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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Want to make a living in the arts?


Pay attention to the numbers and develop a strategic plan.
Three Graces, Carol L. Douglas (courtesy Camden Falls Gallery). Wherever I go, that's where the party's at, especially on the Camden docks. That's part of my business plan.
Yesterday, we started our day with a tsunami warning scrolling across our phones. Later, they issued a clarification; Accuweather had misread a test alarm. The mighty Atlantic floated serenely on.

A tsunami would have messed up my plans, which were to drive to Ellsworth to attend the Maine Arts Commission’s Arts Iditarod.

I’ve written about my own strategic planning. It’s tremendously important for the artist who wants to go from dedicated amateur to professional. I was chuffed to hear Julie Richard, Maine Arts Commission Executive Director, ask how many artists or organizations have a strategic plan. I wasn’t so chuffed by the response, which was pretty spotty. In fact, I was the only working artist in the group who had such a plan.

Parker Dinghy, by Carol L. Douglas. A commission from a day on the Camden docks.
A strategic plan is just a disciplined exercise in developing goals and objectives for your business venture. If you’re a Maine artist who wants to take that all-important step in self-development, I encourage you to attend the last of the meetings, at Lewiston on February 14. You can register here. Mush!

Artists, for the most part, operate outside a corporate structure. For us, a blueprint is critically important, and yet we’re loathe to embrace planning. When I did my first strategic planning, it seemed a strange and wondrous concept. Twenty years later, I get it. Don’t let the oddity of the process deter you. It really works.

Athabasca glacier, by Carol L. Douglas. My plan never involves giving up fun.
About 22,000 Mainers make their living in the arts, and we’d do a better job of it if we were more organized. That starts with facts about our target audience. There are, of course, a similar set of facts for every locale. If you’re not in Maine, you’ll need to ferret them out on your own.

Arts and cultural tourists tend to spend more, stay longer, and come back more frequently than other kinds of visitors to Maine, according to Maine Cultural Tourism Coordinator Abbe Levin. They’re also more likely to move here after retirement. The Maine Office of Tourism is a big player in drawing them here, although most of their efforts are invisible to us Mainers. 95% of their marketing is done out of state. This year, VisitMaine will have around 3.5 million hits, and the office will send out mailings to a list of more than 800,000 visitors.

“How many visitors are too many?” asked a participant. While that’s something that occurs to us in July, the coastal economy needs people from away.

Russ Island at High Tide by Carol L. Douglas. It was painting off the American Eagle that inspired the Age of Sail workshop this June.
Maine currently sees about 40 million visitors a year, with annual growth of 8-9%. To compare, New York City, which is America’s top-drawing tourist destination, sees 60 million visitors a year. Yosemite gets 4 million people a year. We are, in fact, a very big deal, but we have the capacity to accommodate more, according to Levin. That’s particularly true during the shoulder seasons and in places farther up north.

The question for Maine artists is how to engage these visitors. Is it with more gallery representation, a self-run gallery, signage, advertising, painting on the dock or chatting up tourists?

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