Artist Inc. Class 5 – Legal Issues For Artists

During the morning of Class 5, Paul Cha, a registered patent attorney and intellectual property litigator in the Denver office of the law firm Holme Roberts and Owen LLP, took us on a journey into the world of legal issues an artist might encounter. Here’s a brief summary of the content he covered in class:

– Protects the form in which creative idea is expressed (not the idea); Exists at the moment work is created; The individual that created the work is the copyright owner.
– Can register a copyright to provide further protection with right to sue and to collect damages.
– Life of a copyright is life of author plus 70 years.
– Works created prior to 1923 are considered public domain.
– Fair Use of a copyrighted work includes reproduction for uses of criticism, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.
– Penalties for copyright infringement include destruction of infringing materials and monetary damages.

– Any word, mark or symbol used to identify and distinguish the goods of one person from another and to indicate the source of the goods.
– Trademark rights can last indefinitely.
– Mark should be distinctive. Fanciful (i.e. Exxon), Arbitrary (i.e. Apple), or Suggestive (i.e. Microsoft)
– Register through Secretary of State or US Patent & Trademark Office – you can do a search in the database for trademark logos. Words are harder to trademark than logos.

Useful Links:
US Copyright Office
Copyright Clearance Center
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Stanford University – Definition of Public Domain
Cornell University – Copyright Term and Public Domain
Westminster Law Library @ Sturm College of Law, University of Denver Public has limited access to resources.
Colorado Supreme Court Library Open to the public.


Artist Inc. – Class 4 – Business & Financial Basics

Class 4 of Artist Inc. focused on Business & Finance topics for artists taught by Neil Mackenzie from Metro State in Denver.

Neil MacKenzie is a Visiting Professor at the Center for Innovation (MSCD), where he has developed the course “Artrepreneurship.” Neil condensed his class content into a 4-hour session for the Artist Inc. students.

Here are few insights learned during the class:

Artists should have a strong “elevator speak.” It’s 30-seconds of “this is who I am and what I do.” Avoid using the word “unique” to describe yourself, it has become meaningless. Answer the questions: What do I do? What would the public get out of it? What’s your “secret sauce?” Why would I want to buy from you? Try to pique someone’s interest so they want to know more.

Neil shared with the class information about the Colorado: State-of-the-Art study conducted by the Colorado Council on the Arts. The “Creative Industry” is the 5th largest sector in the state, and Colorado has the 5th largest concentration of artists/creatives in the U.S. Click here to read the full study.
He also discussed the National Endowment for the Arts’ Public Participation in the Arts study which describes how tastes are changing and that audiences for traditional arts events are declining. There is evidence to show that more people are participating in the arts themselves – making things, creating movies. blogs, etc. online, etc. Click here to read the full report.

Next, Neil talked in depth about business structures:
To determine the best business structure for you:
1. Think about your liabilities.
2. Think about the work involved and time needed to maintain your business.
3. Do you have need to raise additional funds now or in the future?

A. Sole Proprietorship – you are the sole owner. There is low cost to open business, but higher risk as you are personally responsible for the business and all your personal goods (house, car, inventory, etc) are at risk. Ways of raising money is limited. Can create an “LLC” through the Secretary of State office to help lower your financial risks.
B. Partnership – has more than one owner. Should have a partnership agreement in place to spell out responsibilities as they often end poorly, and can be harder to dissolve if necessary. It is easier to raise funds since you have multiple people involved. Can have a “limited partnership” to divide up ownership into different parcels. Should create an “LLC” so that you are only liable for your assets into the partnership.
C. Corporation – more formalized, has a board of directors, must have annual meetings and follow the tax rules. Higher cost to incorporate, but lower personal risk. Many more ways to raise funds. You file separate business taxes and there is a lot of paperwork. An “S-Corp” is similar but has less paperwork involved.

Sales Tax
If you have a product that you sell (i.e. works of art that are tangible), you need to pay sales tax. If you sell a service (i.e. web design, graphic design, etc.) no sales tax is due.
A wholesale tax license allows you to purchase materials for your artwork and not pay tax on them.
Make sure you know what paperwork is involved, follow the schedules, and be sure to investigate both city and state tax licenses.

