I was asked by the New York Foundation of the Arts to participate on an expert panel for their “Artist as Entrepreneur Boot Camp”. The panelists included Lenny Pickett, the musical director of Saturday Night Live, Andy Hunter, Founding Editor of Electric Literature, Dave Shroeder, Musical Director at New York University and Mark Golden, founder and CEO of Golden Artist Colors. We were asked to speak about our entrepreneurial skills as well as how we got to where we are now. The audience consisted of about 60 artists from a variety of backgrounds including painters, musicians, dancers, playwrights, actors and writers. The goal for the participants was to learn how we the panelists make a business out of what we love to do, and hopefully help them create goals for themselves.
As each of us spoke and answered questions, several phrases kept repeating themselves, such as serendipity, say yes, and be nice. So how does one go about creating serendipity for themselves? The definition is “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident, or better yet, when someone finds something that they weren’t expecting to find. This happens when you pretty much say yes to every opportunity or favor asked of you. You never know when something will turn into something greater. I’ll give you a couple of examples which pretty much describes my professional trajectory. Back when I was still wet behind the ears and fresh out of graduate school, I applied to a group show at a non-profit art space several miles away from Columbus, Ohio. The exhibition was reviewed by the local art magazine and one of my images was published to illustrate the show. The local art magazine like my work and asked if I would like to submit an image to use on the cover. I definitely said yes. This magazine was picked up by an artist who lived in Georgia, but was obsessed with his home state of Ohio. He liked my work and sent it to his friend in Houston, Texas who happened to work at a gallery. She then sent it to her friend who was opening a gallery and was looking for artists to show in his new space. By submitting to a small arts space in small Ohio, my work traveled to Texas and landed me in my first serious commercial art gallery. From here my exhibition record had grown over the years and now I’m exhibiting at commercial galleries across the United States. What’s my secret? That I tried to participate and I said yes along the way.
Serendipity comes to those who try. You can’t hide in your darkroom or your basement or garage and expect to be “discovered”. It doesn’t happen this way any more, nor did it happen like this very often in the past. Sometimes when you try, your payoff doesn’t come right away, but rather further on down the road. This is why you need to be nice from the get go, and not fake nice, but sincerely nice. Here is story number two about serendipity. Trying to get my career off the ground, I’ve participated in several portfolio review events in cities such as Portland, OR and Houston, Texas and even in my own city of New York. My first portfolio review event took place in Portland, Oregon and it was called Photo Americas (now Photo Lucida). Again I was still pretty wet behind the ears. I sat a goal for myself not to have great expectations but to get my work before professional eyes and try to create a little buzz behind my name. This was in 2001. It was a whirlwind of new faces and new names. I met quite a few photographer there that I’m still friends with and in contact regularly. Several of the reviewers included Barbara Tannenbaum for the Akron Museum of Arts, Gail Gibson from G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle, Diane Barber from DiverseWorks in Houston, Texas, and Amy Gillman from MOCA Cleveland. From this first portfolio review I’ve become friends with Barbara, I’ve had an exhibition at DiverseWorks and I’m represented by Gail’s gallery. This past year, nine long years later, I receive an email from Amy Gilman, who in no longer with MOCA Cleveland but now at the Toledo Museum of Art. She remembered my work all these years and has curated me into a five person show around the theme of Small Worlds. Nine years later and serendipity is still at work.
I hope the participants in the NYFA Boot Camp got as much out of the panel as I did. I enjoyed hearing the other panelists tell their stories, as well as answering audience questions. Just remember, you gotta participate, you gotta try, you should be nice and you should say yes. You just never know where the path will take you.