ArtBox Institute

ArtBox Institute: Marketplace Skills for the Creative Industries

Are you an emerging or mid-career artist looking to map your career goals? Develop a brand? Discover news sales venues? Market your work more effectively? Build networks? Launch a social media campaign? Understand legal rights? Write compelling grant applications? Speak engagingly about your work?

ArtBox Institute is a proposed nine-month professional development certificate program that will launch in January 2014 and be open to emerging and mid-career artists from any medium and arts administrators who are seeking to sharpen skills necessary for success as entrepreneurs in the marketplace.

The ArtBox Institute (ABI) draws on the resources and expertise of the City of Flagstaff, Flagstaff Cultural Partners, NACET, Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Coconino County Community Services, the Small Business Development Center of Coconino Community College, Northern Arizona University and others.

Target participant market: Art school grads from NAU and CCC, arts administrators from nonprofit organizations, artists seeking to grow their audiences and take their sales to the next level, artists interested in working full-time making and marketing their work, those considering becoming artists and selling their artwork for the first time.

What ABI offers that differentiates it from existing programs/seminars/workshops:

  • A curriculum created specifically to address marketplace skills needed by artists. A curriculum that is centered in experiential learning. Participants will practice what they will be taught and coached into mastering the skills.
  • The creation of a cohort that functions as a source of networking, collaboration and peer review.
  • Reduced-rate services offered by the professionals who will be instructing the participants (printing, graphic design, tax preparation).
  • The possibility of mentoring by one of the core coaching team, a group of 4-5 professionals who teach over the entire length of the program, offering continuity and the possibility for relationship building with the participants.

Program details: ABI will begin with an overnight retreat in mid-January 2014. Participants will meet the core teaching team, the program director and be given an orientation. The primary coursework will be two-three regular meeting times per month for a total of 80-100 contact hours for the duration of the institute. Additional lectures/social gatherings will be added to the coursework calendar to take advantage of partner resources (artist lecture at NAU, visiting artist offering portfolio review, etc.) A website, scheduled to launch in July, will be the central information and application site.

Learning by doing is the core of ABI. While lecture and panel discussions will be a component, practicing the skills you will be taught is the fundamental means of learning. Our aim is real and practical preparation. We believe the best way to learn a skill is to be shown how to do it. Then try and receive feedback. Then try again. And try again. With an open mind, genuine effort and guidance, skills can be obtained.

Proposed topic for the curriculum:

  • STRATEGIC PLANNING and BRANDING: creating a roadmap with goals and measures of success, key business and management skills
  • VERBAL COMMUNICATION: public speaking, presentations, pitching
  • FINANCIAL LITERACY: business plans, project budgeting, intro to QuickBooks, tax preparation for independent contractors, segregating personal and artistic finances, budgeting for your life and your artistic projects, how to track deductible expenses
  • PROMOTING YOUR WORK: best practices for social networking and media sharing, e-commerce, building and maintaining a website, blogs, unconventional marketing and avenues for sales
  • LEGAL ISSUES: copyright, usage, contracts
  • WRITING SKILLS: fundamentals of clear and effective business writing and storytelling, writing for grants, writing for the web, blog writing
  • PERFORMANCE DOCUMENTATION: videography, photography, work presentation skills
  • FUNDING YOUR WORK: applying for grants and residencies, working with a fiscal sponsor, forming an advisory board, making the tools of organizational fundraising work for individual artists, partnerships with venues, donors and funders

How you can help and participate:

  • Offer feedback. Post a comment here. Tell artists and get their suggestions. Send Laura Kelly an email at
  • Talk up the idea among friends. Spread the word. Spread the love. Help us to help the arts community.


  1. Mark Di Lucido

    After having unfortunately been party to subjecting muralists for a city mural project to a delayed initial payment and thus a delayed start date, I’d like to suggest another curriculum topic: “Timely Compensation: Navigating Government Agency Purchasing Requirements “. Because many patrons of the arts are agencies and local governments, and because many artists still live paycheck to paycheck, this would seem to be a relevant topic.

  2. Mark Di Lucido

    Another topic might be promoting community involvement in art projects. Murals certainly fall into this category. Community buy-in is important on a number of levels, not the least of which is establishing professional courtesy between muralists and graffiti taggers to prevent tagging of murals. Activities such as field trips for school children (especially children living near a planned mural) can be a great introduction (fun re-introduction) to the arts.

    • Phyllis L. Thompson

      I agree about community involvement and think we could expand the discussion. Here is an initial brainstorm. Please add to it!