Useful Tax & Business Formation Links:
Colorado’s Secretary of State Office
Colorado Dept of Revenue business tax information.
City of Denver Treasury Division.
Nine Steps to Starting A Business in Denver
Online Forms (sales tax licenses, tax returns, etc.) – City of Denver Treasury Division
Special Event Tax Information (for participating in art festivals, etc.
US Small Business Administration

Financial Statements “101”:
– Income Statements – covers your activity for a period of time (what came in/went out, what sold/spent)
– Cash Flow Statement – Covers where you are each month
– Balance Sheet – Your financial condition at a point in time including your assets & liabilities and your balance/equity
Use a budget spreadsheet to help you plot out your month-to-month expenses, and to detail your expenses both fixed (don’t change monthly) and variable (varies month to month)

Other ideas to keep in mind regarding your business:
– A business plan is a good way to identify your goals, organize your ideas and create a timeline for action.
– Identify your “opportunities and threats” – these are external things you can’t control (such as a changing marketplace, an aging audience, etc.)
– A mission statement helps you focus in a specific direction, and can help you craft your 30-second elevator speech.
– Learn from your competition – what are they doing well or poorly? What can you copy or improve?
– Be inquisitive with your customers – engage them about what they like, why they bought from you, get referrals from them!

A few resources mentioned during class:
“The Successful Business Plan” by Rhonda Abrams
“I’d Rather Be in the Studio” by Alyson Stanfield
“Guerrilla Marketing” by Jay Levinson

Artist Inc. – Class 3 – Gallery Relations 101

The Artist Inc. program continues to delve into some important topics for visual artists. This post will highlight some of the discussions from Class 3 where we covered Gallery Relations.

Gallery relations, portfolios, photographs, and other gallery resources:
Taught by Alicia Bailey, Owner of Abecedarian Gallery and book artist, Alicia provided extremely useful information from the perspective of both a gallery owner and a working visual artist. Here some highlights from her class:
Regarding images of your artwork:
– Label your digital images with artist name NOT with the artwork title.
– Limit your submitted portfolio to one primary medium and be consistent.
– Eliminate distracting backgrounds from your images (esp. for 3D work).
– Avoid including the artwork’s frame in your image, unless it of particular importance to the work.
– Order your images in a way that strives for balance as images are often looked at all together.
– Follow directions concerning image size and what materials a gallery requests. Your portfolio is a way to evaluate your future relationship with the gallery.
-Keep one good image large of your work and then lock this file. Do a ‘Save As’ to make specific, smaller copies for other uses.
-Several good inventory softwares are on the market for managing your images – check them out here: Flick, Bento or Alyson Stanfield’s blog about inventory systems.

Regarding approaching galleries:
-Visit the gallery first, if possible.
-Remember that galleries are businesses; talk about your saleability, your collectors, and what you bring to the table.
-Some galleries have a dedicated time when they look at artist submissions. Call first, or make an appointment; don’t go in expecting them to drop everything to look at your work. Don’t be overly pushy either, they will contact you if they like your work.
-In general, be consistent with your body of work and medium. A gallery needs to know you are reliable not a “dabbler”.

-Prices must be consistent across the board.
-The commission a gallery takes allows the gallery to keep the lights on, and is also a way for the gallery to commit to you in time, energy and effort.
-Geography has an impact: NY prices are higher because rents are higher. As the artist, you have to decide what’s worth it to keep your prices consistent. Maybe you don’t go to NY until you establish a reputation elsewhere so you can build up your prices.
– Decide what your policy is on discounting and what free reign you give your gallery for doing so.
– To establish your own prices, one technique is to search for artists working in a similar media/size and who has a similar type of artist reputation. Look at their past year’s prices, do they increase each year, etc?

General gallery relations:
-The artist should expect the gallery to treat them with regard, to place their work well, to include them in PR and marketing efforts; A gallery expects each artist to contact their patrons, and help promote the gallery as well.
-It’s good to have a signed agreement of some kind detailing how things will work between you and the gallery; don’t expect a gallery to remember every conversation and detail of your past conversations.
– Potentially avoid galleries that treat visitors poorly. Visit first incognito to see how you are treated.
-Look at the website carefully, do they have too many artists, how are artists represented on the website?
-Clarify how the gallery handles insurance of the artwork. As an artist, you can attach a rider to your own insurance policy to cover artwork in other locations.

A few gallery types and artist opportunity examples:
-Co-ops: artist does all the work, often have solo or 2-person shows; this is a great way to get exposure and build experience hanging shows, doing your own PR, etc.
-Gallery Rentals: renting one space for a specified period of time. Another good way to start building your resume.
-University Galleries and other nonprofit spaces: mission is to educate, so sales are scare. But, these opportunities can be more bang for your buck in terms of building your resume. You can organize workshops, lectures, artist residencies, etc. along with holding an exhibition.
-Restaurants or multi-use venues: the work doesn’t get as much attention since the venue has another purpose, but many people will see the artwork which could lead to other opportunities.
-Juried Shows: gets your work in front of lots of people/curators/professors, etc. Often shows are specific to a theme/medium so it is a filtered and captive audience. Determine your budget for the year, for example, and enter only those shows that seem the most appropriate to what you do.

If your art exhibitions can have multiple “hooks” with the media, this increases the possibility that your show will be covered in the press. Be willing to think strategically about how to get your work in front of the most numbers of people. There are so many ways to mount art shows, don’t be afraid to think creatively or take a chance. Building your resume with lots of shows, lectures, volunteer activities, etc. is useful to advancing your career as an artist.

