Art and business: bridging the gulf
The four faces behind Draw Inc are attempting something tricky - trying to make a profitable business out of art.
And it just might work.
Deborah Duffield, Anne Challinor, Craig McClure and Lisa Benson make up Draw Inc, a collective of Hamilton artists who have established an art gallery and a name for themselves making art accessible for Hamiltonians.
All practising artists, they operate a philanthropic non-commercial business, exhibiting the work of emerging and established, local and international, artists and their exhibition openings are drawing crowds of 250 to 300 people.
The collective subsidises artist studio spaces and takes only a small commission on pieces sold through the gallery.
"But we're really aware that we actually need to be a sustainable business. We all have art practices and this takes a lot of time," Benson says.
"So we need to figure out how to get more value from the energy that we're putting in and still have time to be practising as well."
Benson taught the others while they were studying for arts degrees at Wintec. At graduation, Duffield came up with idea of setting up the collective and establishing a place that could serve as a gallery and studio space for arts graduates who she believes lack support after they finish studying.
Following the artist tradition they call "gentrifying abandoned buildings", the group took advantage of the impact of the economic downturn on the CBD.
They found an empty space in the former site of Pollock and Milne in Ward St and, with the support of Centre Place Shopping Centre, renovated to make it work as studio and gallery space.
The collective's name reflects its beginnings: from Ward to Draw.
Draw Inc used the spot for 10 months before moving to more empty commercial spaces in Alexandra St. They have set up permanent headquarters there, this time with the support of DV Bryant Trust, and are also utilising two other empty properties further up the street as temporary gallery spaces.
The collective won the Innes 48 Hours Startup challenge in April, a competition to help Waikato entrepreneurs develop innovative business ideas and, as part of the prize pack, received a mentorship opportunity with business growth centre Soda Inc.
The four have just finished the six-week long pre-incubation with Soda where they scrutinised their business models, value proposition and the underpinning values of the collective.
Draw has received funding and support from Wintec, Wintec Alumni and Creative Hamilton during the past 18 months. It has just started paying rent on its main property. The artists volunteer their time and no profit has been generated yet.
But with the conclusion of the mentorship with Soda, the four feel they are embarking on a new phase. They say they have undergone a shift in thinking and now see how artists can converse with the business world.
"It took us from a bunch of artists trying to make work and support other artists to actually going ‘this has got legs'. This is a valuable proposition for businesses, the city and for artists," Benson says.
There are other artist-run collectives in Hamilton but the point of difference for Draw Inc is its diversion from the traditional gallery business model and the way art is exposed in the community.
"We're trying to create a business model that's viable," Duffield says, "but whereas in your conventional galleries you are relying on commissions from sales to cover overheads, we're trying to pull on different revenue streams."
The group plans to diversify, supplementing the curation of exhibitions with corporate leases for artworks, workshops, scholarships and hosting artist talks.
They aim to form a charitable trust so that all earnings from Draw Inc will facilitate their goal of making art accessible to all people in the community.
- © Fairfax NZ News