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Creating A Collaborative Economy For Artists

Updated on December 20, 2014

Ways In Which Artists Can Participate In A Collaborative Economy

In this economy everybody is trying harder to make sense of their financial situation. The recession often puts the average artist in a bit of a crunch financially, since the arts truly are a luxury business. The strain of the recession has started a new movement of collaboration between businesses and individuals to boost sales.

This lens was created to showcase a few different ways that artists through the efforts of supporting others may also support themselves.

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copyright protected by copyscape

All copyrights are retained by the artist,

Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery.

The artwork or content in this lens may not be used or reproduced, either

in part or in whole, without the express written consent from the artist.

Why Is Collaboration Important?

Because Real Life Is Not A Competition.

I have long been in the practice to offer my friends up for services I don't provide. As an animal painter I take on very few portraits (and then only horses) For everything else including people who don't want to wait or pay my prices I hand them over to someone who does the job well and in a timely manner.

Additionally, I know all the frame shop owners in the area by name and have sent work to them when I couldn't do what was needed. (mostly over-size work.)

As an artist you progress by doing continually better work and getting people to connect with it. Whether they connect with your neighbor's work is irrelevant to your success.Could I possibly lose these people I send on, as a customer? (Client, Patron take your pick) Yes. But to me it is more important for them to can get what they need done, than to hold onto them out of selfishness, greed or insecurity.

Okay so here's the thing. Many of the artists and shops in the area, send people to me as well. And that, is my definition of a collaborative economy and how because of it, we can all better our chances for achieving success.

The following are several ways to collaborate.

Banding Together To Lighten The Load

Cooperative Galleries, Studio Tours & Partnering

Studio Tours

I helped to create a studio tour in Northwest Iowa. Many years ago a dozen or so artists got together (myself included) and said "Hey, they have a really successful studio tour in MN, why can't we? and from there And who else can we get to participate?"

I won't lie it was a huge undertaking with a mountain of work. The meetings were 1-2 times a week (for well over a year) an hour away from where I live. (though to be fair everything is an hour away from where I live.) the Artisans Road Trip (A.R.T.) is still alive and still struggling to find it's way. But it is a huge boon for the local artists and allows those who otherwise may not get their work shown, out before an audience.

When I was part of the process, the gist was everybody was juried and paid a fee, everybody puts in the volunteer hours and everybody had a say in how things progressed. By everybody pulling together, we promoted each other as well as ourselves. The essence of a collaborative economy. The event has changed through the years but this essence remains the same.

Cooperative Galleries

I'm sure everyone is familiar with this concept. Usually it's an art group that opens a co-op. Everyone shares the rent, working the sales floor and the benefit of having an actual retail location.


Partnering is simply another way to join forces to a mutual benefit.

Since I actually have a storefront I may have more opportunity to find a business for mutual benefit. I have partnered with interior designers (in both selling my work and custom framing) Photographers and other artists.

Another example of partnering is hanging your work in a cafe or restaurant. While this may not technically be helping another artist, it is still to the mutual benefit of both parties.

Recently I agreed to a joint venture with a photographer friend who is opening a studio in a neighboring town. She wanted to offer framing but wants no part in the actual doing of it. So I'll set her up with some samples, she works with the clients, I place the order and frame them, she delivers. It's win win. She offers a convenient service for her customers, I get extra framing work. Plus I give her a commission. I already have this sort of situation with two other locations. One is an artist and one is an interior decorator.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Letting Go Of The Fear That If Another Artist Does Well It Somehow Takes Away From You

Try not to view success as a competition.

We learn from each other. I would be lying if I said that when working an art event if my booth is plunked next to someone whose work is in direct competition sales-wise with mine, that I don't care if I sell as well as they do. Of course I do. But the key difference is, I don't want to see them fail either. Some of my best friends are artists whose work is in direct competition with myself.


When you can't or don't want to do a job, point the customer to someone who will. I collect business cards (a handful if possible, so I can give them out freely) from many types of artists. Since we meet so many artists as well as those needing the service of artists, I am in a good position to suggest people for the job. I usually offer several possibilities (narrow the field a little) but I personally try not to prejudge who is the right fit. By offering them a selection they can choose. Plus if one artist doesn't work (for whatever reason) they still have a back-up or two.

