Sunday, November 17, 2013

Revisiting and Redefining Markets, Pt. II


Revisiting and Redefining Markets, Pt. II
by Jill Foote-Hutton
Red Lodge Clay Center and Whistlepig Studio

Last month I presented an ever-present conversation in our field of how to forge a successful business model today, examining some of the questions underscoring the current plans of contemporary makers.  In the article “Four Figure Denim for (Only) Your Figure”, the Wall Street Journal showcased a niche market in the denim industry.  What struck me while reading the article was the ability of the entrepreneur to expand their market by delving further into the niche.  What lies in the untrod corners of a market?  What profits are being overlooked?  As I read, I saw very clearly how the article connected to the field of ceramics.

There has been talk suggesting craft is dead or at least dying.  Supporting this fear is the ever-growing ominous shadow of design and 3D Printing. Let us not forget, in the larger fine art world painting has been declared dead several times, and within the arc of painting heralds have decreed, “Figure painting is dead!”

Somehow paintings and figurative painters keep evolving and moving forward. 

Yes, if craft artists only continue to follow the very traditional models set forth in our history, we would all be in trouble, but how can we remain stagnant in our evolving world?  We can’t.  We aren’t.  There are new corners of the niche to mine and several makers are doing just that, they are investing in the four points I mentioned in the first half of this essay:  Planning, Perseverance, Integrity, and Diversification.   Some use the questions to evolve their concepts and are just at the beginning of the journey, others are further along the path with a few successes under their belts.  The momentum gives me hope that our field is smart enough to continue evolving.  The village potter will live on even if the model looks a little different. What follows is a series of snapshots from conversations with four makers who are at the leading edge of this conversation.  They are not the only makers forging new ground, but I found their stories illuminated various corners of potential within the niches of contemporary craft.
 
Andrew Gilliatt's Op-Dot Jars
Andrew Gilliatt was a resident at Red Lodge Clay Center in 2011-12.  During his introductory image lecture he shared his interest in the idea of mass customization. He shared images from the sneaker industry’s mass customization models alongside the selections of color combinations and designs offered in his studio production.  To be clear, Gilliatt has no delusions he will be able to seize a market share as large as Nike, but the model does influence his concepts. He raises an interesting contrast between the potter’s studio and a large corporation. Before any maker can move into a new market, it is also important to know where one doesn’t want to go.  Now a resident at the Archie Bray Foundation, Gilliat’s conversation has continued to evolve.  First, to be clear about what mass customization is and how it impacts his studio practice, Gilliatt defines the matter in his own words,


Mass Customization is a system that, through the integration of new computer technologies (e.g. CAD, CAM, Rapid Prototyping, etc.), combines the low cost unit of mass production with the flexibility of the personalized custom-made object. In a nutshell, it is the manufacturing of a customized good straight from the factory.

“There are two basic types of mass customization - adaptive customization and collaborative customization.

“With adaptive customization, the company provides a standardized object that is customizable by the user before manufacturing. Examples of this are Adidas, Nike, and the Mini Cooper. The 2 main points from this are

1.  That there is a standardized object
     (in the case of Adidas, the shoes that are customizable are their most
      popular models throughout the years)
2.  The object is customized before production of the good.
     Something like a reversible jacket is not an example.

“Collaborative customization is where a company works in partnership with the customer to manufacture a precise product. Unlike adaptive customization, there is no standardized object. The example here would be the company Shapeways. Shapeways has a bunch of user submitted designed objects that can be purchased and produced in a variety of materials (plastics, metals, and maybe now porcelain). The customer can do one of three things:
 
Shapeways Homepage Products
1. Purchase a made design and decide what material to manufacture
     it in.
2. Purchase a design and alter it.
3. Create their own design and have it manufactured.

“Some of the implications of mass customization are that it could potentially encourage a situation where a specific supply meets the specific demand of the customer; a balance of supply and demand. Another possibility is that the factories would be more localized or regional and cater specifically to the needs of that geographic culture; raincoats made in Seattle customized by the population of the Pacific Northwest. Another possibility is that these factories would only use local materials and resources thereby limiting the impact of fossil fuel/resource consumption.

