My art business learning process: Artist associations

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Three years ago I started trying to turn the art-making that I’ve been doing on and off my whole life into an art business. And it’s been kind of overwhelming–there is sooo much to learn about every aspect of this process. But it’s also been really exciting! I figured I should start documenting some of this process, both for myself, to keep track of what I’ve learned, and so I can share it with others in case it’s helpful for someone else someday.

At the beginning, I took some basic steps like creating a website, Instagram account, and getting business cards made. Then, I would try to get my art shown but that turned out to be a lot harder. I participated in Somerville Open Studios (that should be a whole other post!) and also had a few local shows like at a coffee shop and the public library, but trying to randomly submit my art to shows I found out about online was a really discouraging process.

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Finally, just about a year ago, I stumbled across something new. Another local artist I follow on Instagram mentioned an artist association she was part of. I had never heard of such a thing, and at first I assumed you had to be some super talented and famous person to be a member.

But I did some more research and I discovered that’s not the case!

Turns out, an artist association is a type of organization in which artists pay an annual membership fee (the lowest I’ve seen is $50 but it can be much higher) which usually guarantees them a spot in 1-2 gallery shows per year as well as the chance to submit for several other shows with discounted submission fees. There are usually other benefits too–like free or discounted access to workshops and artist talks.

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Photo credit: Michael Flanary

The other useful thing is that most of these organizations have newsletters (which you don’t have to be a member to receive) that have all kinds of useful info about upcoming shows you can submit art to, classes, films, and talks, and art related grants or fellowships to apply for.

So, last winter I researched a few different artist associations in my area and decided to join two of them: Brickbottom Artist Association and Cambridge Artist Association. I’m not going to lie, this was mostly because they had the cheapest annual membership fees and were the closest to me geographically.

Brickbottom Artist Association is a really cool place–a former factory building in Somerville which is now a collectively owned live-work space for artists. I’m an affiliate member, meaning while I do not have a studio there I can still participate in some of their shows. Their main event of the year is Open Studios in late November, but I also got to participate in one or two other themed group shows. The annual membership fee is $50, and while there are minor additional fees for submitting art to shows or participating in Open Studios it’s still by far the most affordable option in the area and you get great value for your investment. Furthermore, everyone I met there is very welcoming and eager to meet new members. If you are an artist just starting out and you live in or near Somerville, I really recommend joining the Brickbottom Artist Association.

I also joined the Cambridge Artist Association. They have two gallery spaces and have more shows overall than at Brickbottom. They have a couple of member shows a year (that every member can participate in) and also have frequent juried exhibitions (meaning someone looks at the submissions and chooses what they want in the show, rather than everyone being automatically included). They also have a lot of different types of events. For me, the most helpful have been a collaging class I took there which actually gave me a lot of useful tools and techniques to apply to my own work, and a group critique session they have periodically called Feedback Forum. Membership is $85 annually, and the various other shows and opportunities tend to have higher fees than at Brickbottom, but there are also a lot more opportunities available.

In addition I signed up for the mailing list of a number of other organizations in the area, because there is often info about shows and opportunities that are open to anyone, not just members:

I’m sure there are many more in the greater Boston area but I’m still learning about it myself. If you know of a great local organization that I missed let me know!

In conclusion–artist associations are a thing! And anyone can join them. If you are just starting out but have art you want to show and hopefully sell, I really recommend joining one or more of these organizations because it is so helpful for meeting people and getting your work out there. And of course, if you live in a different area, there are probably a completely different set of artist associations available. But now you know it’s a thing, so you can do some research!

Do you have questions about artist associations? Insights or information that you want to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via email.

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