Support Each Other

Offer Assistance To Artists Who Seek It

Offer Assistance To Those Who Seek It

For some, this may be teaching classes or writing a helpful squidoo lens. For us, we offer discounts on framing for artists. But we also offer all the "free" advice you want regarding framing, selling prints or business in general. In the past I have cleared entire afternoons to talk with budding artists and discuss what they hope to accomplish and how to get there.

Don't Participate In Negative Conversations About Other Artists.

This is pretty self-explanatory. In the end, that kind of behavior hurts us all.

Support one another at exhibitions.

This is good for two reasons. It comforts the artist and makes the room look full. Lively conversations going on is so much better than that uncomfortable museum like quiet of an empty room.

An Example of Artist Collaboration

My dear friend and fellow artist Mari Stewart, was celebrating her 25th year in business as a gallery owner. The area which she has been supporting the arts for so long has suddenly turned into an art hotspot. And while that old adage "When the water level rises, all boats float." somehow in this instance, that isn't how it translated in real life. At least not immediately.

Everyone wanted to be a part of the new scene. Newspapers and artists alike flocked to the new galleries and studios that had sprung up all around her. As a result she may be closing in the near future but she really wanted to do something special and unique for this past season.

So every weekend all summer long, she hosted several artists to come and demonstrate at her gallery. She benefited by having artists that weren't being sold at all the "new" galleries. And was able to offer something special in the way of people being able to meet the artists and watch them (or rather us) work. On one weekend myself and several artist friends got together.

We artists benefited because she spent big dollars on advertising and of course we got to sell out work. She made money on commission sales and got a rush of customers both new and old to stop.

And quite importantly, we all had a lot of fun together.

Be A Part Of The Process.

The Best Way To Help Other Artists Is To begin

Do What You Can.

We are all busy with a shortage of free time. But if there is a way you can do something for some other artist . . . do it.

And here's an easy opportunity for you to do just that. If anyone has any other ways to help each other out, please leave a comment. I will update (add it to) this lens with your suggestions as they come in.

And Finally . . . A Quick Word About Vanity Galleries

Art Galleries That Charge You To Hang Your Work

Since I had mentioned Cooperative galleries I thought it important to also mention vanity galleries, as they can be easily confused with each other.

What is a Vanity Gallery Anyway?

A vanity gallery is one where you (the artist) pay rent for a wall or cubby. I suppose it is quite similar to an antique mall. Quality is less important than filling the space. The gallery makes it's money through rentals not so much through sales. A traditional gallery takes on artists whose work they believe they can sell. It is from the sales that the gallery makes it's money. A cooperative gallery splits the cost amount the members and profits go towards running the facility not to individual business people.

And why is this significant?

Because a vanity gallery earns it's money whether you sell or not. (Passive Selling) While a traditional gallery has to work at selling your work in order to earn it's money. (Active Selling) Obviously if the gallery earns it's keep by commission only they will work much harder at promoting and selling your work.

A vanity gallery earns it's money whether you sell or not by charging you rent. While a traditional gallery has to work at selling your work in order to earn it's money.

So where's the harm.

The harm is that the vanity gallery often earns it's keep at the expense of emerging artists. That's not to say that they can't actually make some artists money. They can and do. But all too often it is the new artists that are lured into spending money by the promise of sales and exposure.

Because a gallery of this sort does not have to actively sell their artists, chances are it will be a losing proposition. And nothing crushes the spirit more than paying high prices for a space and selling very little or nothing at all.

It is also important to know that participating in a vanity gallery is not a resume' builder. I do not live in a metropolitan place so this may have less consequence here than with those who do. But in places where the arts are . . . vanity galleries are in general looked down upon by the art community as a whole. They are seen as inclusion by purchase, not by skill.

In Closing

As someone who has "been there" and worked harder than a rented mule to make a business from selling my art, I have a strangely maternal instinct in regards to artists taking the leap of faith by entering the sales arena. Though this may seem contrary to all that I have just written I am not saying you shouldn't get involved with a vanity gallery. As always I wrote this post to provide information that will allow for an informed decision.

About The Author Of Creating A Collaberative Economy For The Arts

Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery

My name is Mona Majorowicz I am a professional artist who has been making my living selling my work for some time now. I am an animal artist, (meaning I paint critters) who works primarily in Oil Pastel or Water Soluble Pencil.

