A Business Manager

To prosper as an artist, career counselors to visual artists continually advise, one has to devote as much serious attention to the business aspects of this work as creating it. There is the matter of contacting prospective customers and art galleries, working out consignment agreements with dealers, photographing, crating, shipping and keeping track of where every artwork is, preparing and mailing out promotional material, taking telephone calls, writing and answering letters as well as keeping a budget, overseeing accounts payable and receivable, determining business expenses for tax purposes and all the other this-and-thats.

To some people, the business part of art may take precedence over anything else. “I always tell artists that they should research the market and have a marketing plan in place before they create for the market,” Sue Viders, an artist’s advisor in Denver, Colorado, said. “There is no use creating something for which there is no market.”

But what if you are not just very good at the business stuff or, like Santa Fe, New Mexico sculptor Glenna Goodacre, you find juggling art and business just too much. Then, an artist might want to consider hiring a business manager, which Goodacre did years ago, hiring Daniel Anthony as her business manager. He is paid a base salary plus commissions on sales (between three and 15 percent, depending upon whether he personally arranged the sale or it took place in a gallery) plus “incentives” (another five-to-10 percent after certain projected sales figures have been reached).

Anthony assists the artist with a variety of tasks, from selling to answering the telephone. “When I started here in 1987, Glenna didn’t even have a secretary,” Anthony, who used to manage a bronze foundry, said. “She sculpted with a phone cradle, so that she could work with both hands when answering a call. Now, she doesn’t have to talk to dealers, collectors, the foundry, reporters, suppliers. She has more than doubled her output.”

Increasing output (for selling artists) is vital, if only to earn the additional money required to pay such intermediaries as secretaries and business managers, not to mention the costs of their health insurance, Social Security and other taxes and benefits. “What I gained is time and money,” Goodacre said. “Time is money. The amount of time I’ve gained from not having to deal personally with the foundries about every little thing is enormous right there.” She added that “I can’t chart exactly that I earn so much more to cover the added expenses, but I feel it.”

Not all business managers are full-time employees and, in fact, most are not. Friends and spouses frequently handle selling and administrative work for artists and, for many of the artists who earn enough money from their art – usually, in excess of $100,000 annually – to afford to hire others, their dealers or art galleries assume many of those tasks.

Yet a different style of business management is found with Susanna Singer, who has been a manager for three artists, Sol Lewitt, Robert Mangold and Adrian Piper. Paid a salary split by all three, the only things she doesn’t do for these artists is create their work or become involved in selling it. Among her tasks, she indicated, has been to set prices, keep track of inventory, maintain computer catalogue raisonnes, select writers for catalogues and edit those catalogues as well as approve their design, handle all correspondence and telephone inquiries, OK private and public art commissions, serve as intermediary between the artists and both galleries and museums, crate and ship their work, insure that the artists have been paid what they are owed, authenticate their work, have their work photographed and prepare all promotional material.

“The requirements for this job is that I am the artists’ Number One fan and that I know more about their work than anyone else,” she said. “Sol [Lewitt] once said to someone, ‘When you’re talking with Susanna, you’re talking with me. When you’re dealing with Susanna, you’re dealing with me.’

For artists who can afford a payroll or just some extra help, a business manager may make their creative time more productive and enjoyable. Managers don’t ease all business worries for artists, however. Corpus Christi, Texas sculptor Kent Ullberg noted that the only drawback to the arrangement he has with a business manager is “feeling a little extra pressure, because I’m responsible not only for myself and my own family but for someone else’s family. I can’t just decide to sleep in some days or decide to take a sabbatical, taking off for Africa for two years. I know that I have to keep producing to keep him busy, especially because he works largely on a commission basis.”

Featured image: Red Effect by 2009 Student Award recipient Rachael Wong.

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