The arts are a major economic driver, and the Arkansas Arts Council and other organizations are helping local arts entrepreneurs with business skills to ensure their success.
Top photo: Robert Bean at an opening reception for an exhibition he curated at the Arkansas Capital Corporation Group. / Photo by Jeremy Smith
Art. It’s a tiny word, but it holds hidden depth.
When we see or hear the word, what often comes to mind are images of paintings and sculptures. But singers, dancers, musicians, basket weavers and quilt makers are also artists. Many of them are also entrepreneurs who never thought about the business of their respective crafts — only their passion for creating.
“All my life I’ve always drawn. When I discovered comic books, that’s when I realized that art could be an actual profession,” said Robert Bean, owner of RB Fine Art, an art consulting business. “But we don’t teach our culture makers how to be businesspeople. There are lots of business skills that apply.”
When art and commerce converge, it can be good for the economy.
According to a recent U.S. Cultural and Heritage Tourism Study, Arkansas’ heritage tourism industry employs nearly 27,000 people and generates $927 million in personal income for Arkansans. Thirty Arkansas museums and other cultural/heritage sites reported to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism an estimated 1.2 million visitors in 2014, the latest data available.
More than just pretty paintings or poignant performances, the creative community contributes $166.2 billion a year to the U.S. economy, according to data from the Arkansas Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
AAC understands that an artist must be resourceful. That’s why AAC awarded $1.56 million to 434 Arkansas organizations and artists in the 2015 fiscal year. That investment led to total arts industry expenditures of $85 million that support 2,525 full-time jobs in Arkansas, generating $3.9 million for local governments and $4.8 million for state government.
“The Department of Arkansas Heritage isn’t just about preserving the past,” said agency Director Stacy Hurst. “We relish the opportunity to play a role in improving our state’s economy. Through Arkansas Arts Council programs, we help create jobs and nurture the creative climate that leads to economic development in local communities.”
The Meaning of ‘Art’
Celebrating its 50th year, AAC’s mission is to advance and empower the arts by providing services and funding for programming that encourages and assists artists in achieving professional excellence. The council also provides technical and financial assistance to arts organizations and other providers of cultural and educational programs.
For example, the Arts Council helped fund Artist INC.
“Artist INC. teaches business skills such as financial planning and marketing to artists of all disciplines,” said Joy Pennington, AAC’s executive director. “In addition, the program trains local mentor artists who continue to provide assistance after the eight-week program ends.”
Funding for the program was provided through the Sally A. Williams Fund for artist professional development, Pennington said.
Bean said that before he enrolled in Artist INC., he gleaned advice from the internet. He was also able to get guidance on some things from his wife, Maria, a certified public accountant.
“Finance, marketing, networking — you need all these skills if you’re going to be successful,” he said while sipping a sweet tea at Mugs Café in North Little Rock’s Argenta district.
Bean curates the artwork on the walls of the trendy coffee house. When a piece is sold, he helps broker the price and earns a commission on the sale. Just before entering the restaurant to order his sweet tea on a sunny March morning, he delivered a piece to a satisfied customer.
Bean said he supplements his income by teaching art classes at the Arkansas Arts Center and is happy that he can make a living as a full-time artist.
A Creative Legacy
Lisa Krannichfeld is another Artist INC. graduate.
The walls of her west Little Rock home are filled with “expressive portraiture,” her signature style, and photographs from vacation travels with her husband. On a slightly overcast Wednesday afternoon, she was busy in her studio — a sunroom with lots of windows that face a backyard with enough trees and landscaping to make it easy to forget that busy Cantrell Road isn’t so far away.
Krannichfeld has been busy preparing to build large wooden crates, a skill she never expected she would need. At 32, she’s been a professional artist for a decade, teaching art classes, most recently at Pulaski Academy. However, the time has come for her to take the plunge as an arts entrepreneur.
The crates, once completed, will be used to ship her work to an art fair in Singapore.
“I started showing my work on Instagram and a gallery in Australia started following me. The museum director suggested that I participate in the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore,” she said. “This is probably the busiest I’ve ever been because I’m also preparing for shows in Dallas and Chicago.”
Krannichfeld said she’s learned some lessons from her husband, Jamie Walden, a co-founder of the artisanal sweets company Treatsie.
“My advice to anyone who wants to become a full-time artist is be resourceful,” she said. “I had to learn to build crates because they’re so expensive.”
While the word “art” encompasses a wide range of disciplines — visual, performance, media, etc. — those artists with goods to sell seem to have the easiest path to entrepreneurship. One would think it would be as simple as opening a gallery or selling those goods at festivals and craft shows.
However, there are often unforeseen factors for which several central Arkansas artists say they were unprepared. That’s why agencies such as the Arkansas Arts Council and programs such as Artist INC. are important, Pennington said.
“The Arkansas Arts Council is very excited that Mid-America Arts Alliance expanded Artist INC. from Kansas City to other states in the M-AAA region, and we are pleased to provide funding assistance,” Pennington said. “It’s so important that we do what we can to nurture our state’s creative community and that we recognize not just their cultural contributions, but the impact they have on our economy.”