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Artist Business Training Project to help struggling artists learn business strategies

To ease the blows the economy has had on struggling artists, the University of Massachusetts Arts Extension Service is using an $8,000 grant awarded to them by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to run the “Artist Business Training Project” in Springfield, Northampton and Orange, Mass.

The Artist Business Training Project will hold a day-and-a-half session to coach 75 local artists, 25 in each location, on business techniques, said Dee Boyle-Clapp, program coordinator of the Arts Extension Service. The training will include creating a basic artist business plan and teaching them valuable skills such as marketing, website design and grant writing.

Artists will also be instructed on how to set up a business and handle finances. They will be taught market analysis and how to track who is accessing their websites. From that information, they can learn how to better target their audience. The artists will also receive the Artist Extension Service’s Artist in Business workbook, said Boyle-Clapp.

The project was brought about in response to economic pressures artists have faced in recent years. Many art organizations are dependent on fundraising and therefore have been extremely hurt by the recession, explained Boyle-Clapp.

“When the economy worsened, people stopped going to events and didn’t spend as much money as they used to, so it was a double whammy,” she said. “More people are also shopping online, which means they aren’t purchasing local goods.”

Boyle-Clapp received many e-mails and phone calls from local, successful artists who said their businesses were either closing or suffering. These artists needed advice on how to save their businesses.

Boyle-Clapp found inspiration for her project from  The Artists of Franklin County, a group of local artists that meet in Greenfield, Mass., monthly to discuss business ideas, presentation techniques and personal experiences. She found these group meetings were helpful for the artists to offer advice and encouragement to one another.

“Many artists were feeling very isolated, so getting connected with other artists helped them feel that they were connecting with something bigger,” said Diane Clancy, founder of The Artists of Franklin County. “It definitely gave people a lot of inspiration and we did a lot of networking.”

Clancy created the project, Artist Window Exhibit, which gave many of the group members who had never publicly shown their artwork the chance to display their work in shop windows in downtown Greenfield.

Clancy believes that it wouldn’t have been possible for many of the artists to publicly show their work without the group.

“But for most people, they were doing it because it was a way to promote individual artists and give the town a sense of pride,” said Clancy.

The first Artist Business Training session will be held at North Quabbin Woods in Orange on April 21 and 22. The second session will take place at Springfield Technical Community College on April 28 and 29, and the third session will be in Northampton at the Commonwealth Center for Change. The Northampton dates are yet to be determined.

“The great thing about this is that it’s free, open to artists of any sort of background, open to musicians, theater people, anyone,” said Boyle-Clapp.

“We’re giving people work to do before they come, to figure out their problems and have them come to the workshop to do exercises, group work and build a cohort of people,” she added.

The aid artists will receive will not be limited to the workshop. Within a month of the session, the site coordinators from each location will have a half-hour phone consultation with each artist in their group to follow up on the artist’s problems and help guide them in the next steps in reviving their business.

“It’s really hard to be given a lot of information and then go home and be left alone with it,” said Boyle-Clapp, who hopes that these consultations will help the artists better apply the learned information to their businesses.

After the training session, the site coordinators will also host a meeting once a month for their group to gather and discuss their business dilemmas and offer each other feedback.

“They’re really helpful. It’s just a really fun thing to do and meet other people,” she said.

Artists of any field can register to partake in the Artist Business Training Project and can get in contact with the Art Extension Service at aes@outreach.umass.edu.

Anna Meiler can be reached at ameiler@student.umass.edu.

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