Course Teaches Artists Important Business Skills

By Betty Lin-Fisher
The Akron Beacon Journal.

Even after 21 years as a working artist, Ted Lawson said a course he took last year to teach him business skills was invaluable.

“There’s more to being an artist than just painting. There’s advertising and marketing and the hard work that goes along with it,” said Lawson, who embarked on his painting career by combining his love of photography and painting after a 35-year career as an engineer.

The Akron Area Arts Alliance is hosting its second Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute, a course focused on giving artists the tools they need to hone their business savvy. The course costs $100 for an eight-session workshop, held in the evenings at Summit Artspace.

Funding to help offset costs was provided by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the Akron Community Foundation.

Registration is limited to 40 people and closes Thursday. Go to www.akron­areaarts.org/aei.

Art schools don’t teach the necessary business skills to survive as artists, said Claudia Zeber-Martell, a clay potter and co-owner of Zeber-Martell Gallery & Clay Studio in the Northside district of downtown Akron. She is a second-year instructor for the program.

“They don’t teach you how to market your work. They don’t tell you that you’ll be $60,000 to $100,000 in debt setting up a studio,” said Zeber-Martell, an artist for 35 years who said she thought when she first started that she would spend her time solely on her artwork.

“But to succeed in making a living [in art] is a different story,” she said.

“There’s a ‘school of being out there,’?” said Zeber-Martell, who is on her second gallery and had to close her first. “I learned a lot. It’s OK to fail.”

Zeber-Martell also said she has heard some professors tell their students they won’t make a career as an artist.

“You can. I’m here as living proof,” she said.

Lawson, who completed the course last year along with about 16 other artists, will return this year for an “alumni panel.” He said he learned several things during the course, including the idea that customers don’t only want to buy the big, expensive paintings. They want to buy limited-edition replicas, which can be at a lower price point.

He also got the idea to take 12 of his paintings of life in New York City and turn them into a 2015 calendar.

There were also intricacies he said he hadn’t considered.

“One session was about taxes. You have to pay your self-employment taxes. My accountant was taking care of it, but I didn’t know. That was one tiny thing I learned,” said Lawson, who paints urban landscapes and people from his Canton home studio.

The workshops are licensed from their creator, Community Partnership for Arts and Culture in Cleveland. Akron’s curriculum is designed by local artists who serve as the teachers, said Courtney Cable, program facilitator.

Karen Starr, an interior designer and co-owner of Akron’s Hazel Tree Interiors, will be a first-time instructor, teaching the first module: Exploring priorities, personal needs, establishing SMART goals and identifying success factors.

Having different instructors gives the artists different experiences and points of view, Starr said.

“I’m going to share things that inspired me,” she said.

Zeber-Martell will present two workshops on defining the product or service and pricing overview and practice.

“There’s really an art to pricing,” she said. “You figure out your time, but you never make what you’ve got in it.”

Starr said a course teaching how to price work is worth the cost of the workshop alone.

Lawson said he really valued the time with other artists and the lessons he learned.

“It’s a pretty inexpensive way to get that kind of stimulation,” he said.

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