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Artist Cooperatives: Advantages and Disadvantages

Even in the best of economies, making art your full- time career can see a bit daunting. With the rising costs of gallery and studio spaces, the time-consuming process of marketing and advertising, it may make sense to collaborate with fellow artists by joining or forming an artists cooperative, or artists co-op.

In this article, we'll cover the advantages and disadvantages of artist's cooperatives, and will offer tips on making the most of the opportunities they provide.


Shared Costs
In an artist's co-op, many of the financial hurdles facing individual artists can be overcome as a group. Sharing a studio/gallery space, for example, means that you may have the ability to rent a space in a high-traffic area, rather than being relegated to a part of town that gets little foot traffic.

In terms of marketing, public relations and advertising, if the members of your artist co-op agree, purchasing a large advertisement in a local arts weekly or printing and distributing flyers announcing a show becomes much less costly for each individual artist, though all artists in the co-op share in the potential benefits

-----> When looking for your first space, don't sign on for a 3-year lease. Look for rentals that allow the flexibility of short-term leases. Month-to-month is ideal.

Networking Opportunities
A co-op also offers the chance for you to expand your network, both personally and professionally. Working around and sharing responsibilities with other artists means that you'll be constantly introduced to others' styles, opinions and points-of-view. Other artists can provide you with insightful feedback and suggestions on your own work.

Another networking opportunity comes in the form of clients or potential buyers. Each artist in the co-op probably has a 'following' of patrons who've purchased their work before. During open houses and tours, artists will have the chance to meet other artist's clients, expanding their own circle of potential buyers.

-----> Consider a 'getting-to-know-you' event where artists' customers, friends and family are invited to meet other artists in the cooperative. You can schedule this for shortly after you've opened your doors' it doesn't need to be a huge, formal event.

Educational Opportunities
Many artist's want to give something back to their community-to nurture upcoming artists in their area. But as an individual artist, things like hosting a workshop or providing a class may be difficult at best, impossible at worst. Artists co-ops can make education a part of their mission--and can increase awareness and revenues at the same time--by offering and promoting educational opportunities within their community.

Because the responsibilities of setting up, promoting, managing, staffing and supporting the outreach activities are shared, no one person takes on all of the risk (or reaps all of the reward.).

-----> Before offering ongoing classes, use half-day and full-day workshops to gauge the interest (and willingness to pay) of your community. These workshops will also give you the chance to 'practice' the process that will be involved in running classes.

Nonprofit Status
Though not a substitute for advice from your tax professional or certified public accountant, it's worth mentioning: Many artists cooperatives have sought and obtained nonprofit status. In addition to helping protect the personal assets of everyone involved (the nonprofit is a business entity, whereas a group of artists working together is not), going for nonprofit status will add structure to the cooperative (through the development of a board of directors and other managerial positions.) Also, special government considerations, tax-exempt status and grants may be available to help the group

-----> Nonprofit organizations are often given more consideration by the media than their for-profit counterparts—for example, a nonprofit has a better chance of getting the local TV station to cover their workshop than a for-profit organization does. Use this status to your advantage.


Lots Of Work
The reason why an artists cooperative works is because many people are assuming responsibilities within the organization, instead of one individual artist making each decision and performing each task. Starting and maintaining artists cooperatives can be time consuming. From selecting and recruiting members to getting finances and other details set up to manning the gallery while it's open, artists involved in co- ops often get to play the role of gallery owner, janitor and envelope stuffer, all in the same day.

-----> In order for the cooperative to run smoothly, each member needs to do what he or she say they're going to do when they said they'd do it. But that doesn't mean that artists can trade schedules and tasks amongst themselves.

Gotta Pay Your Dues:
Artists cooperatives know that money doesn't grow on trees-it comes from each individual artist who has joined. And while your 'share' of the monthly pot will almost certainly be less than what you would've spent on your own, even $50 a month can seem like too much if your work isn't selling or you haven't been happy with each decision the cooperative has made. Artists who join a cooperative must agree to be dues paying members for a minimum amount of time in order to allow the cooperative to forecast finances and plan accordingly

-----> To calculate dues, divide the total monthly budget amount by the number of members you want your cooperative to have. Consider including an 'emergency fund' in your monthly budget amount.

Shared Choices
Along with the shared responsibilities come shared choices. Because artist's cooperatives represent several artists, those artists must be able to come to agreement on decisions regarding everything from which space to rent to which color scheme to paint the interior to which font to use on the marketing flyer. If you're used to being the master of your own domain, this shift in decision-making me feel awkward to you at first.

-----> Be willing to be flexible. Even among the best of friends, reaching consensus can be difficult…and in most cases, a less-than-ideal decision is better than no decision at all.


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