Vermont Arts Council

Just Add Savvy

Makers can’t be stopped from making. But sometimes, they hit significant hurdles when imagining building a business. New entrepreneurs can feel lost, or have trouble creating accountability. Marketing know-how and self-assurance might be in short supply.

None of this, however, was apparent at the Holiday Humbug event organized through programs at Generator held December 6. Eight artists vending that evening greeted shoppers with newfound confidence. The cohort sold a diverse selection of work including jewelry, hats, clothing, and knives. They had just completed the Business of Art program—a business boot camp organized by Generator, LaunchVT, and the Center for Women and Enterprise with support from the Vermont Arts Council.

JumpStart is an initiative that supports and bolsters early-stage entrepreneurs and helps them to grow their businesses sustainably. The Business of Art program is a part of that, and focuses specifically on supporting artist-entrepreneurs and the unique challenges that creative enterprises face. The participants in the round ending in December were selected by a panel of curators, art professionals, and retailers; leaders whose decisions were based on the applicants’ bodies of work and experience selling it.

Program Coordinator Christine Hill explained, “Business of Art is designed for folks who are just starting to make headway in their art businesses and need help building a solid foundation. We were looking for artists with a cohesive body of work who were clearly committed to transforming their art practice into a business. Whether they were organizing their own art shows or cold-calling retailers, they needed to show that they were making lots of pieces and were hungry to grow their business.”

The group received free access to Generator’s tools, resources, and shared workspace so they could gain production efficiencies by utilizing the woodshop, jewelry studio, metal shop, laser cutters, and other equipment. Free trainings and classes exposed the makers to new tools and production methods. They also received expert mentoring and technical assistance at no cost and based on their needs, from bookkeeping to strategic planning.

All images by Liza Voll Photography.

Additionally, the cohort attended the JumpStart Business of Art public lecture series at Generator. Five public presentations featured professional artists, retailers, curators, collectors, and other professionals in the field discussing topics including business models, financial management, and ways to sell your work.

The most valuable perk of the program? Community.

“As a ‘solopreneur,’ it can be easy to feel lost at sea,” said Kristin Silverman of Silverhill Creative Millinery. “The cohort was excellent because we all shared things in common. It was great to make connections with other artists who have similar experiences and business models. It is easily the best thing I have done for my business and my business education all year.”

For others, the most valuable aspect of the program was simply spending time thinking critically about their business and being held accountable for their goals and plans by other members of the group. “I had to dig deep into parts of my business that aren’t the most fun,” said Carrie Root of Root Studio, “I got the chance to reflect upon upcoming business goals to help me stay on track for the future.  This program gave the clarity I was looking for as well as motivation to keep moving forward towards my dream,” she said.

These shared successes are just a beginning. “I feel empowered,” added Silverman. “JumpStart Business of Art gave me valuable tools to know how to take my art seriously as a business—and how to take that business to the next level and beyond.” These sound like the words of an up and coming entrepreneur.

Christine Hill

The Vermont Arts Council is proud to support creative entrepreneurship through the JumpStart program.