“As a craftsperson, I don't know how hard-pressed I am to implement true mass customization within my own line of work. At the moment I have autonomy, authorship and control of what objects get made/produced and what sort of "combinations" get made. Without a doubt though, the idea of mass customization has totally reframed how I think about my work, methodology, and practice (standardized object, finite amount of color choices, pattern options, and decal graphics that in combination yield a sense of infinite variety).

“As a designer, I would be ecstatic to work with a company who has the overhead and capital to encourage some sort of venture similar to my own hand-made work, but a venture in which, ultimately, I would not be incurring the same type of risk that I might as an individual maker.”

Gilliatt’s research really taps into a core confict, how does a maker evolve a viable market, evolving while compromising and still hang onto the soul of what drives the creative process?  Mass customization is a tantalizing avenue and can allow clients from a broader economic background to break through the door of price point concerns.  We have to accept the premise of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The handmade product is a luxury item when put up against other economic pulls put on households today. 

The need to understand one’s market is illustrated in Nicholas Bivins’ attempt to branch out with his line of stunt cups.  Stepping away from his minimalist designs, which were inspired by the half-pipes and tabletops familiar to skating, BMX, and snowboarding, he took the narrative a step further and began including silhouettes of athletes mid-stunt.  The figures fly over the surface of his vessels, celebrating the human potential to defy gravity.  He then reached out to share the work with his extreme sport community in a tentative exploration by posting a link to his Etsy shop on Reddit. The reply?
 
Nicholas Bivin's Tumbler
“A $45 cup?  No thanks.  Cool picture though.  Might pick it up if it was like $3.”

Whew!  What a blow, but there it is in a nutshell. 

Still, I hope he perseveres and continues to pursue this market.  It’s a great idea!  While many folks involved in extreme sports have made their own lifestyle choice that dictates where their dollars flow, keeping them in equipment and out of the hospital, deeper within the niche may lie individuals with nostalgia or success who can be educated about the value of the handmade residing in their cupboards or who already see the parallels in the lifestyle choices between visual artist and pro-athlete.

Both Gilliatt and Bivins’ objects are stepping up to the perimeter that defines craft and design, carefully peering over and studying the markets.  They are doing a cost benefit analysis.  They are invested in the planning phase of developing new markets while they maintain the integrity of their product. They continue to persevere in their studio practice.  They are studying other markets, investigating how they can diversify their client base and, in turn, spread craft beyond a saturated market.

Meredith Host Dot Dot Dash Tumblers
Meredith Host is another maker looking over this edge. She has diversified within her own studio. A line of work under the title “Foldedpigs” on Etsy supports the creative endeavors and object output of her fine craft line “Dot Dot Dash”.   She has separate business cards, separate venues, and separate goals for each line. I suppose on the surface it may seem a little schizophrenic, but Host has managed to create a day job that allows her to be involved in making, it allows her to be a mentor to younger artists through an internship program at the Kansas City Art Institute, and it allows her to develop a body of work that reaches into the niche where she sees her future as a maker and a business woman.
Foldedpigs
Perhaps you have already heard the tale of Foldedpigs’ inception, if you haven’t, allow me to briefly introduce you.  Like many creative acts Foldedpigs was part discipline, part happy accident.  Host was in graduate school preparing for the Annual OSU Valentine’s Day Sale.  She struck on the idea of cranking out diner-style service ware adorned with skulls and brains, the sort of imagery that appeals to a zombie-loving crowd with clever tag lines.  Lowered costs, lowered production effort, higher return on her investments.  Then a snowstorm arose and the sale was cancelled. She was left with a lot of unmoved product. 

Etsy was in its infancy, so she decided to create her own storefront.  Not wanting these objects to derail or detract from the integrity of her larger studio practice, she distanced herself with the name Foldedpigs. 

She acknowledges the gift of timing in her story. 

Host joined Etsy before it was the monolith we now know.  The quality of cool ceramic objects offered on Etsy was small, so competition was low.  The work was pretty much an instant hit with the buyers on Etsy, and she was awarded a feature spot on the Etsy homepage, which meant her work was brought to the top of the Etsy haystack for 3-4 days.  The exposure brought her approximately 125 sales in that time period and resulted in product placement on the pages of some print periodicals, expanding the Foldedpigs market even more.

