Overcoming Barriers in a Messed Up System (episode 3)

Elephant Butte Lake

This is part three in a series about how I went went from emerging artist and residency director, to bringing countless of artists to Art Basel Miami and other big art fairs around the world, while giving them the best professional practices to show up confident. It may sound like a quick success story, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

The systems in place in the art world are so messed up. There, I said it.

How could something so vital be so convoluted?

After searching for a few days, I finally found a satellite fair that curated cutting edge, emerging art – hallelujah – and I ended up meeting the directors of the fair. I introduced myself as the Director of the Starry Night Residency Program and told them what I was looking for.

S:Maria del Mar GranadosProposalsSelect2013-0001 Altman CentCome to find out, they didn’t work with individual artists, and even reserving a booth at a satellite fair cost thousands of dollars. Which seemed, well, steep.

I don’t know anyone that just has $10,000 or more sitting around to spend on a booth at an art fair. Plus, that’s just the cost to reserve the booth – that doesn’t include any of the transporting, traveling, hotels, installation, promotion, or staffing the booth with professionals.

Have you ever thought about showing your work at a big art fair, and then realized you couldn’t even afford the initial deposit just to reserve the booth, much less pay for the whole thing? Or have you gotten turned down because you’re just an emerging artist, and you didn’t know how to introduce yourself or present yourself, or heaven forbid, YOU ARE NOT ALREADY A PART OF A GALLERY?

If this sounds familiar, then you know it hurts.

I immediately understood that MONEY was one of the biggest barriers in the existing system. OF COURSE. WHAT’S NEW?

Money is always a big barrier, for lots of people, but especially emerging artists trying to make something of their career. How often do you struggle with money, trying to make rent each month, or investing in the things you know will move your career forward? Sounds like yet another “chicken or egg problem”.

I get it, we’ve all experienced money as a barrier in our lives. But, you know what motivates me the most?

Barriers. Being told I can’t. I refuse to just accept it.

Because really? Please, tell me I can’t do it. Go ahead, I DARE YOU.

So, I thought, if money is the barrier between me and a booth at a fair, I’ll just have to find a way around it.

I was determined. Do you want to know how I got around this one? Does it involve money growing on trees? Well, no, but I did have to get pretty creative. And it might have involved an excel spreadsheet or two.

That week of Art Basel Miami had a lot of ups and downs for me. But after going from jealousy to curiosity to the defeated feeling that you get when some exclusive clubs refuses to let you in, I worked until I came up with a solution.

My idea was this:

I would create a program for independent artists to exhibit their work with me and my staff representing them during Art Basel Miami, or any big art fair that was otherwise closed to artists like us. It would be a totally new program of Starry Night, like the residency program, but I’d make it a whole new opportunity for visual artists – at a waaaaay cheaper price than a booth –  that brings them the exposure and access they need.

I would apply to satellite fairs and, if they accepted my idea, I’d dedicate a booth to it and put a call out for artists. My team and I would choose the best applicants to create a really strong show. If there were a handful of artists in the booth, the whole thing would work. With the Starry Night staff, we would be able to represent the artists perfectly, since we know and love our artists like we love our family, and now that we’ve got thousands of followers and contacts, we could effectively promote all of the artists we worked with. Boom.

It really looked like we were in the perfect position to do the job of a gallery without being exclusive jerks, all while making everything transparent, and training our artists to become totally professional and confident along the way. Starry Night could do for artists what a gallery wouldn’t even do for them – and show artists what they needed to know to take control of their careers.

It felt like an epiphany to me, but I wasn’t 100% confident with it right off the bat. A flurry of worries invaded my mind…

Were they going to laugh in my face? Were emerging artists even going to want this program? Where was I going to connect with emerging artists who wanted to take control of their careers?

How did this eureka moment turn out?

Stay tuned for Episode four to find out what happened when I brought my idea to the fair directors.

But for now, here is a free guide to How to Pack Your Work.

Join the ongoing conversation in our Starry Night Artists group.

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Dedicated to nurturing the careers of emerging artists, Starry Night’s programs are designed to lower the traditional barriers that artists face when trying to establish themselves, and help them to start making a living doing what they love.  To learn more about our comprehensive online training program, Artist Resources & Tools, click here.

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Episode 1: It Started With My Curiosity- And Maybe a Little Jealousy

Episode 2: Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?


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