I am often asked about my network, and how I have built it. People routinely call me to ask if I can connect them with someone, or if I know anybody who might be able to help them. I am happy to make connections, both for myself and for others, as it is through my own personal network that I have enjoyed success.
I believe that it is crucial for artists to build their network. These relationships can lead to profitable sales and shows. When I went to art school at Boston University my parents told me that if I were going to be an artist, I would need to have marketing skills in order to be able to sell my work. I took summer marketing classes on how to write properly and I did case studies of businesses that had successfully marketed their products. I think that is when I realized that my artwork was as much a commodity as it was a craft. I looked at famous artists in today’s marketplace and tried to figure out how they got where they are today.
What I saw was that a lot of their success was predicated on good relationships made with people who helped them move ahead. This showed me the value of creating and maintaining such a network for myself. When I started doing newspaper sales, I met a lot of people in many different positions and tried to get to know them personally. I also attended functions such as business after five events or similar chamber of commerce groups. Chamber of commerce trade shows are another great way to network with people. They might not have a place to show or buy your artwork but they might have a friend or relative who might have an interest. You never know how these things come out, so it is always important to meet people and be friendly with them.
My advice to new artists starting out in the business is simple: take basic business classes and attend marketing workshops. The Creative Capitol Foundation or the Art Businesses Institute are both places that will teach you skills to help you manage your art in a business like fashion. Additionally, try to go to events that have people with similar interests so that you can figure out who you want to know and where you want to go. Join young professionals groups, and find a service organization that you like. Then stay with them. When I first moved to Naples I was helping make cough pillows for hospital patients. The women in that group today are among the movers and shakers in the community. They include a state representative, a judge and a county commissioner. Those long-term relationships have yielded both referrals and business.
I belong to many different organizations, including many national art groups that focus on fiber related arts such as the Surface Design Association, and Silk Painters International. Local groups have included the United Arts Council of Collier County and the United Way of Collier County. My advice is to be careful what network groups your belong to as it can be expensive time and money wise. For example, I was a member of Business Network International, which is a referral-based group. Being an artist in that group did not bring me enough referrals from other members to make the membership worthwhile. It works for some businesses but not necessarily an artist. It becomes a matter of doing the homework to find out about the business or group in advance to see if you will fit in with them. If you do, these types of groups can be a great resource to grow your network, learn new skills, meet people and attract business.
Getting work shown in juried shows is another excellent way to meet people and sell work. Participating in these shows, especially outdoor shows it is very labor intensive. But it does lead to new friends who might have referrals for you; It is yet another tool in building a great network. To get into these shows, artists need to have a professional photographer take photos in digital format in various sizes so that they can apply. Then judges review the entrances and select artists usually using a numbered point system. Every artist has been denied a few times, myself included, but continuing to apply and continuing to be seen by the jurors of these shows is very important. New artists should go to Callforentry.org or juriedartistservices.com to look for juried shows to which they can apply.
I have used all of these techniques to work myself into a solid position professionally. I used my networking skills to get me into solo juried shows at the LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts and a 2017 show at the Museum of Florida Art and Culture, which has been wonderful for me as a working artist. I continue to work all of these angles all of the time to keep myself connected to the community that I love.