It’s easy to read Host’s success on Etsy as dumb luck, but really it’s a manifestation of a concept familiar to all artists.  Follow the work!  Make your own luck, is another way to say it.  She saw a market interested in this imagery and a lack of representation within utilitarian objects.  She didn’t take a snowstorm for a “NO” answer, rather she asked herself, “Now what?”  She continues to take steps forward, part intuition and part implementation of her observations and experience.  It is Host’s internal dialogue and consistent re-evaluation of her plan (business and creative) that continues to propel her forward.  She manages to maintain a studio space in Kansas City with Rain Harris and Paul Donnelly.  She manages to pay for insurance.  Most importantly she has managed to move Dot Dot Dash forward.

While in school it is easy to get consumed by lofty concepts, so esoteric they are lost on a larger audience.  Host has a penchant for tapping on the door of queasy, uneasy humor with objects like a bowl with a single strand of hair rendered on it, fake mouse droppings on the ledge of a saucer, or the drawing of an intestinal track circling a serving platter.  In art school the audience is open to such boundary bouncing, even (dare I say) hungry for it.  The larger commercial market may not want to live with such challenges in their daily life.  Host appreciates this and employs her skills of internal negotiation to honor her desire to push the envelope while appealing to a broader market.  The colorful patterns on the surface of Dot Dot Dash are lifted from the patterns of paper towels, tissue, and toilet paper.  She is still nodding to the unmentionable processes of the human body, but now she is doing it in a way that is more aesthetically palatable.  Her clients can choose where they meet the work, because the objects are also vibrant, well designed, and the surface is a considered composition that leaves room to celebrate the contents carried within or upon.

Let’s take this telling back to the topic of gallery representation.  It would seem that Host is well on her way to cutting out the middleman, but when I asked her how she perceived the relationship between gallery and artist she reported that she still saw it as relevant to the development of her market. 

Diversification.


While Host is working to build her revenue streams in Kansas City by hosting studio sales and garnering more personal relationships with regional clients, she acknowledges a gallery’s reach is longer than her own.  She also doesn’t foresee a time in the immediate future when she will ditch Foldedpigs, even though she has made inroads to streamlining the production to allow for more time on Dot Dot Dash. Host is wary of pushing to redefine the structure of artist-gallery relationships echoing a concern Gilliatt talked about above, in that she appreciates her autonomy in choosing what product to send to a gallery.  She observed that if a gallery were to assume more of the risk in the selling relationship, then the gallery would have more right to demand specific products from the artists.  This is not autonomy she is willing to secede at this time.  Furthermore, she believes exclusivity contracts up the ante on how she expects a gallery to work on her behalf. 

While Etsy gives her exposure for both lines of work beyond the ceramic community, galleries within the ceramic community increase her profile.  She hopes the increased profile will result in demand for workshops and speaking engagements, the next goal on her list.  Goals speak to planning, and Host has a 3-5 year plan in place.  She consistently re-evaluates her plan, writes it down in order from least possible to the most possible objectives.  She also has a built in brainstorming community in her studio mates Harris and Donnelly.  They push each other forward and share resources. 

At the end of our conversation Host said she took a workshop with Ayumi Horie right out of grad school.  She remembered thinking, “This is a woman to watch,” dazzled by Horie’s marketing strategies.  Host acknowledged Horie’s model as the ultimate goal.  I would posit that if Host continues to persevere and plan she will have, if she doesn’t already, a host of young makers saying the same about her.

Someone else to watch, someone in the infancy of her practice, is recent North Dakota State University alum Meg Roberts.  Roberts’ thesis project is now well on the way to becoming a 501c3.  If you haven’t heard of it, the endeavor is titled “Plants for Patients” or “P4P”.


