business acumen | The Art Trade in Humboldt County – Times-Standard
Humboldt County is known for two things: redwoods and cannabis. Color us green! But we have another less famous distinction: more artists per capita than any other county in California. Perhaps it is the natural beauty that inspires so many artists. Or maybe it’s the acceptance of non-traditional lifestyles.
But what does it take to survive as an artist here? When I became an active artist 10 years ago, multimedia artist Claire Iris Schencke told me, “Humboldt is a great place to be an artist. It’s just not a good place to sell art.
On the positive side, we have tremendous support for artists. In the visual arts alone, we have a rich ecology of groups like the Humboldt Arts Council, the Ink People, and the Redwood Art Association.
There are cooperative galleries run by artists in Eureka, Arcata and Trinidad. Local events like Arts Alive !, North Coast Open Studios and arts and crafts fairs help connect artists with the community.
Our cities have made a point of supporting the arts: see all the murals that grow in Eureka and beyond. The City of Arcata Strategic Plan for the Arts project aims to make Arcata affordable for artists.
On the negative side, unlike large urban areas, Humboldt does not have a lot of “wealthy people,” meaning wealthy people, who can afford to buy original works of art. This is even more true since the legalization of cannabis. (Of course, we artists deeply appreciate that a modest person chooses to purchase a piece they love.)
Even before the pandemic, many of our local galleries had closed, including the Piante, Black Faun and First Street galleries in Eureka and the Mateel gallery in Garberville. This is part of a disheartening national trend.
The harsh truth is that very few Humboldt artists, no matter how skilled, can support themselves by selling original works of art. Some have income from grants or art education; most of my artistic income comes from cards and calendars from my work. Other artists live on day jobs, rental or investment income, or a supporting partner.
A conundrum for artists around the world is that to be financially successful, an artist must be savvy in matters of business and self-promotion. It is not necessarily their strength. And a morning devoted to marketing is a morning away from the studio.
Famous Arcata painter Alan Sanborn mainly sells home watercolors by word of mouth. “I’m not very good at business; I’m just really good at painting, ”he told me recently. “I could have been very good at business – as long as I didn’t paint. Yeah, that’s the catch.
So why do it? Why try to survive as an artist when there are much easier ways to make a living?
Well, the rewards are priceless: having the freedom to express yourself. To create something of value that no one else can. And to share this vision with the world. Libby Maynard, Executive Director of Ink People, puts it well: “If you’re an artist it’s a calling, and if you don’t do art you go crazy.
So, despite the challenges of the art trade, I believe that with redwood forests and cannabis farms, Humboldt will always be rich in artists.
Annette Makino offers artwork, cards and calendars of her work in local stores and at makinostudios.com. His new book, “Water and Stone: Ten Years of Art and Haiku”, has just been published by Makino Studios.