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I recently attended a workshop sponsored by CARFAC Sask. on Strategic Planning for Visual Artists with guest speaker Grant McConnell. The workshop was free to all visual artists and held at the Art Gallery of Regina. Grant McConnell is a Saskatchewan visual artist and educator living and working is Saskatoon. He is also the President of CARFAC National. You will find more details about his work here.

I was hoping for something more than advice on how to use a calendar. Visual artists have a reputation professionally for not minding deadlines. I am glad I attended aside from networking with other artists whom I have met before and meeting few new ones, Mr. McConnell shared a few key items that were take away points for me. I have always heard from books about planning and goals that you should start with your 5 year plan, then your 2 year, one year, 6 month and finally 1 month plan. The 5 year would include just the barest of direction that you might like to head in and a few goals that would allow you to achieve this. As you begin to plan down to the 1 yr and finally one month your plan is supposed to be fleshed out a little more fully with actual practical steps and deadlines for each not just the big picture goal for that month.  I have tried to work in that manner but I can see the strength to McConnell’s approach. He suggests starting with the small track able goals right now and then move toward the big picture thinking. If you never make it to the big picture plan at least you have accomplished a few things that you can look back on the first week and say with satisfaction that you have made progress! He suggest for example that you might in 1 week make it a goal to:

  • send one email to a gallery or other potential consumer of your art,
  • make one phone call to a gallery, and
  • search 2 web sites of funding agencies or art associations.

Doing this should 2 hours max. but can put you a long way towards your goals if you do this faithfully on a weekly basis.

I won’t repeat advice that you may have read elsewhere here, but only that which impressed me and of which I will apply to my own work. Another great suggestion he made was about submissions. A lot has changed in the way that artists contact galleries. With the internet more and more galleries are requesting submissions by email of jpeg images or for DVD’s or web site links. McConnell says he always sends the requested file submission as preferred but will also send 5 hard copies of his best originals with an introduction letter that will lead them to visit his site if their interest is peaked. This helps the receiver get over the hurdle of business and helps his work escape that pile of submissions that storm most gallery owners. Once the envelope is opened they are confronted with his work and can’t help but forming an opinion on the spot.

McConnell spoke about the work of CARFAC at the national and provincial levels to forward the professional standing of visual artists in Canada. “Copyright issues inspired the creation of Canadian Artists Representation/ le front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC) back in 1968 when a group of artists, headed by Jack Chambers, Tony Urquhart and Kim Ondaatje organized themselves collectively to demand the right of artists to be paid for their work.”  Some of the work by CARFAC on behalf of visual artists has been:

  • the CARFAC Minimum Fee Schedule (McConnell mentioned that, “Everyone else including cleaning staff receives a fair wage for their work why shouldn’t the artist?” The minimum fee schedule for projects like solo, group shows, murals, reproduction of work in books etc is covered on this schedule. He also stressed that these are minimum suggested rates and it is the artist’s responsibility to always try to negotiate above this rate.
  • Establishing and creating a set of documents called SASKATCHEWAN INDUSTRY STANDARDS / BEST PRACTICES. These can be obtained from your local CARFACoffice and cover several topics such as mural and model agreements etc.
  • CARFAC Ontario has compiled a book entitled “Estate Planning for Visual Artists” and is $32.25 for members and $48. for non-members.

McConnell also mentioned CARCC an organization that collects and distributes copyright fees from users of artistic works for educational purposes to name a few. He said that within one month after joining you can expect to receive a check from this group. A share of the copier fees paid by schools, and libraries for example is sent to CARCC and then dispersed to it’s members. I plan to investigate this further.

I have talked with artists at various levels of development and have come to realize that not all see how important it is that we as individual artists strive for professionalism in our business contacts. If we don’t meet deadlines or don’t follow business protocol it reflects on artists as a whole group. Each time one of us values our work as a professional and negotiates for fair compensation for our work or it’s reproduction, then we are helping to strengthen the stand of other artists who may enter similar negotiations in the future.