“Plants for Patients (P4P) is an idea; it’s a framework for doing good work in our communities.  It’s the way we say, “This is how we treat our neighbors — with love and empathy, not shame or hate." P4P is a program blending art, community involvement and social activism while promoting humanitarianism.
The program strives to begin breaking down the social stigmas perpetrated against women who undergo abortion care by leveraging the kindness of strangers to create a community of support.  It also seeks to create a new dialogue about the abortion conversation in American society – a dialogue rooted in compassion.”
Preparing Plants for Delivery
P4P capitalizes on the accessibility of ceramics to reach out to individuals in need.  Roberts taps a polarizing topic and creates a bridge between the divide, because both sides of the discussion have measures of compassion for the human struggle accompanying an unplanned pregnancy.  Roberts had the support of a strong faculty and was part of the new program Engage-U, which cultivates socially engaged visual art projects.  Since graduation she has been able to continue evolving the idea through planning, developing an advisory board, and generating buzz within and beyond the field of ceramics.  Because the concept was formed between her two passions of ceramics and women’s health, P4P is inherently diversified. 

Writing Messages of Support
While she is currently holding down a day job as an espresso slinger, she is also figuring out her fiscal plan.  She chronicles her time spent on the growth of P4P, assessing the viability of its future.  She defines her role as architect of a framework and recognizes the need to hire an Executive Director on the distant horizon.  She struggles to invest more time in the studio side of the equation, but wants to ensure P4P has the momentum and structure it needs to continue well into the future. Securing 501c3 status will allow Roberts to develop diverse revenue streams by mining national and regional resources available for women’s health, non-profits, reproductive health, and the visual arts. She is savvy enough to realize she needs support not only for P4P, but also aims to secure a personal income stream. 

Now don’t think Roberts is underwriting all of this from her barista income or walking that tired path of just-donate-your-time-and-resources-for-the-exposure-in-hope-of-future-return. Not this practical North Dakota native.  Roberts’ legwork has already resulted in enough support to cover studio space, raw materials, and office supplies through fiscal and in-kind donations. And I’m betting the support for P4P will only continue to grow as she generates more exposure through speaking engagements. 

This coming March you can hear about P4P directly at the NCECA Conference in Milwaukee where Roberts will present a lecture on the power of social engagement and her experience.  She just returned from a brief tour where she was invited to present at the South Dakota NARAL Choice Leadership and Advocacy Summit in Sioux Falls and a spot on a panel of artists who focus on reproductive rights in Cincinnati, Ohio for the National Women’s Studies Association Conference.  Also on the Ohio panel?  The Guerilla Girls Broadband and Heather Ault of 4000 Years for Choice.  Not too bad for a project officially launched in March of 2012.  Finally, she is slated to present a workshop at the next Abortion Care Network Conference on positively changing patient experience and counteracting stigma.
Roberts on Left with her She-roes!
We don’t know yet how Roberts’ career and the future of P4P will manifest or what longevity it will have. But if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, surely her momentum will continue to grow.  For the purpose of this essay Roberts’ appears to be establishing an ever-more viable career path others might want to model.  Not by emulating her path exactly, but by putting a hard eye to the areas we choose to invest the hours of our daily lives and examining the overlaps.  It’s not so much that she is re-inventing the wheel, but she is digging deeper into the niche.  In doing so, she may have found a hallway that connects ceramics to another room entirely.


Finally, turning back to the fine craft market specifically, I want to introduce a project I am familiar with because I work with one of the creators, Red Lodge Clay Center Communications and Residency Coordinator Andrea Moon. Along with her brothers Jon and Ben, the Moons are a family invested in the arts with a strong business background.  They see the struggles makers encounter in daily life.  The struggles of student loan debt, insurance payments, housing, etc. are very real.  Hopefully folks opt out of this life if their fear outweighs their commitment to their creative vision.  A commonly held understanding of a life in the arts is that it is a lifestyle choice more than an investment in giant fiscal success.  Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t work to secure a larger market.  The Moon siblings have some altruistic leanings, but they are guided by practicality and business acumen.  Their project is “Pedestal” and it is meant to be a bridge connecting artists, collectors, and galleries


Pedestal is truly in its infancy, but the heart of the endeavor, and the fact that it was inspired by examining and combining the best parts of social media tools like Facebook, Etsy, and Crafthaus deserves inclusion.  Pedestal aims to create more overlaps for the artists they represent, connecting them to a broader collector base by providing a platform for collectors to create profiles that target their areas of interests e.g. wood fired functional, narrative, or basketry.  Pedestal aims to assist galleries too, providing an online “back room” venue for smaller galleries without an existing web presence. The goal is for Pedestal to expand local markets into global markets without charging a commission to the represented parties. 

