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A portrait of the artist as a global entrepreneur

Posted by Devin Cole  January 30, 2012 10:46 AM

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Culture VultureII.JPG

Culture Vulture II, 40" tall, 2011, locust wood, paint by Donna Dodson

To be an artist in the current economic slump is not unlike a swan, gliding across the water. Its movements appear to be graceful and elegant yet beneath the water, out of sight, its feet are paddling like crazy. Indeed, survival is an art form in itself. In this article I will outline and discuss some local and global trends I have noticed in my day to day life as a Boston based artist who is trying to get to the next level in my career. I will use the example of my experiences as a starting point for a conversation about best practices in the art world, i.e. how itís possible to be global while being local, how to build networks using electronic tools, how to create community and harness expertise without recreating the wheel.

Global reach of New England art Galleries creates meaningful dialogue and collaboration across cultures

Gallery Ehva in Provincetown is owned and operated by a visionary artist, Ewa Nogiec. She threatens to leave the USA and go back to her home in Poland if the gallery business doesnít work out for her. Art is her whole life. In preparation for my recent show, Birds of a Feather, she made an unusual request. She asked me to make a stork, because they are very special to her. They breed in Poland and remind her of home. They are born with black legs and beaks, but when they reach sexual maturity, their beaks and legs turn bright red. Their bodies are white except for the brush of black that remains on the wingtips. As I developed a wood sculpture, White Stork, this bird took flight in my mind.

Kiki Thompson is a friend and fellow sculptor from Verbier Switzerland I met in 2001 at the International Sculpture Center conference in Pittsburgh, PA. We became pen-pals that summer and we have stayed in touch for the past ten years via email and postcards. When she was in NYC in the summer of 2010 doing a Public Art residency at the School of Visual Arts, I went down to visit. It had been over a decade since I had seen her. She mentioned an exciting sculpture project that was taking shape in the hands of Madeleine Paternot and herself. She invited me to come back another time for a lunch meeting where they shared their ideas for launching an artist residency and sculpture park in Verbier, Switzerland where they both have roots. 3D foundation was born on that day.

When I received the news that I was invited to be an artist in residence and to create a monumental work of art in the Swiss Alps, I started doing some research to generate ideas. Birds were on my mind this year, and I found two possibilities, the white stork and the bearded vulture, since both birds breed in high altitudes, and both have been successfully repopulated with the help of human beings and conservation efforts. I mentioned both ideas to Kiki and she replied that the stork would be special because there had been a population boom in Verbier. When she was pregnant, there were 20 other women who were pregnant in the small mountain village of 2000. I took a photo of the White stork with me that served as a maquette for my piece, Baby bringer, or La Cigogne. Today she proudly resides in the worldís highest altitude and Switzerlandís only free sculpture park.

Practice makes perfect

When I returned from Switzerland this summer, I presented a solo show in Provincetown at Gallery Ehva, called Birds of a Feather, which was very intentionally a teaser show to my current show at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, Flock Together. In the presentation of my work at Gallery Ehva, I experimented with installation ideas, advertising layouts, marketing concepts that I was able to develop further for my show in Boston. As an artist and a sculptor, the presentation of work that goes into a show changes from the artistís studio once it is installed, lit and presented in the architecture and gallery space. Having a chance to practice this process is of enormous value to an artist, both in the generation of ideas, and also in gathering feedback on oneís work and measuring results.

Go Local

Of equal importance to an artist, is the opportunity to have visits with guests in your studio. Many communities, including Jamaica Plain, participate in City Wide Open Studios on an annual basis. Simply by hanging a banner provided by the Jamaica Plain Arts Council at the corner of my street, I was able to attract 50-100 of my neighbors to come into my space and have a look at what I do. Artists tend to be solo practitioners of their craft even if they live in crowded urban neighborhoods. The opportunity to meet oneís neighbors and chat informally about art and life makes it real that JP is a cool, arty place to live.

Creating community

Along with the thrill of going global, is the challenge of harnessing the results and finding ways to bring the experience back home to an artistís local fan base. Obviously with electronic tools of blogs, email and social networking, it is possible to present the results in images and video online for those who care the take a look. With my colleague, Andy Moerlein, we also reached out to Mary Sherman, founder of the Transcultural Exchange, and invited her to moderate a panel of local artists who also had international residency and symposium experiences. Thanks to the generous support of the Derryfield School in Manchester, NH and Swissnex, the Boston Consulate of Switzerland, we were able to host a conversation amongst our peers, to share our experiences and to learn from theirs.

Translating experiences into results, or Getting to the next level

In the run up to my current solo shows at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, it was important to reach out to collectors and curators who have supported my work, and to artists who are at the next level. I entertained them in my studio with brunch and dinner get-togethers. These social gatherings turned into lively networking and business opportunities, which was an unexpected outcome of these events. It also led to deeper relationships, risk taking, and strengthening my position in the arts community.

Donna Dodson graduated cum laude from Wellesley College in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts. Since 2000, Dodson has been honored with solo shows nationwide for her wood sculptures. Dodson enjoys public speaking, and has been a guest speaker in conferences, panels and forums at museums and universities in North America.

Donna's gallery hosts an Open House on Friday, February 3rd. More info here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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