The Simple Act of Thank You

As someone who has worked in the arts for 18 years both as an active visual artist and an arts administrator, I have seen my share of “entitled artists.” By this I mean those people who seem to perpetually have their hand out, asking friends or acquaintances to go above and beyond what is normally expected from those relationships. These types of artists often make grand assumptions that they neither have to pay for nor work hard to receive something of value in return. This personality type is not limited to artists, mind you. Perhaps it is something in the artist persona – they play into what has historically been a lifestyle defined by struggle, financial hardship, emotional torment and other such stereotypes, and that somehow putting their art into the world is worthy enough.

I would like to suggest that this attitude is neither acceptable nor in the best interest of artists as a whole. When you ask a friend or colleague to assist you hang your art show, volunteer their time for your project, review or critique their work or written materials, thank them! It is a simple concept that we teach children when they first learn to speak, yet it often eludes many adults.

Our world has become increasingly complex and people’s lives have become busier; our interactions with others have become less formal – email and texting has allowed us to abbreviate our thoughts, oftentimes this leads to misinterpretation. There is a time and a place for informality. However, situations that warrant formal thank yous and other demonstrations of appreciation should be done with well-thought out written sentiments, and may warrant (dare I say), a handwritten card or note sent through the mail!
When someone takes the time to explain how you have impacted them, that they have learned something from you, that they appreciated your time, effort and dedication to your cause, it shows an act of respect and professionalism. It doesn’t cost you anything but it is usually of great value to the receiver. Conversely, when someone neglects to do this, it feels like your efforts went unnoticed and unappreciated, and you won’t likely want to help this person again in the future.

Think about people who have helped you, guided you, shown you a leg up somewhere – did you thank them, and thank them properly? Doing so might just help you in the future.

Artist Inc – Class 2

The second class with the Artist Inc. program helped the students “hit the ground running” so to speak.

Greg Katz of the Artist Success Studio led a one-hour session about creating a vision for yourself and setting goals. He drew a line on the board and labeled it with numbers from 1 (an “Artist Who Works” to 7 (a “Working Artist”) and challenged everyone to place themselves on this continuum. Where are you now and where do you want to be? He discussed that a “successful” arts business (or any business) is a “sustainable” business.
Throughout his talk, he asserted that whatever your goals are for yourself and your arts business, each decision you make should move you toward your goals. Here are some tips he discussed:
– Become an “expert” in your field – i.e. go out in your city and be part of what’s going on; visit art galleries, museums, etc.; stay current in the art world; be an active participant and become engaged; become a “go-to” person for your particular media/technique or perspective.
– Write down a list of your excuses for not doing something or not moving toward a goal; then you can never use those excuses again. Don’t sabotage yourself!
– Clean out your old ideas (literally or figuratively) and make room for the new. Carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas.
– Know what influences you and your art – who are the contemporary artists working in your media; read books/periodicals about your preferred subject matter, etc. Have some type of story to tell about your work – people like to ‘buy’ a story when they purchase art.
– Find ambassadors for your art – create win-win relationships, be a likable person and banish your narcissism. Remember what goes around comes around.
– Don’t be a trailblazer relating to the business side of your art career – find some models that work for you. For example, how much art do you have to sell per year to live comfortably? How many artworks do you need to create? Is this possible for you at this point? Would you be comfortable only being a part-time artist?

Following Greg’s presentation, each artist stood in front of the group for 5 minutes to discuss one piece of their work projected on the wall behind them. This was quite intimidating for some – there were many people who stood with hands in pockets or shifted back and forth – but the overall goal was to begin to get everyone comfortable speaking in front of groups. It is a challenging skill to master, one that requires an entire workshop in itself, but as you grow more confident, as you establish your written materials (artist statements, etc.), and find language that you can use over and over, it will get easier.

Up next was a 2-hour session taught by Jennifer Garner, Director and Curator of the Center for Visual Arts, and Assistant Professor of Art at Metro State College. She spoke to the group on preparing the necessary written documents that all artists should have ready: the artist statement, resume (or Curriculum Vitae – CV) and letter of introduction.
As she has worked with hundreds of artists and art students in her varied role as professor and curator, she had some well-informed information to share. Here are some important points from her presentation:
– Consistency is KEY – create an identity for yourself and maintain it throughout – your business cards, letterhead, portfolios, etc. should all have a similar look and feel, and it should reflect your art. {If you create contemporary black & white architectural photographs, does it make sense to have a flowery/organic logo and and use pale pink paper for your personal letterhead?}
– Label everything (documents, images, CD’s, etc) with your name and contact info! It will likely get separated from your other materials.
– Don’t spend a lot of money on your presentation materials – no fancy binders, etc. Also, don’t give a gallery more than they have requested – follow instructions carefully. This demonstrates that you respect them and their time.

