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Arts Incubators Help Talent Grow

Many artists dream of making a living from their art, but lack the business know-how it takes to make that dream a reality. A new trend in the art world is changing that. Arts incubators are popping up across North America.

Arts incubators help artists and art groups with the process of starting, growing and sustaining a business.

Leon Tongret is the president of an arts incubator in North Carolina. His program provides artists with a low-cost studio space, including all utilities, high-speed Internet, e-mail, website, telephones, copiers, faxes, printers, mail and packaging services as well as access to secretaries and receptionists.

The incubator also owns and operates its own retail stores.

"This ensures that all our artists have access to a place that will help to sell their work," says Tongret. "And we charge a very low commission of 25 percent versus the common 40 to 60 percent offered by all the other galleries and stores who sell."

The artists can get training and mentoring, as well as help with business planning, marketing, pricing and setting up booths.

Tongret adds that the program also tries to steer the artists away from common mistakes made by new businesses, and help them focus on the most promising opportunities.

They also try to keep their incubator artists in the public eye. "We offer all the arts and use many of our talented artists to teach these classes. This brings them additional income, as well as exposes more of the public to their work."

You have to meet certain criteria to be accepted, however. "We do an assessment of the artist's work," says Tongret.

"We review their plans of what they want to do. If their desires match our model, and their work appears to have artistic merit and space is available, they are brought on board.

"The Small Business Administration shows that 85 percent of all businesses fail by their fifth year in business," adds Tongret.

"Most of these failures occur in the first year. However, studies done of businesses who have taken [advantage] of small business incubators have found that the statistics are reversed, i.e. that incubator graduates have an 86 percent chance of surviving past their fifth year."

Dan Zeller is the artistic and executive director of an arts organization in Chicago. His organization benefited from participating in an incubator program.

"It was really important to get advice on how to build the organization and further establish the community that would benefit from our efforts and support our future activities," he says.

Zeller says his group was able to learn from people who had experience in nonprofit art management. "Also, by being in the incubator, we were around other arts organizations, so we were able to compare notes and exchange information."

The incubator Zeller worked with offered one-on-one meetings with an experienced professional in the nonprofit community. "Her feedback, ideas and guidance helped us so much -- she was fantastic," he says.

John White is the executive director of an incubator. He says that while his area once supported many cultural arts such as the symphony, the artists who were just starting out had no choice but to seek other options.

They were seeing 600 to 700 arts grads a year leaving the area to work in places that supported them. White and his team determined that an incubator would need to provide affordable studio, gallery and theater space and make business training and advanced arts courses available to their community's emerging artists.

Since its inception, White says, they have seen 30,000 visitors and artists a year come through their doors. They now partner with a local university to provide advanced art and business continuing education courses.

There are six resident artists who lease studio space on a monthly basis and there are plans for more space in the future.

The growing number of arts incubators across North America has the once tough art business looking a little friendlier.


National Business Incubation Association
Get information on arts and business incubators across North America

United States Small Business Administration
Offers tips and resources for the self-employed

Marketing Your Art on the World Wide Web
Get some tips on improving your online presence

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