Friday, January 25, 2008

who pays whom?

Disclaimer: I work for a professional development program that is offered for free to participants around the country. It is paid for by state and local arts agencies and organizations. It is incredibly affective, and is part of the change in the system, but it serves a small number of people.

I was having a conversation the other day about the art market (yeh, i have those conversations a lot). This one was about the fact that artists aren't willing to invest in their careers in order to grow. Its a common practice in pretty much every other business on the planet. Invest in new equipment or software to increase productivity and boost profits. Invest in a consultant to create a strategic plan to grow and boost profits. Invest in hiring more people to increase productivity and boost profits. You get the idea.

There is also the personal investment for growth. Loads of people every year go into massive debt to subsidize their law degree, medical degree of MBA. They do this with the belief (usually true) that with this degree their earning potential will be much higher.

We were talking about why artists don't believe in paying the high price for learning the skills to grow their careers. In particular we were discussing professional development programs. At first I agreed, thinking why don't artists pay for this kind of training? Especially if they see proven results from those who have taken it. Well, here's why they don't: the system is broken.

All those other people investing, are pretty much guaranteed a return on their investment (with work). Artists just aren't. The return on investment (ROI) is just not that high. Even if they do succeed at getting more shows and grants, and can negotiate better deals the pay still isn't that significant (unless you are the 1% of 1% who become art stars). Sure, its enough to live on and continue doing your work, but its no doctor, lawyer or CEO salary.*

Here's another problem. A lot of us already did invest. A LOT. A lot of us have our terminal degree (until this PhD in Fine Arts fad hits critical mass), we have the MFAs. And we paid dearly for them. Probably as much as some MBAs (I know my debt until I retire is enough to rent a small house in some urban areas). So we have made that investment and it probably hasn't paid off. I know my school did no such thing as professional development which actually prepared you for creating what is, essentially, a business.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed and learned a lot during my MFA, but really, it was like a really really expensive 2 year residency program. A time to focus on your art and develop your work.

And another thing - I know plenty of artists who are feeling really tapped out from giving away work for auctions, getting underpaid to put on great shows for non-profit arts organizations or state agencies. We won't pay entry fees or subsidize the gallery system. We won't pay for consulting or promoting or transport or framing or any of the other things to do with a show we may or may not sell from.

So how can we change all this. Well thats something that takes looking at the entire landscape. The system really is broken. From a misconception by the public and the government about the value of arts. To the hierarchy that exists where the artists are at the bottom instead of the top. To our own undervaluing of what we give to the world.

Where to start? Start with your own circle of friends. Start with talking about it, come up with some creative solutions and help each other grow and learn. Share your knowledge of marketing, planning, fundraising, negotiating, etc. A rising tide and all...

*I have been able to observe and attend a few professional development programs and some are really effective. I also have a pretty good background in business and when I applied that to my art - plus just took the discipline and commitment up a notch (all investment), I have reaped tangible rewards.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

With a little help from my friends

(cross-posted from my new project site,

Help me chose a summary statement

So I have written a couple of different summary statements. Which do you like better?

“Seeding the City” is a public art project that seeks to plant “seeds” of thought in the urban environment on challenges of climate change and potential for remediation. Social networking will determine the location for installation of individual green roof sample sites. Included with the installation will be educational and community building tools, and methods to trace the growth of the network. Online resources will include mapping of the project, tools for tracking local urban heat island effect and resources to recreate the project worldwide.

“Seeding the City” is an art project that utilizes social networking to site urban interventions in the form of green roof modules. It capitalizes on community building to introduce urban environmental issues and remediation tools. The modules and their accompanying flags and street level signage will track the growth of the network throughout the neighborhood. Online resources will include mapping of the project, tools for tracking local urban heat island effect and resources to recreate the project worldwide.

Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It is the title after all

Just an update on what is "in progress" around here...
  1. Most of my energy right now is devoted to the new green roofs project, for which I just launched a new (very beta!) website:
  2. There is also a lot of thought going into a project I am doing at Highbridge Park, that follows the path of the Croton Aqueduct as it came into Manhattan. There is some cool facilities based architecture up there. And I am reading an interesting book called "Water for Gotham." (I love urban history - just ask me about Five Points!)
  3. I want to do a soundwalk/audio tour based on water in NYC - either it will follow the Croton Aqueduct Path (from Highbridge, to Central Park and ending at NYC Public Library at Bryant Park [which used to be a resevoir]) or along the original shoreline. And through this project link history with the present and future. All this inspired by And While London Burns.
  4. Keeping up with upcoming shows around HWL: Screening of the film by Justin Lange at "Eco-centric" @ Sonoma County Art Museum, and at "EPA: Environmental Performance Actions" @ Exit Art, and - this should be a fun one! - a showing of how the project was created as part of "Feedback" at Eyebeam. (I am hopeful that we can show the maps, tricycle and chalker as part of this exhibit).
Of course there are other things out there happening and I still have other projects I want to develop (including the water use project, the run off/bus shelter project, the disposable culture project - so many!) And there appear to be a lot of good shows (well, interesting at least) to see out in Chelsea.

I did get a chance to see a couple of notable shows in London this month. Besides partaking in the hauntingly informative and moving "And While London Burns" I also stopped in to see "Shibboleth" at the Tate. I have to just put this out there - I love the Unilever series. I really really do, big corporate infusions of cash and a truly massive space and freedom for talented artists to create something, well, great is really powerful. Doris Salcedo has done some pretty powerful works (including the Atrabiliarios) and the Shibboleth is profound for more than its technical wizardry (and the funny signs warning people not to fall in). I think viewing the crack in the floor in that space when there are just a few people in there with you would be moving (unfortunately it was packed when I was there), even with the crowds there is something interesting about watching people follow along this line - strangers walking side by side, but divided by the crack (making it okay to stand that close), or couples walking one on either side, thus divided by the crack.

I also saw Anthony McCall's show at Serpentine Gallery. Another technically compelling show that was able to reach beyond the wonder of how into a world of exploration of body and space. I enjoyed just standing in the space and letting the lightworks move across me, changing my relationship to the surrounding gallery and people. And one last stop (I love that the V&A was open until 10am) was at the "Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft" show, which featured some interesting and obsessive works - highlights of which were Lu Shengzhong whose paper cutouts were astounding for their sheer magnitude and Susan Collis for her sublime almost ridiculous understated work.

Monday, January 14, 2008

But selling out to whom?

Deborah Fisher has launched a new blog, Sellout. (Thanks to AFC for the heads up). It is looking good so far. Deborah has a great way of writing and considering things and I am glad to see she is putting her critical eye on the "artists career" it is something that I tend to think about a lot both for personal and professional reasons. So far she has discussed Seth Godin (who I admit to enjoying reading too), the myths of the artist and money. A lot of what she is asking for is discussion by readers, so it should be interested to troll the comments. I may pick up and expand on some of her threads here...

For starts:

As regards to talking about money. Not only do I not have a problem talking about it, I don't have a problem blogging about it, and have even started a "working group" to come up with more business savvy ways to address funding. I also am not afraid to ask to be paid for what I do (mostly).

Artist myths? I don't believe any of them. I think they are all complete bullshit and anyone who buys into them is either a liar, doesn't really believe in themselves or their work or is so enamored with the "artist image" as to not consider much beyond that. Do you really think the top artists in the contemporary art world believe in the myth of the poor lonely deranged flaky starving artist toiling away in the studio. Neither do I.

I doubt that by reading Deborah's blog I will come to any conclusion close to "sellout" I am more likely to enjoy what she is writing about and be glad there is someone else out there talking about some ideas "whose time has come."

Image coutesy of:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Considering others--

Another moment of brilliance...

Chris Doyle has done it again. I know I talk about him a lot on this blog, much to his chagrin, but he's done it again with some pretty clever thinking. This time its a self marketing idea that is simple, beautiful, brilliant and I hope (for his sake) succesful.
Chris created a limited addition set of drawings called Subscribe. They are some of his personal but not too precious drawings of suburban homes. And they are for sale. (That's not the clever part, tip is:) Each sale benefits one of a handful of non profits that he has chosen, like Creative Capital, Creative Time, Public Art Fund, Smack Mellon and Socrates Sculpture Park. Why is that so brilliant? Because each of those organizations (and their huge mailing lists) is going to promote the work too!

So everybody wins, the organization and the artist.

I will post images of the work and links soon (writing this from the phone). And if there are some left, go buy one!