many photographers using Mad Mimi for email marketing, and we've seen many of their newsletters over the years. Nearly all of them have a good eye for design, with strong visuals and creative use of color. However, if there's one aspect of email marketing that photographers often neglect... it's the story.

Here are three ways that you can use your email newsletters to tell a compelling story that compliments your striking images.

Portion of a Mad Mimi newsletter with gorgeous images and clean design, as well as some solid storyline
Portion of a Mad Mimi newsletter with gorgeous images and clean design, as well as some solid storyline

1. Develop The Characters

Email newsletters are an opportunity to share the story behind the subject of your photograph, whether you describe the characters captured or how you came to take that photograph. Why it appeals to you is appealing to others and the newsletter is a place to tell that story.

2. Technique Is Fascinating

Newsletters are a great place for photographers to totally geek out. Fellow photographers, enthusiastic amateurs and non photogs alike are interested in the techical apects of a shoot like the gear, filters and lighting you used. Diving into technical concepts is fascinating for readers.

Another element of technique is the physicality of any shoot. Tell the tale about how you balanced on the edge of a rooftop to capture the moment perfectly or the all night ride to that gritty location. It's thrilling to us non-photographers.

3. Share your Mantra. State your creed!

Whether you're a commercial artist or one solely dedicated to personal expression, you have a creed. You have a voice of your own that matters to readers. It's interlaced with your imagery and you can weave it into the story you tell in newsletters. For readers, clients and even subjects, gaining a deeper understanding of your artistic goals is something that can elevate the experience.

So while you're sharing visual poetry with clients, art lovers and anyone else, remember that the story behind the images is worth sharing too.

Here's some other tips from Mad Mimi you might find useful:

Look At The Size Of That Image (http://blog.madmimi.com/look-at-the-size-of-that-image/)

5 Email Marketing Tips To Boost Engagement (http://blog.madmimi.com/5-email-marketing-tips-for-2013/)

4 Steps To Effective Email Marketing And Facebook Integration (http://blog.madmimi.com/facebook-integration-email-marketing/)

Dean Levitt is the Chief of Culture At Mad Mimi Email Marketing (http://madmimi.com).

Looking for help creating your own innovative ideas to connect new audiences to your work? That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.

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The Perfect Way to Launch a Project

There are so many new bodies of work out there, so how can you make yours stand out?  Well, when I got my mail yesterday and saw this (excuse the crude iphone pics - they don't do it justice) . . .

Well, Sean Dana nailed it with his Press project.

Sean is one of the famed #Astoria6 from the photographic retreat David Bram and I hosted in July, and that was when I was first introduced to this project. Sean doesn't do anything half-assed (hey - who does that sound like? yes, it was love at first sight), and he has devoured this project.

Sean grew up in the Bay area, and his first job was as a delivery boy for The Vacaville Reporter. He began photographing and filming this press and others in the area for this multi-media project, going through incredible hurdles to get permissions, eventually winning over everyone imaginable along the way. He fell in love with the machines and their history, and it shows.

He created this paper showcasing his Press project on the printing presses at Howard-Quinn during their last week in operation. It is a tribute and a perfect way to launch this project.

Congrats Sean!

Looking for help creating your own innovative ideas to connect new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.

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