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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Fall/Winter 2009

Education + Art = Formula for Prosperity

Thursday, November 5, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Joe Hesch

Director of Entrepreneurship

Sheridan College, Sheridan, WY

While many community leaders, economic development agencies, and politicians are busy chasing smokestacks and stimulus packages for the next savior of their economy, artists are there, every day, doing what they do best – creating art. “Create” is worth repeating - for artists create value where it did not exist before. And as we know, some art is created from the discarded trash of big industry! So why is this important? Money, that’s why.

Here in the rural communities of Sheridan and Johnson counties in Wyoming, visitors see vast ranches, oil wells and the grandeur of the mountains. Are these sights the heartbeat of the region? A 2008 survey by Regional Technology Strategies, Inc. revealed that the creative economy in Sheridan and Johnson counties yielded an annual income of $21.5 million. One out of every 20 people is employed in the creative community. With stakes that high, success cannot be left to chance. Art is a significant business, so why not treat it as such with the same support and zeal as big industry?

In 2008, Sheridan College, the Wyoming Arts Council (WAC), Downtown Sheridan Association (DSA), and the Sheridan Artist Guild Et al (SAGE) joined forces, recognized this need, and acted! Sheridan College applied for a grant from the Wyoming Arts Council that resulted in a project with four distinct components. The purpose of the grant is to use resources from the WAC, SAGE, Sheridan College, and the DSA to provide a programmed educational format for artists to learn the business of art. This four-part grant creates opportunity, refines skills, and supports the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of artists. The components of the grant include:

1. The Business of Art series of educational seminars, created by Sheridan College and SAGE, is based on survey data results from artist interviews. Digging deep, the grant staff uncovered the gaps in business knowledge that most artists encounter. Class offerings include:

a. Creating a Web Presence – learn to make your own space on a budget

b. Photographing Your Art for the Web

c. Branding Your Artwork and Building Value

d. Copyright Law for Artists

e. Balance Your Marketing Portfolio

f. Generating Multiple Revenue Streams From Your Art

g. Social Media Networking for Artists

h. E-commerce for Artists

The Business of Art series addresses the unique challenges artists face when trying to transform their passion for art into real income. These seminars enable artists in Sheridan and Johnson counties to learn the essentials of business in a setting that is both comfortable and customized for artists. According to Karen Myers, director of SAGE, “The Business of Art series provided the kind of training artists need. What makes it successful are the low cost of the seminars, having only artists in the class to enable them to share their experiences, and providing a teaching style that makes computer technology both applicable and comfortable for the artists to learn.”

2. Remote location and limited exhibition space presented another challenge for area artists. Northeast Wyoming is a big space and that is part of the inspiration for western art. Some artists live in remote locations providing wonderful workspace. However, the dependency on tourism and interaction with other artists proved to be a hurdle for real growth. The solution: A SAGE Web site that enables the promotion of local artists, facilitates networking, and coordinates the guild activities. This Web site provides the cornerstone for local art activities and promotion to tourists. It is linked with community calendars, travel and tourism, and the state of Wyoming. As a result, area artists are better equipped to showcase their work and promote events.

3. Art and retail business in Sheridan work hand in hand. Recognizing the fact that one fuels the other, the grant staff planned monthly Art Walks. Once a month, artists are able to show their work at specified retail stores. The stores act as “hosts” for the event, providing space and a reception area for potential buyers. Established as a monthly program, the Art Walk has proven to be a win-win situation for artists and retailers alike. The early results show increased art sales, greater exposure of art to the community, and retailers reporting a healthy spike in sales during the event. Bottom line – this activity proves that art brings the community together and fuels economic growth in all area businesses.

4. Downtown Sheridan is a visually appealing magnet for tourists and residents alike. It has a special feel of life in the west that has become increasingly rare in the age of big box stores and strip malls. Sculptures accentuate the sidewalks of Main Street with 27 permanent exhibits on display and numerous others on temporary loan. Artists gravitate to the historical architecture, culture, and the constant parade of inspiration necessary for the creation of their work.

Many of the buildings in this charming district have not been redeveloped, leaving relatively few spaces for artists. Enter the artist residency portion of the grant. Working with a group called Artspace,, a non-profit developer that specializes in renovating older buildings into artist residences, galleries, and workspace, the grant staff went to work to rectify this problem. As a result of the Artspace presentation, a series of meetings and planning sessions evolved that will pave the way for affordable space for visiting and resident artists to both work and exhibit their art. This work is a key enabler of artists’ efforts in a profitable business model.

Just as you would nurture a plant to bear fruit with proper water, sunlight, and fertilizer, the artists of our communities need only a little special care to flourish. The right business knowledge, the opportunity to show their art, and a little space to live and work will continue to yield economic benefits for the entire community. Measured not only in dollars, the contributions of artists make the world a better place. Educators stand up and take action! Follow the model developed at Sheridan College and watch your artists grow.

For more information, contact Joe Hesch at

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