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February 11, 2014

Art: Let’s make a deal

Vallorie Henderson teaches you how to make your art a business

Vallorie Henderson is an acclaimed textile artist, but it’s her job at the Kentucky Small Business Development Center that caught my attention. She promotes the radical notion that visual artists should treat their output like any other small business.

LEO: Artists are a business? We talk so much about the creative side, we forget artists have to eat, too.
Vallorie Henderson: Many people don’t want to think of artists as a small business. What I say to artists is if they don’t treat what they’re doing as a business, it never will be one. When I work with an individual artist, that’s how we approach it — you’re going to need to put on another hat and think of this in a different way. It is all about business development, and for me as an artist, I did look at coming (to KSBDC) as an opportunity to serve the audience that wasn’t being served.

LEO: What is your position at KSBDC?
VH: I’m a management consultant. I’ve worked here for two-and-a-half years and used to be the business director (at the Kentucky Arts Council).

LEO: When artists come in and want to talk with you, what should they expect in that first consultation?
VH: Well, I try to get a handle on where they are and what’s their intention, where do they want to go? What I find most often is they’re asking for guidance. I work on giving them structure, help them develop a business plan or, more simply, a marketing plan. I get inside the artist’s head; artists relate to me because I’m an artist.

LEO: I imagine this takes a while to get started. What happens in future meetings?
VH: We walk them through several steps. (They need) wholesale accounts, because that’s the only way you’re going to grow your business. We work to get those long-term relationships with galleries, with museum shops, so they can sustain themselves. We help them on their pricing and … (how to) write an artist statement. They need an online presence — website, Facebook business page, LinkedIn, Twitter, too.

LEO: What do you tell people about photographing images of their work?
VH: Well, that’s easy. I tell them that unless they’re a professional photographer, they shouldn’t try to do it themselves.

LEO: How much does this program cost?
VH: Our consulting services are always free. We are also doing boot camps, one-day events around the state (which do cost) and classes year-round, which we typically charge for.

LEO: What are some other important things artists should know?
VH: Artists have their isolated life, and I help them get outside their studio so others can see the beauty of what they’re doing. Every day I meet someone new and they tell me their dreams. Kentucky has the reputation of supporting entrepreneurship, especially in crafts. That led the way, and we’re building on that.

For more information, go to ksbdc.org.