Posts Tagged ‘Karen North Wells’

On Tuesday we usher in a new president and a new era of hope and change. We also embark on a journey through difficult times with an economy in a death spiral the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. For many of us who weren’t born during those years we have never experienced such a time in our lives as challenging as this. It is more than a little scary and perhaps hard to start this new year feeling full of hope.

During a tight time such as this, the arts will be taking a big hit and many artists will need to cling to, or go out seeking, alternative work to supplement or replace the income from their creative work. Yet many, myself included, will still opt to donate a portion of what they make to good causes and for the benefit of others who are in need. Some may wonder why.

In a open letter to his daughters published today, President-Elect Obama states

…you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential. Barack Obama

An artist friend of mine, Karen North Wells has put it

As of Jan 1st, 20% of sales are donated to Habitat.
As of Jan 1st, 20% of my sales are donated to Habitat.

this way: “If your hand isn’t open to give, it won’t be open to receive.”

I personally had a sort of epiphany about how and why to justify myself as an artist by using it in this way. I felt very conflicted about the desire to devote myself , my time and my energy – even part time as I am- to the making and selling of art. Let’s face it, making pretty pictures is not a cure for cancer. It can’t feed starving people or put a roof over their head.

BUT, I suddenly realized, it can be a powerful way to do those things indirectly. Just for one example, people are constantly asking artists, among others, to donate to silent auctions and the like when holding fundraisers. By donating work or a portion of profits or proceeds to causes that do feed and shelter and search for cures, I can do the work I feel called to do and make a difference, albeit a small and indirect one. (But enough small drops of water together will still eventually wear away a stone.)

Because affordable housing was an issue of great importance on the Cape and to me personally, I decided years ago to donate a percent of any sales to Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod. As of this January 1st I decided to increase it from 10% to 20%. As they say, “God works in mysterious ways”. Some may say this is poor business practice or even plain crazy. But I am trusting that, as has happened many times before, what I put out there will come back to me in some way tenfold.

Austism has also touched my family and last year I found myself working on raising donations and selling raffle tickets for the first ever benefit on Cape Cod for autism_speaksAutism Speaks. Me, the girl who hated selling Girl Scout cookies as a kid and still am loathe to ask people for money today. But Janet Hart Barbato of the Ocean House in Dennis had jumped in to do it and I found myself jumping in to help, hitting up artists and other friends for donations. Sometimes I didn’t even get to ask before they would offer their goods and services when they heard about the event. Just think of what can happen if every artist , and every person, tries to find just one small way to use their talents to help.


So here’s the challenge to artists and anyone who wants change and hopes for better days ahead: How might you “paint your wagon” and what are you going to hitch it to?


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I once attended a seminar at “Making Art/Making a Living” where I got a lot of good, sensible business advice about running an art business.  Most of us will acknowledge that many artists and “artsy types” are the first to admit that they are not good at the business end of their work. Some are virulently opposed to admitting that it has to be a business at all.  And often this is why they are not more successful, regardless of what their own definition of “success” may be. 

             I don’t consider myself one of those.  I have had the good  fortune to have had two great mentors-one who is an artist and one who is not- who taught me a lot about marketing, promotions and all the general ins and outs of being business like and professional.  I do believe you have to be business-like, that you have to do the other work besides making the art and I have been pleased with the modest level of success I have achieved in the past five or six years since that seminar.

            But one thing that really struck me and with which I just can’t agree was advice regarding donating to causes.  This artist, who is quite successful in many ways, advised that one should limit (and quite dramatically, I thought) the number of donations to only one or two a year, if at all.  When approached by others throughout the year, one was advised to simply say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I  have reached the yearly limit on what I give”.   This person actually went on to caution about giving art or even discounts on it to family members!

            Maybe I’m not the hard-nosed businesswomen with an eye to the bottom line that I should be.  And maybe that is why I haven’t made the leap from part time professional artist and full time art teacher to full time artist and part time teacher by now.  But as my good friend and mentor, artist Karen North Wells puts it: “If your hand isn’t out to give, your hand can’t be open to receive”. (http://karennorthwells.com ) I truly believe that the more I have given of my art to help causes, the more I have gotten opportunities to sell it and made money doing what I love.

            Because part of my philosophy is also that art should be affordable to everyone, I do sell reproductions, art tiles and note cards of selected images of my work (See my etsy shop http://www.bernadettewaystack.etsy.com ).  So the cost of what I generally give away is kept to a minimal amount with a standard 16” x 20” print that I mat and package myself.

             I don’t generally give away original work.  I have found that to be unwise as the work at auction will often go for bargain basement prices. Hey, let’s be honest, we all go to auctions to get a deal!  And one does have to protect current patrons who have paid far more for similar pieces by not letting the work be devalued.  On rare occasions I will donate a very small study that I feel is not a strong piece but not so poor as to hurt my reputation.  I will also entertain the notion of doing a piece especially for an important cause, kind of like a special commission, to be raffled off to make a large amount equivalent or above its value.  But generally, I will donate a matted print or sometimes even frame it inexpensively for a special event.  (I’m amazed every year when the bidding wars at the Toast of Harwich start over my framed matted print of Boardwalk at Bank Street and it goes for more than 30 times my cost!!)  Lots of wine plus art makes for rollicking good charitable events!

            Boardwalk at Bank Street, matted to fit 16 x 20 standard frame


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