NEWARK, NJ - Adrienne Wheeler grew up around the arts and even worked as a photographer at one point, but her approach to making money in the industry changed when she had a baby.
“I stopped working when my daughter was born, and this was really a pivotal moment for me in the arts,” said Wheeler. “My daughter is 30. She has Down Syndrome. So when she was born, I stopped working.”
She had to raise a special needs child, but she didn’t want to leave the arts.
“She was enrolled in early intervention and I needed something to do,” she continued. “The first thing I did was open an antique shop.”
She and two other panelists on Wednesday shared their own journey and tips on making a living through the arts. The discussion was organized by Newark Arts and held at Express Newark inside the Hahne & Co. building.
Today, Wheeler is an artist educator at Rutgers University-Newark’s Paul Robeson Galleries. She’s also the lead curator for the Newark Arts Festival and once ran a gallery in New York City, using funds from an inheritance she received to start it.
Wheeler was joined by Victor Davson, a visual artist and the founding director of the now-shuttered Aljira gallery, and Zee Desmondes, who plays in the soul-influenced band The Jack Moves. The discussion was moderated by Peter Winstead, a musician and director of a marketing and booking event agency.
Artists, to some degree, have to have an entrepreneurial mindset to thrive, the panelists said. Even though art should always come first, creating a three-year plan with real goals also has to happen.
“Just because we're artists, we kind of feel like someone has to find us and make us a star,” said Winstead. “But you can kind of move (that) train forward if you educate yourself on these things.”
Desmondes, for example, has gone on several tours in the past but never really devised a budget to see what was coming in and what was going out. He and his band started camping and making their own food on their most recent tour to cut back on expenses like hotels and eating out.
“When you're endeavoring into arts, you have to kind of be ready to risk everything and sacrifice even the most basic comforts sometimes to make it work,” he said.
Those in the audience had questions about working as independent contractors or how to negotiate contracts with companies that are looking to commission artwork. The panelists also encouraged artists to copyright their work.
New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts was an organization that offered pro bono advice to artists, but it no longer exists due to state funding issues. The organization’s former executive director, Joey Novick, told TAPinto Newark he still gives advice to artists from time to time and can be reached through his firm’s website.
The Volunteers Lawyers for the Arts in New York can also link people to attorneys from around the nation.
Davson, meanwhile, suggested three books that have tips for artists looking for financial independence: “Artist’s Tools Handbook” by Creative Capital, “I’d rather be in the studio!” by Alyson B. Stanfield, and “The Artist’s Guide” by Jackie Battenfield.
He shared that he sold books door-to-door while trying to start his art gallery.
“I mean, in the first five years, to be quite frank, I had no income from the gallery,” he shared. “I was doing that totally on my own. But it created tremendous opportunities for artists.”
The discussion was also hosted by Makerhoods, a new development that will turn the historic Krueger-Scott Mansion on Martin Luther King Boulevard into a mixed-use community of creatives and entrepreneurs. Seventeen “makers” will be selected to have an apartment, commercial space and business support services starting at $1,800 a month.
The project will include 66 apartment and is expected to be completed around 2020. Applications to live on the site are not yet open, said Maker Ambassador Kristen Mozian.