The most immediate challenge Pedestal faces is getting artist buy-in.  They have to fill their pages in order to generate momentum, but artists with so many pulls on their time already may be reticent to commit to an unproven quantity.  To combat the concern, the Moon family is working to cultivate their inaugural artists, engaging in an ongoing dialogue with a handful of makers who are committed to helping launch Pedestal as a full fledged entity.  Another challenge has them examining the hazards they perceive on Etsy. Pedestal is working to devise a jury structure inclusive enough to create a broad network, but exclusive enough to maintain consistent quality in the work represented. 

What is so right about the concept of Pedestal, is the examination of the ever-prevalent role of social media in our lives and asking how it can be a more pro-active tool for the art market.  Their immediate goal is to raise enough fiscal support to develop a smart app in the next year easing the learning curve for Pedestal artists.  The long-term goals of Pedestal, and where the real visionary qualities of this project appear, are the plans to build a non-profit section of the brand that will provide a support structure for artistic development e.g. scholarships, internships, home loans, and group insurance rates.

Pedestal has some lofty goals, but their exploration of the niche is one that actually pulls back and looks at the overall construction supporting the niche, asking, “How can we redefine the game?”


In conclusion, we aren’t any parts of dead.  At best that’s a silly notion, and at worst it’s negligent to underestimate resources residing within the field of craft.  As long as artists and galleries alike continue to plan, persevere, maintain integrity, and look for ways to diversify there is an unlimited future.  We just can’t guard the niches we’ve been residing in like precious secrets.  I encourage you to share your own avenues of development in the comments section below.  Because I am convinced sharing our ideas in an open dialogue is the way to move forward.  I am equally convinced the stories I shared are just a small fraction of the ways our field is furthering the conversation and the market.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Revisiting and Redefining Markets, Pt. 1
By Jill Foote-Hutton
Red Lodge Clay Center and Whistlepig Studio

In the September 28th weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal there was an article on custom denim.  Set against an image of several bolts of selvage denim inside New York’s SoHo 3x1 store, is a story about the growing customization market.  Clients are paying up to $1200 for a pair of jeans, participating in the process from concept to finish.  While obviously an elite example, it reminded me of a conversation begun several months ago while courting an artist for a future exhibition at Red Lodge Clay Center.


The artist was interested in participating in the exhibit, but took issue with the standard contractual agreement.  The artist went on at great length about how outdated the current model is.  Concerns about gallery commissions and standard shipping arrangements were at the top of the list.  Like many galleries, Red Lodge takes a 50% commission on all sales.  The work represented in the brick and mortar storefront and online is on consignment.  Artists bear the cost of shipping to the gallery and the gallery ships work back if it doesn’t sell. 





For my part of the conversation I presented the whole picture of Red Lodge Clay Center’s mission statement.  When I took the position of Gallery Coordinator at Red Lodge, it was because I believed in the core tenets of the mission statement, “…provide a place for professionally minded ceramic artists to develop…and share the importance of art in everyday life.”  When we invite an artist to be part of an exhibition or to be represented by our commercial gallery, we are asking said maker to buy in to that mission statement as well.  Of course, there are the very real costs of keeping the lights on, insurance, publicity, shipping supplies, staff salaries, etc. Our ideal objective is to represent a large number of makers to showcase the variety of methods and concepts comprised within the landscape of contemporary ceramics.  The residency program and the community arts outreach programs were and are the foundation of why Red Lodge Clay Center exists, and the commercial gallery is here to support and enhance all of our programming.


In my naiveté, I thought the altruism of our mission would sway the maker into seeing things from a new perspective. 


It did not.