I own and operate Wild Faces Gallery with my husband Mike in a small rural town in Iowa. There we sell my original artwork and prints, as well as do quality custom framing and offer Giclee printing for other artists as well as for ourselves. I have over 20 years experience in the art and framing industry, both as a business owner and as a working artist.

I maintain a blog called Fur In The Paint, as well as write a regular column for the equestrian magazine Apples 'N Oats about painting horses.

Animals are my passion and art is how I chose to express it.

Have you participated in or have suggestions for other collaborations? - Collaberative Artist Economy Table of Contents

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    • profile image

      DebMartin 2 years ago

      Excellent info. Cooperatives are so important, not just for artists but for other solopreneurs like those who create food and other crafts. Sharing resources, ideas and complementing products can boost sales for everyone. Voted up!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 6 years ago from Kansas

      Great ideas. A friend of mine and I have been toying around with the idea of renting studio space out to other artists and having a gallery in the same building with teaching classes during the day. We're just waiting on making enough money to start the process.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 6 years ago from New York City

      Great ideas here, Mona. Here in New York there are many collectives and artist groups for all kinds of work. The Etsy handmade community is exceptionally supportive, especially as members break down into smaller subgroups. The amount of mutual support has been surprising and unselfish.

      And on a personal note, we got into the outdoor arts and craft fair circuit this year, and your generous tips were really helpful. We learned a lot, but not as painfully as it might have been without all your guidance.

      I have numerous art lenses and have done a couple that highlight other Etsy and Zazzle artists in a promotion. Not much success with the last two, but it was worth a try. I still may make something useful of them yet.

    • robertsloan2 lm profile image

      robertsloan2 lm 7 years ago

      Thank you for writing this article. It goes right to the heart of what I've always believed - cooperative strategies are much more effective in the long run and the short run. I love hanging out with other artists. I love teaching what I know and I'll be studying all my life. I look over at my own walls. Every artwork I've bought was from a friend and most are from artists who taught me.

      Thank you for the tip about vanity galleries. I knew a group of friends who were about to rent space in one and asked me to join in with them, it was almost a co-op atmosphere but I didn't have the money at the time. I was doing better out on the pavement as a street artist.

      Last, you've shown me a direction I can take for things that I would love to do but don't have the physical capacity to manage. Partnering could be the answer. I would love to do my own framing and used to be tremendously creative in matting. You've made me recognize that I need to develop a good relationship with a good framer whether it's someone like you who does it on the side or a local frame shop. That could make all the difference, letting me focus what time and energy I have on painting and writing.

      For the record, I looked around at everything on my walls that isn't my own painting. All but one of the artists whose works I've bought has been someone who taught me and helped me. I got to know them because I loved their work or they did a class and sooner or later they do one I can't resist.

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I have worked together with other businesses, artists of many different walks in life, who shared the same goals; and its is rewarding. I have formed many friendships from it.

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 7 years ago

      I have been a professional engineer for over 30 years, but I always wanted to be an artist. I even have quite a bit of art training. Your lenses, (and I will be looking at the rest of them as time permits) will be very helpful to me. I have retired ('semi' retired) from engineering and I am pursuing art as a way to earn income. (not a living:)) I will eventually look at all of your lens as I think you can help with all of your experiences. Btw, my passion is graphic novels or cartoons, so we don't clash with one another:) I'm kidding, I read what you said about getting along. See you around the galaxy...

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Collaboration works in every area I've worked in. Thank heavens for it!

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 7 years ago

      I keep saying this but I really need to get out there for a visit. I have been in a few art collaboration situations and I think organization is the most important thing. Getting artists to agree and work as a team can be like herding cats.

    • profile image

      editionh 8 years ago

      This is a very important point that you make. Group exhibitions attract more visitors than one man/women shows, that is at least my experience. Also it is much easier and more efficient for a group to handle a show together.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 8 years ago from Iowa

      @julieannbrady: Also I bow to the greatness of your 637 lenses. (seriously)

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 8 years ago from Iowa

      @julieannbrady: In the past year or so our area (within a 100 mile corridor) has really embraced the arts for financial as well as altruistic reasons. It's a good thing to see happen.

      Thanks Julie :)

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      I would love to see one of my sisters get more into the collaborations to benefit fellow artists. She is in Columbus Ohio and I think that is a great Midwest location to foster such a supportive artistic effort.


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