Four Ways to Build Your Art-Business During Uncertain Times

According to a survey from Americans for the Arts and Artists Relief, a whopping 95% of artists have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those artists are among the 40 million and counting Americans who have lost work during this time. Despite setbacks globally due to COVID-19, visual artists can benefit from online learning, networking, and ensuring that the art that helps us make sense of the major social change we’re experiencing is visible to its audience of peers, amplifiers and collectors.

Before the pandemic, artists knew that leveraging an online presence and sales strategy was important. Given that consumers are discovering art online more frequently (37% would purchase online) than by way of galleries or museums, artists must learn to run their own branding and marketing campaigns. —Invaluable, American Attitudes Towards Art (2016)

“29% of millennial art buyers said they preferred buying art online, compared to 14% a year ago.” The online art market grew almost 10% (to 4.64 billion) in 2018. —Hiscox, Online Art Trade Report (2019)

The research is in: you CAN build a thriving art-business during a pandemic, and in some ways, it might actually be easier to do so with the increased digital resources at this time. We’ve put together some tips to help you get started.

1. Take Advantage of Free & Low-Cost Online Learning

If you find yourself with extra time on your hands, why not learn something new, for free? The Clark Hulings Foundation Campus offers targeted art-business learning. Sign up here. With other programs like Masterclass and Skillshare offered at discounted rates, you have plenty of options to build on or learn new skills. The Freelance Artist Resource provides comprehensive lists of opportunities available to artists and those supporting the arts community. Artwork Archive compiled this list of remote work tools for art-businesses. Make business-learning like The Thriving Artist TM podcast part of your quaranroutine.

2. Engage & Expand Your Network

Four Ways to Build Your Art-Business During Uncertain Times

CHF Art-Business Conference™ participants stress the importance of information and skill-sharing among artists; they find collaboration with other professional artists highly valuable. Along the same vein, 94% of artist applicants to CHF’s 2019 Art-Business Accelerator were particularly interested in networking with other artists. Just because in-person events are on pause, doesn’t mean that your networking should come to a standstill.

Remote networking is more possible than ever before. With teams moving to remote work, staying connected and developing peer networks online is the new norm. Video conferencing like Zoom and Google Hangouts help ease the transition to virtual connections,and make scheduling meetings with potential new collaborators, partners, collectors, and peer groups a breeze. Virtual arts programming like museum, gallery, exhibition, and studio tours are becoming commonplace, and expanding the reach and impact of the fine arts beyond in-person. See if CHF has a chapter of The Artist Federation in your area, or start your own peer artist group for resource sharing and networking—on or offline.

“Since about half of all artists are self-employed, they have to find outside networking opportunities to develop the professional connections needed to advance their careers.” —Woronkowicz & Noonan, Who Goes Freelance? The Determinants of Self-Employment for Artists (2017)

“I want to collaborate in a think tank in which artists are committed to being agents for their own prosperity.” —Robin H., CHF Art-Business Accelerator Executive Fellow (2020)

3. Assess Your Budget & Operating Expenses

“A lot of financial professionals don’t even know what to do with creative people, and they don’t know how to budget for variable income.” —Ally-Jane Grossan, Financial Planning for Creative People (2018)

Because artists’ income is often variable, financial experts operating from “traditional” models can fall short at helping them, indicating a need for artists to acquire training to develop financial competency. This financial uncertainty is exacerbated by the realities of living and working through a pandemic. But in truth, a crisis can come up several times in the life of a successful business, and if you’re able to take this moment to develop a plan, your business may be more resilient for a future setback. The good news is that you don’t have to do this alone. Artwork Archive put together this list of grants and resources to help you navigate financial uncertainty. Unsure of where to begin? Start by reading our CHF Expert Column from Elaine Lutrull of Minerva Financial Arts, for expert tips on the financial piece of building a thriving art-business.

4. Use Your Art for Social Change

“Artists are central, not peripheral, to social change.” —Creative Time Reports, Change the Culture, Change the World (2013)

Four Ways to Build Your Art-Business During Uncertain Times 2

With COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, we have a monumental opportunity to advocate for change. The painting of Black Lives Matter banners across the US within just a few days of the protests, and continuing now with the recent NYC mural on 5th Avenue, is just one example of how artists and art contribute to awareness of social problems and social change. We advocate for artists running their art businesses, and provide opportunities for dialogue that promotes fairness and transparency in the art industry at local and national levels.

Post-pandemic, we expect artists to emphasize building their online art-business even more than before. Small businesses are operating a new normal of e-commerce acceleration, and we expect artists and the art world to do the same. Virtual events are on the rise as in-person events have come to a screeching halt. At CHF, we’re partnering with the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) to create a Virtual Indian Art Market this year—with Artspan hosting the artists’ websites. We’re excited at the opportunity to adapt to a virtual market and showcase Indigenous artists and their work. We also expect networking and sales to be made more frequently online, as the climate of work and art changes after the pandemic. One thing’s for sure: the pandemic has made an indelible impact on the art world and has made it necessary for artists to shift their attention to digital selling, marketing, and networking.

Between protests promoting social change, galleries offering virtual tours, and time spent home, inspiration and hope are embedded in our changing culture and economy, and our drive for equity. How can you make your art make an impact? How can you use this time to build your art-business? What has worked for you during this time? Share with us in the comments.

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Lily Dulberg

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