And perhaps it shouldn’t.  What was proposed in the conversation, first and foremost: begin a conversation within the field.  Moreover, the artist believed galleries should begin looking to standard retailer/wholesaler models for their next evolutionary step.  My difficulty in seeing the equation in such simple terms?  We are not selling packs of gum.  If I was running a convenience store, I would order 12 gross of a specific item and pay for shipping.  I would also have the secure knowledge that I would sell said 12 gross and be re-ordering more in the next quarter.  We are not selling convenience store items. We are selling an ideal, a commitment to a very specific way of approaching life, as much as we are selling objects.

What to do, and what does this have to do with custom denim?

Cups and Saucers by Sean O'Connell
Well, a conversation was started here, and it made me begin to look around more closely at solutions emerging craft artists were conceiving in their own marketing strategies.  It turned my eyes and ears sharply toward how contracts between galleries and artists are approached. It began an investigation.  The relevance of the topic was underscored on a recent episode of Tales of a Red Clay Rambler in the discussion between Host Benjamin Carter and guest Sean O’Connell. O’Connell opined the current gallery/artist relationship model seems good for no one, but he was not yet sure what the alternative was.


If you are reading this post, then I feel it is safe to assume you are familiar with the field of ceramics.  I feel it is safe to assume you are familiar with the marketing success of Ayumi Horie’s model.  We all stand in awe of her professional prowess and clever marketing strategies.  Have you seen that match striker video


Auymi Horie's Match Striker 
We are also probably all familiar with Ceramics Monthly’s recently published yearbook featuring Forrest Lesch-Middleton as the Ceramic Artist of the Year, as much for the high quality of his studio objects, as for his success in establishing a production line of tiles featured in the Home & Garden section of the January 2013 issue of the New York Times. 
Forrest Lesch-Middleton's Tiles

Finally, I feel it is safe to assume we are familiar with the, somehow controversial, success Molly Hatch has found in her partnership with Anthropoligie.   Because I am assuming we are all familiar with these success stories, I don’t want to focus on them.  Mainly, I will not address the models of the aforementioned artists because their success puts them into the realm of “other” and may seem out of reach to artists who are in the throes of development and question.   Rather, I have talked to and listened to artists who are at the brink of their own concepts.
Molly Hatch's Ware on Anthropologie

Familiar main points have surfaced and resurfaced in my conversations, but as Lesch-Middleton stated in his feature when asked about what advice he would give to those aspiring to make a living in ceramics he acknowledged the practice of, “…revisiting [familiar but easily forgotten advice] on a daily basis.”



Those points are:  Planning, Perseverance, Integrity, and Diversification.


I don’t know that I have arrived at a solution, or an entirely new model for the gallery/artist relationship, but in the interest of continuing to, “…provide a place for professionally minded ceramic artists to develop,” I have a clarified picture of a galleries responsibility and role in the equation.

Are you addicted to Tales of a Red Clay Rambler?  I kind of am, and I don’t find it to be too much to work in ceramics, listen to other ceramic makers, and then head to the office to coordinate ceramic exhibitions.  Rather, I tend to languish in the muddy water, submerged in the many conversations.  It was a chat with Arrowmont’s Bill Griffith on the podcast that directed my attention to the new endeavor Objective Clay, a collective of fourteen ceramic artists conceived during Utilitarian Clay VI.  Because I am blessed to reside in a region densely populated by ceramic artists, an organic conversation with founding member Sunshine Cobb was fairly easy to coordinate.  I presented the question to Cobb, sharing the conversation broadcast between O'Connell and Carter, and asked for her perspective.  Did she think that Objective Clay was the answer to artists taking the reigns on their own behalf and cutting out the need for galleries in our modern age? 

 Cobb pointed out that Objective Clay was still in its infancy and the members were in an ongoing conversation to line out the manifestations of their objectives.  Their mission statement asserts they have, “a shared vision to create an artist established and maintained online space.  This space functions as a gallery to view our latest work as well as a window into our current thoughts in process. By sharing our ideas and opening our studios, we invite artists, non-artists, educators, and students to actively engage in our artistic practices. In this virtual studio, the people who love pots can view/purchase new work and form direct relationships with the artists who make them.” 
 