      ** Check out what the ArtRageous group is doing for the Flagstaff community. On Facebook: Art-Rageous in Action Or email at

      ** Provide a place that has useful resources like photocopying, a printer, fax machine, maybe a swap table where people could put art stuff and books they don’t need. A bulletin board for posting notices and opportunities, items for sale. In this place have tables and chairs where people can sit and chat. (Speaking as a writer, I recommend NO wifi in this area, or we will just come and stare into our computers. There are plenty of wifi cafés in town.) Make it OK to bring food and beverages.
      –> How to keep this place clean and neat and keep machines in repair? Maybe use an established location at NACET or the university or community college? Maybe have a sign-up sheet for artists to commit an hour once a week to cleaning? Maybe the place needs a sink and simple cleaning supplies so folks might clean up after themselves? Definitely have a contact number on each machine – who to call when the thing stops working.

      ** Organize guided trips to inspiring places in this area that are not so easy to access. For example, Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado is largely unvisited, maybe because it is just too far or too close to the Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly. Yet it has events which feature master weavers and access to the work of a wide range of historic artists, beautiful weavings, silver/turquoise work, carvings and more. A 12-passenger van and some advance planning with the Interpretive Guides at Hubbell could provide a very interesting day for people interested in Navajo design, history and culture, etc. Likewise, the Hopi mesas and one of their open-to-the-public dances or ceremonies. Likewise. . . What do you think?
      –> Could the Museum of Northern Arizona help with this?

      ** In a similar but different vein, arrange for artists to spend time in some place where they could work for a couple of days, along the lines of Diablo Trust’s “A Day on the Land.” (Or just make more artists aware of that program?) The Trust has, in the past at least, given notice of where artists are to come, welcomed them the first day, left them alone for a while, provided a BBQ and a breakfast outdoors, left them alone some more. Some months later, an exhibit and performance was arranged to show some of what was produced.


      This is also a key element in developing community. Just some brainstorm ideas to start…

      * Maybe the community space is run by a Working Group that sets it up and runs it, with staggered 3-month terms so that the group is always changing?
      * With the guided tours, have whoever is the trip expert and guide be assisted by an artist. (If there is a charge for these tours, the artist assistant could go for free in exchange for labor.)
      * With the “time to make art somewhere nice” idea, who knows? Maybe those who participate in one experience are part of the team designing the next one?

      ** A Generation-to-Generation mentorship project. This could take many forms, with the core being an alliance between an elder artist and a younger artist in the same field. What kind of support each team needs might vary, suggesting that teams could make proposals which might include things like: What they propose to do, for how long, what product(s) they envision. What they need to carry out the project. How they will make the results available to a wider community. And so on.
      –> Who would field these proposals, decide on them, and where would funds come from?

  3. Phyllis L. Thompson

    The idea to support emerging artists in ways that encourage the formation of Learning Cohorts has some merit, but there are hidden issues with such cohorts that are sometimes missed. I worked in a cohort-based Masters program for 12 years in the U.S. and we discovered that. . .

    ** Cohorts are groups, and group formation has phases. A popular vocabulary to describe this is Bruce Tuckman’s “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing.” If an emerging group is not supported effectively in the Storming phase, cliques and insider/outsider dynamics develop that make the cohort an uncomfortable place for some members. As I understand it, this is opposite to the intent of the Learning Cohort idea for emerging artists.

    ** Whether they are healthy or unhealthy, each cohort develops a unique culture based on its history, preferred ways of communicating, internal leadership dynamics, the strengths and weaknesses of members, and so forth. When we developed courses which put two cohorts together, we observed a surprising amount of inter-group strain and frustration. Even when they knew this could happen, skilled teachers struggled to find ways to bring members of different cohorts comfortably together to learn. If the cohort idea for emerging artists is coupled with the (very good) idea that some people might be allowed to sign up for one or two courses only, instructor/facilitators must be able to manage the integration of newcomers into the existing culture of each Learning Cohort.

    ** And speaking of instructor/facilitators. . . Most workshop leaders and instructors are used to entering unformed groups and generating teamwork based on the course topic. Once a Learning Cohort has developed, however, topic experts enter as esteemed outsiders who must discover and cooperate with each cohort’s unexpressed culture. Otherwise, they meet surprising resistance. This suggests that an addition to the wonderful description of how you want instructor/facilitators to manage learning in these courses should be made: They should be skilled at handling within-group and between-group dynamics.

    Basically, I suggest that for the 8-course idea to survive and generate delightful Learning Cohorts over many years, a team of master teachers needs to be found—people not only expert in how their subject applies to artists but also comfortable working with strong, creative, and highly-diverse established groups. Such master leaders should be paid well.

    Phyllis L. Thompson, Flagstaff

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