Startup Studio’s Business Bootcamp for Visual Artists
Thanks to a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust at the University of Virginia and in-kind support from the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business, over 100 artists (70 in-person and 30 via Zoom) from UVA, the Charlottesville community, and farther afield in Virginia, attended Startup Studio’s first Business Bootcamp for Visual Artists on October 22, 2021, free of charge.
Bootcamp participants included artists at all stages of their careers, from emerging to well-established. Two virtual viewing parties were organized for art students by faculty at UVA’s College at Wise and Piedmont Virginia Community College. Participants heard from experts in PR, legal, and accounting issues, as they pertain to working artists. Michelle Mercurio, a self-described “brand catalyst” with her own firm in Richmond, Virginia, gave an interactive PR presentation, leading the group through a series of exercises to craft their stories. Steven Schindler, a co-founder and partner at Schindler, Cohen, and Hochman LLP, shared his expertise on copyright law, licensing, and fiduciary responsibilities law. During the final presentation of the day, participants learned about calculating and filing self-employment taxes from Hannah Cole, the founder of Sunlight Tax, both an accountant and a working artist. Participants also engaged in networking opportunities to consider future collaborations.
In-person participants received Art/Work, a handbook for artists, as well as a sketchbook. Kate Melton, Director of Career Community at the UVA Career Center, with a special focus on Creative Arts, Media & Design, marketed the Bootcamp to UVA students early on and provided student volunteers who assisted with registration, photography, and other logistics. The feedback has been resoundingly appreciative and positive. Gretchen Pace, a Second Year student at Darden and the founder of Goose & Willow, a company in the home décor space that features veterans’ artwork on American-made products, called the Bootcamp, “the most helpful learning experience I’ve had since coming to Darden.”
Startup Studio was founded by Debbie White, Director of Finance & Operations at the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business. Prior to coming to Darden, White worked in galleries and museums. As an art historian turned budget manager, she founded Startup Studio as a mechanism through which to share business skills and best practices in the field with visual artists to help them improve the management of their studios and, ultimately, increase the market for and visibility of their works.
While the October Bootcamp, postponed from 2020, was the first in-person event for Startup Studio, White used the delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to offer three virtual sessions via Zoom in the spring of 2021, thus increasing the range of content covered. She also arranged for four copy editors to review and refine the artist statements of over 50 artists, who then met individually in one-on-one virtual sessions. While the mission of the Jefferson Trust is to improve the experience of UVA students, the Trust has also supported the extension of Startup Studio’s reach to local artists from greater Charlottesville and beyond. Carol Barber, an artist working in Charlottesville, shared the following after a February virtual session entitled, How to Present Your Best Self: Ways to Succeed in the Art World: “The panel discussion was so valuable. It saved me from making several mistakes I know I would have made during an upcoming studio visit. It shifted my thinking in how my online and physical spaces are part of my business not just for creation.” More than 140 artists logged into the session which included panelists Kristen Chiacchia, Executive Director & Chief Curator, Second Street Gallery, and Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family Director, Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia.
With the remaining grant funds, White aspires to continue offering events that strengthen artists’ business acumen and offer them a time and place to share knowledge and form alliances. White finds it a great privilege to be connecting with and supporting artists through the program. Art has provided a welcome respite to many during the pandemic, and as Hannah Cole mentioned in her Bootcamp session: “In this moment of division, artists are the ones who foster dialogue and help people envision the world as it can be.” White further agrees with Cole’s assertion that “creative people are the empathy builders of our culture, and when they are financially secure and empowered, they can make bigger, bolder work that will fix our broken world.”