Organized by Confluence Gallery and Art Center (CGAC), Make / ART / Work is a one-day professional development and skill building conference happening on April 7, 2018 in Twisp, Washington. The conference is designed to address the business challenges and opportunities of artists residing in Okanogan County, and this year’s attendees can look forward to a variety of presentations and workshops led by Pacific Northwest teaching artists and arts industry professionals.
The inaugural Make / ART / Work conference was held April 1, 2017 with the intention of providing local artists with the skills to have a financially viable creative practice. The main objectives were to increase artists’ business fundamentals; provide artists with a framework to create a successful art practice; ensure artists have a sound understanding of the key drivers of the Pacific Northwest art industry; and facilitate a collaborative and supportive local artist community to share best practices and increase local artists’ visibility, audience, and sales. Highlights from last year were workshops offered by Artist Trust, ArtsWA, and Methow Arts Alliance, along with a lively and interactive discussion titled “Understanding the Landscape of the Pacific Northwest Art Industry,” with a panel comprised of art educators and art administrators
Artist Trust spoke with Salyna Gracie, a multimedia artist and CGAC’s Executive Director to learn more about Okanogan County’s vibrant arts community and the upcoming Make / ART / Work conference.
What are some of the challenges and/or barriers facing artists in Okanogan County?
Living and working in this remote and rural part of Washington State, the artists of Okanogan County do not have easy or affordable access to professional development opportunities and continuing education in the arts. Additionally, the local economy is very fragile, and local artists mirror the economic demographics of Okanogan County residents – a significant percentage earn below the State median income and live below the Federal poverty level. Working artists struggle everywhere, but, especially so in the economic climate of this county. In response to these challenges, Make / ART / Work is presented within the county to expand access to local artists, offer free artist mentoring, and subsidize fees for professional development for all emerging and established working artists in the region.
How many people do you anticipate to attend this year’s conference?
We expect to have 50 attendees at the 2018 Make / ART / Work conference based on artist attendance in 2017 and feedback that the majority of attendees would participate in the conference again. CGAC has long-standing relationships with hundreds of artists in Okanogan County and we hope the success of last year’s event will encourage artists to take advantage of this unique opportunity to build their art business acumen.
What led to incorporating a sliding scale admission?
The local economy of the Okanogan County is fragile and heavily reliant on tourism. Thirty-nine percent of people in the county live below the Federal poverty line. The median household income for Twisp is just 46% of the State median income. Many people lack year-round employment and wages don’t keep up with the high costs of housing, food, and other services in this remote area. Devastating wildfire seasons in 2014 and 2015 highlighted the need for the community to develop strategies for local businesses and entrepreneurs to grow and sustain their business when faced with adversity. Local artists mirror the economic demographics of Okanogan County residents and CGAC responded to the financial challenges of working artists by offering a subsidized/sliding scale fee to attend the Make / ART / Work conference, while filling a critical gap by delivering programs specifically tailored to our working artists who have very unique business challenges.
As an artist yourself, how do you balance your professional life with your creative life?
As an art administrator, it is an ongoing challenge to balance my professional life with my creative practice. Having a home studio is helpful to provide easy access to early mornings and late nights of art making. I use a lot of creative energy in my job at CGAC and finding strategies to save some of that creative juice for my own work is always evolving. Luckily, I get to spend a lot of time with super creative and talented artists that inspire me daily!
Are there any projects you are currently working on?
My current projects include a body of work titled Deadly Beauty, a series of encaustic paintings that explore my fascination with the power of plants to harm or heal. From the most exotic flower to the everyday shrubs adorning our backyards, the botanical studies in my Deadly Beauty series hold a deadly secret in each leaf, petal, root, and seed. Releasing the Dogma of Birdsong is my newest evolving series and explores a spiritual understanding of raptors and songbirds in encaustic mixed media.
Do you have any advice for artists aspiring to turn their creative practice into a profession?
Going from art as a hobby to art as a profession is a leap that can be made in steps that reflect the individual goals of an artist. Art making has always been reliant on the apprentice/mentor model and is still a very relevant relationship for any emerging artist to cultivate. Art school can teach great fundamentals in technique and process, yet, they often fall short preparing artists for the marketplace. A professional artist is a self-employed entrepreneur in a unique commerce platform and needs specific skills to effectively run their business and sell their product. In addition to attending skill building workshops like Make / ART / Work, finding an artist–mentor who is willing to share their experience is incredibly valuable for any artist trying to build their career. Make / ART / Work programming features mentorship and networking opportunities for artists, encourages artistic generosity and collaboration, and works toward creating a community of artists that can support each other every step of the way.
This year’s Make / ART / Work conference features a presentation by Artist Trust Program Director Brian McGuigan on “Developing Your Elevator Speech & Professional Relationships.” The full conference schedule is available here.