By: Paul Langdon
There are many things that make the Saint Louis Art Fair standout as an exemplary arts institution, but perhaps the most noteworthy is its Emerging Artists as Entrepreneurs Program. Initially developed as a way to introduce students to the world of art fairs, this initiative was reimagined in 2010 to be even more beneficial to artists of all ages. Whereas the original incarnation of the Emerging Artists Program gave students an opportunity to sell their creations at the fair for a few hours each, the Emerging Artists as Entrepreneurs Program offers artists of all ages the opportunity to learn what they’ll need to be successful art fair participants.
“The Emerging Artists as Entrepreneurs Program is a two-year program,” explains Saint Louis Art Fair Executive Director Sarah Umlauf. “Participants in the Emerging Artists as Entrepreneurs Program spend the first year of the program really delving into the business side of exhibiting at art shows. And they get the chance to shadow other experienced artists that serve as mentors. And these mentors, that have been a part of art fairs for many years, really show how it takes so much more than just setting up a booth and putting a price tag on your work of art. It involves research. It involves marketing techniques, that some artists didn’t know they had, but they find if they want to become an art show artist.”
Allison L. Norfleet Bruenger, who participated in the program from 2018 to 2019, reflects on her time working with these mentors in the program fondly. “They protect us, but they let us know exactly where we need to start strengthening and where we can shine. And that part of mentoring is phenomenal because a lot of times you come to a certain point where you can do certain shows, and you’ve kind of come to a plateau. But you want to enter that next area of artists, that next level of shows. This program helps us to get a peek into that world and also helps us to strengthen what we do so that we can approach it.”
“The program helped me in a lot of ways.” Says Barbara Marshall, another emerging artist who was in the program from 2019 to 2020. “Not just in introducing me to other artists who are successful, but also ideas about how to market my work. I gained insights into how to better set up my websites. I gained insights into how to use things like Facebook and social media. And all I can say is it really helped me to be able to market my work a lot better.”
“The Emerging Artists as Entrepreneurs Program is a wonderful way for artists to learn if the business side of participating in art shows is something that they want to pursue,” says Umlauf. “You would probably be surprised to learn, but the vast majority of them decide not to become an art show artist. The reason is because it is such hard work and we don’t want to pull any punched with these artists. We really want these emerging artists to experience everything that it is to be an art show artist, and that included the difficult work that comes with that. And so, the vast majority of them use this experience to continue their careers in other ways. Some of our artists have become masters of marketing themselves and creating their own online stores on Etsy, for example. And some have chosen to go into different avenues like teaching. But some have stuck with it and have become professional art show artist.”
Every year visitors at the St. Louis Art Fair can experience and purchase works by artists who are new to the art fair scene by stopping by the Emerging Artist section of the fair. To learn more about the Emerging Artists as Entrepreneurs Program please visit www.saintlouisartfair.com.