In the next section, Jennifer spent quite a lot of time on how to craft an Artist Statement. This document has long eluded artists, yet it is such a necessary and compelling component of an artist’s suite of professional documents. It distills down into three paragraphs the essence of why an artist does what they do. your statement can sometimes make or break a viewer’s impression of your work – a well written one can enhance their experience, while a poorly written one may do you a disservice and actually downplay your artwork. Most viewers of art don’t understand what they are looking at, how it was made, and what it could mean – so help them! Here are some of her tips for tackling this beast:

Paragraph #1 – Identify: What type of artist are you? What is the concept of your work and how is it evident in the work? Don’t get too personal or philosophical, but be very direct. 3-4 sentences
Paragraph #2 – Analysis: Elaborate on your style, palette, mark making/techniques, concepts, influences, etc. 7-10 sentences
Paragraph #3 – Response: Summarize and clarify the concepts presented in #1 & #2. 2-4 sentences.

Here’s an exercise to get the words flowing: Think of 50 descriptive words about your artwork: 25 relating to content, 25 relating to concept. Once you have that list, look them up in a thesaurus, and double it – now you have 100 descriptive words to start crafting into sentences. If you are feeling extra bold, go back and double that list to 200!

Once you have your solid draft, read it out loud – how does it sound and flow? This is a working document meant to change and adapt to particular uses. Save a copy and then go back in to rework it for specific exhibitions, etc.

Next, Jennifer discussed creating the resume or CV. A resume is usually one page, and CV (Curriculum Vitae) is a list of everything you’ve ever done. List education at the top for your first 5 years or so out of school (if applicable), and the move it to the bottom. Divide the resume into categories such as Gallery Exhibitions, Professional Experience, Publications, etc. List things that relate to your art career, and always work in reverse chronological order (most recent first). Avoid including a goal statement as it clutters the document.

Last, a cover letter/letter of introduction was discussed. A cover letter should be included every time you send your materials/images, etc. to a gallery, for a specific proposal, etc. Again, use your personal letterhead, and make the document neat, clean and concise.
Paragraph # 1- Why are you writing?
Paragraph # 2 – How and why you are qualified – be specific here. Entice them to investigate your resume further.
Paragraph #3 – Wrap up, thank them for considering you, mention your enclosed materials as applicable.
Close with ‘Sincerely’ and list enclosures.

We covered a lot of material during class! It is overwhelming to start writing these documents from scratch, but once you have them, you can then constantly use, adapt and then alter them slightly for multiple uses for years to come.

Artist Inc. – helping artists achieve professionalism

Artist Inc. is an exciting new program at TOSA. Funded by a grant from the Colorado Council on the Arts this 10-week course is designed to help visual artists of all types to improve and enhance their business and professional skills. We are thrilled to have eleven dedicated and enthusiastic artists taking part in the program’s inaugural year.  The program is inspired by the long-running EDGE program through Seattle’s Artist Trust.

The group met for the first time on April 10 when they attended the Create Denver Expo, a well-organized event run by Ginger White and the excellent staff at the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs. There, they could attend a wide variety of workshops led by professionals in the arts and business communities.  I sat in on two helpful sessions:

Robin Bond of Citizen Pictures led a session about how to sell yourself to “Suits.”  These CEO-types love to make decisions, are very direct, are early adaptors to innovative ideas and technology, and admire creativity.  She encouraged everyone to have their 30-second “elevator speak” at the ready because you never know if a parent at your child’s school or a guest at your cousin’s wedding could become a future customer, business partner or patron of your artwork.  {If you don’t have your personal elevator speak, create it soon and practice it often.  It will take some time to roll off your tongue.}  Once in a meeting with a top-level executive, be cognizant of the details (what does this person like/dislike – do your research about them), stay on target (don’t talk about nothing), maintain confidence, and always close with a direct question that requires them to follow up.  They will most likely admire you for your persistence.

Next, I attended a session about public speaking led by Steve Kultala, a consultant and trainer on this topic.  He spent a lot of time putting one poor workshop participant on the spot – she had to stand in front of the group repeating herself until she mastered the public speaking technique that Steve was teaching.  In the end, it was fun to see someone learn to take dramatic pauses, to engage individuals around the room in the eye, to speak with articulation and to slow down.  Steve emphasized that you should try to make conscious decisions while you are speaking in front of a group – be present, respond to your audience members as if you are in one-on-one conversations.  Most important is to not be afraid of silence – silence is what helps your audience connect with you and process what you are saying.

In the main lobby of the Webb Building where the Expo was held, there were a whole host of arts groups and business resources to network with and take advantage of – what a great way to gain exposure about what’s happening around Denver.  I feel lucky to live in such a burgeoning art town!