Some say already-established artists have it easy in Minnesota. But mid-career artists argue it's actually much harder for them to make money. They say once they've made the rounds to all the major grant providers it becomes very difficult to find new sources of income.
Photographer Paul Shambroom studied both at Macalester and the Minneapolis Center for Art and Design. 23 years later he balances his life between commercial photography and his artistic work.
"There's a variety of ways an artist can make a living -- I know very, very few -- I even have to think if there's anyone I know personally -- that makes his or her living as an artist producing artwork and selling it and making a decent living -- it's very difficult if not impossible," said Shambroom.
Shambroom has shown his work in a few local non-profit galleries as well as at the Walker Art Center. He also shows a lot of his work in New York. His current exhibit at Franklin Art Works portrays civic meetings across the United States. His photographs are thought provoking, but they are not what one would consider popular wall art for your average American. For an artist like Shambroom, grants are very important.
"Before I got my first grant I suppose I had some cynicism about the process -- I think that's really typical where you see the list of people who are getting funded and getting shows and they tend to look like the usual suspects and then when you get your first grant you start to get other ones and then you become -- or I became -- one of the usual suspects and then my viewpoint changed -- rather than cynicism I thought well this is really fair I deserve this now," said Shambroom.
Considering Shambroom has benefited substantially from grants, it's surprising to hear how he feels about them.
"I have to say that foundation and governmental funding of artists is not the answer. It's not the way to sustain an economy as an artist -- people have to find a way to make a living -- we live in a capitalist society, it's not a matter of asking for handouts that's not what makes this a great arts environment there are a lot of other factors involved as well," said Shambroom.
Shambroom says the problems he'd like to solve in Minnesota are actually national problems. Schools have cut arts classes or use them only as a distraction for students. Shambroom wants America to rethink the role art -- and artists -- play in society.
"There are a lot of myths about artists and what it means to be an artist and a lot of artists believe those myths themselves on how you have to live. That you have to be poor, that you have to make sacrifices --
I think it's true in any field if you choose to devote yourself to something there are sacrifices that you have to make. But, you know, I have a family, I have a child, I live in a home that we own and I don't think that being an artist means you have to do without those things," said Shambroom.
Shambroom says he'd like to see a more European approach, where people from all economic backgrounds appreciate art, rather than feeling intimidated by it. And the more people appreciate art, the more likely they'll buy it. Cynthia Gehrig of the Jerome Foundation says there aren't enough people buying original Minnesota art.
"It's been my experience that we have two types of collectors basically in Minnesota. We have high end collectors who tend to buy outside of the state, more than they buy inside the state. And then we have another group of collectors who are committed but are only purchasing art that costs $1000 or less. And we need to grow that middle range of collectors that will spend more and who will buy more frequently works by Minnesota artists," said Gehrig.
In other words, more buyers like Randy Hartten, Vice President of Cash Management at American Express in Minneapolis. While he doesn't consider himself a collector -- Hartten has spent a considerable amount of money on Minnesota artwork.
"The Twin Cities has a lot of wonderful artists -- some of them move away, some of them gain national attention and reputations and some of them don't they stay very regional. But that doesn't mean they're not good artists. They're wonderful artists and I like some of their work, so I buy it," said Hartten.
In order to make collecting more affordable, Hartten purchases mainly prints and drawings rather than oil paintings. Hartten tends to buy contemporary edgy work. He attends the occasional artist lecture, but he doesn't see many people there. He thinks that's a waste.
"The nice thing about local artists is you have exposure to them and when I collect I can say that over fifty percent of my collection is from artists I have met and interacted with -- that is very important to me," said Hartten.
Hartten wishes more people would realize that collecting art, especially when it's art by local emerging artists, is actually an affordable and satisfying experience.
"I think there are people at all economic levels who can purchase art and maybe they just need advice or coaching or somebody to remind them its okay to do that," said Hartten.
Minnesota is rich with talented artists, museums and grant giving organizations. But Minnesota needs to create and sustain new gallery spaces that show work by local artists. And the state needs people who are willing to invest in art by Minnesotans, either because they like it, or because they think it's a good investment or simply because it matches the couch. The more people make art a part of their life the healthier and more interesting our arts community will be.
Minnesota Public Radio, Word of Mouth
Go to the MPR site to listen to the original show from which the article is derived.