That last bit about forming direct relationships is really the key to branding isn’t it?  If one wants to be successful in any endeavor, it all comes down the relationships one establishes.  The more circles one can overlap, the more relationships are built and the end result is fiscal success.  Focusing on relationships, whether that relationships starts with a one-on-one consultation with a jean’s designer or whether that relationship starts by finding out what your favorite ceramic artist is reading for inspiration on the Objective Clay bookshelf, allows makers to maintain integrity in their marketing.  By putting relationships first, clients are able to step inside the creative process and feel a part of it.  Happily the end result can be a successful bottom-line because clients are as invested in the final product as the maker. 



Beyond utilizing the internet to establish new relationships, Cobb reported that Objective Clay is looking to corporate markets for sales in an effort to land wholesale orders from clients with larger budgets.  This year at the Wisconsin NCECA keep an eye out for their partnership with restaurant chains within the city. How great would it be to one day walk into a high-end establishment and see the fare presented on hand-made wares?  This kind of vision is looking to the ever-narrowing space between design and craft and grabbing a foothold.  It isn’t an entirely new idea, but one worth revisiting.  It is a vision that looks beyond the tried and true, and perhaps oversaturated market of contemporary ceramics.

Works by Sunshine Cobb Featured on Objective Clay

Within the walls of Red Lodge Clay Center we are reviewing how we spread our advertising dollars.  The bulk of our budget targets the converted within the pages of Ceramics Monthly.  While we don’t want to step away from a loyal base, we do want to consider how we can break into other realms by looking to foodie magazines and events, as well as design firms who might share the work of our artists with their clients.  A successful model to study is Red Dot.

Red Dot is a company founded on the idea of taking design into new markets by focusing on the highest quality work and awarding it.  New clients are constantly coming to Red Dot so their presentations, homes, and companies might be on the cutting edge of aesthetics and function.

“Look to the periphery!” is the battle cry of modern business acumen.

The final tidbit of wisdom from my discussion with Cobb was an anecdote about the standard shipping arrangement between galleries and artists.  Cobb is currently working as a resident at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana.  Shipping from Montana can be pretty pricey, and anyone who has had to fly out of Montana to anywhere besides Seattle, Denver, or Minneapolis can tell you there is no easy road out in regard to travel.  She shipped work to a gallery and made the choice to send a grouping of smaller objects.  Of course, all the work sold out rather quickly and the gallery called to request she send more work for the exhibition and include larger pieces in the next shipment.  Cobb was happy to oblige, but observed and asserted that she was getting the short end of the deal in regard to the shipping arrangement.  “If all of my work sells, then the gallery never has to ship work back to me.”  Cobb suggested the gallery front the shipping costs on the next shipment.  

As a gallery representative, I know that shipping costs are one of the larger line items in our budget.  While that cost is shared by our clients who pay shipping and handling in their purchases, a gallery does maintain a healthy stock of bubble wrap, peanuts, newsprint, boxes, tape, fragile stickers, branding logo stamps, and includes supporting documents about the artists and exhibitions in every package.  Still, Cobb's point was taken.  How can a gallery work to better reward its best sellers?  Especially if the intention of a gallery is to support the livelihood of its artists as well as keeping the doors open.  Hmmmm?  Again, the words from O’Connell’s Red Clay Rambler interview came back to me, “…good for no one.”  Cobb’s proposal didn’t seem at all unrealistic to me:  invest more in the artists who present proven product.

Next month I will present the rest of the story in my visits with Meredith Host who divides her efforts between her commercial line Folded Pigs and her studio output Dot Dot Dash, Meg Roberts who has been busily building her socially motivated brand and soon to be 501c3, Plants for Patients, by looking to the advocates for reproductive rights, Andrea Moon who is building the new web format Pedestal as a market place for contemporary craft, and tying the opening model of custom denim back to the work of Andrew Gilliatt his evolving concepts. We’ve seen the beginnings of the importance of diversification and integrity and will delve more into those areas, as well as being reminded of the importance of perseverance and planning.  Until then, my thanks to Carole Epp and the Musing about Mud blog for providing a venue and an audience for this discussion.