It was Day 16 of the campaign and I had only cried in public once. Twice. Online crowdfunding is not for the faint of heart.
I’ve spent my entire career in and around the art world. I recently curated a touring exhibition of new work by Kiki Smith and Valerie Hammond. I have been a gallerist and a fine art print-publisher, collaborating with the luminaries of the international art world. I have sold artwork to nearly every major institution in the USA as well as thousands of galleries and collections.
But about five years ago I had what I refer to as a midlife “correction.” Desperate to become something different, I sold all of my possessions and used them as a ticket to a new life. I left my home in the states and moved to the south of France, devoting a year to discovering my own creative path, before moving to England where I really got down to work and became a writer and photographer.
Throughout my career I have seen how artists struggled and I knew it didn’t have to be so hard. So I began sharing with artists what I knew about how the art market works and giving them the tools necessary to create a successful career. I called my class The Working Artist and I have now spent the past three years teaching it throughout the world.
I’ve long wanted to turn this course into an online educational program, something that could be downloaded so that any artist, anywhere, can have access to this information at an affordable price. After spending nearly a year researching the options and putting a business plan together I decided to launch an online crowdfunding campaign to raise the monies it would take to film and edit the program.
The launch party was a huge success and I exceeded my initial goal in terms of donations. The next two weeks have been a whirling dervish of emotions and bloody hard work. At the computer constantly posting, begging, pleading, thanking. And when I’m not at the computer I am out on the streets handing out promotional materials, chatting with artists, lecturing, making connections, chasing leads. This month, it seems, will never end.
The biggest take-aways have been the lessons learned, the hard way, about staying balanced, about not being attached to the outcome, and about letting go of what other people think. Easy lessons none.
But it’s been difficult to keep the faith. Though I have been blessed with little moments of serendipity that give me cheer, each day that someone tells me “no” can bring my spirits crashing to the ground. And so Day 16 began. I was halfway through the campaign, I’d begged every friend, relative, and ex-boyfriend I knew and had raised just over half my goal. Now what? I was exhausted. Well-intentioned friends gave me advice about how I could be doing it better, but they only served to make it worse. I was having a crisis of faith.
I was on my bicycle whizzing down a hill under a bridge when something caught my eye. A little boy was drawing with chalk on the concrete wall. My camera was at home with a dead battery. But I have a phone, I reminded myself. I hate photographing with a phone and I don’t photograph children but something told me to turn back. I asked his mother if I could take a picture. I tried to get a shot of him as he drew, apologizing for not having my good camera. “So do you just ride your bike and take pictures of things that interest you?” he asked. I nodded and he looked impressed, “I want to be like you.” What’s that? “An artist,” he smiled.
He showed me some of his other, earlier, chalk drawings. There was a large piece called “People Pasture” of a unicorn eating people. “But I don’t think that’s my best work,” he said gravely. His name was Harrison and he was 8 years old. His drawings filled the walls with their childlike graffiti, he’d even written poetry. “Faith. Justice. Believers matter,” he wrote.
“Sometimes,” he confessed, “I have doubts about my work.” Harrison wanted to be a famous artist. We spoke for a long time. He told me how it hurts when people don’t like what he does. I pointed him back to his own words, “Believers matter.”
I told him what it is to be an artist, how it’s important to always take chances, to make your life an expression of your work, of your self. I spoke of integrity. He drank my words in thirsty gulps. I told him how fame is a false prophet and how his life’s work, as an artist, is to work hard to develop that which lies inside and to always look for ways to express it, leaving everyplace he ever goes more beautiful for him having been there. “Like you do with these walls,” I told him.
He said, “It’s so good that I met you.” But it was I who was blessed. I told Harrison about my crowdfundung campaign and he encouraged me not to give up. “Look how much you have helped me today,” he said. “This is your work.”
I asked to take his picture with my phone and he made me wait so he could put on his glasses. As I left, he told me that he would be back tomorrow, making another drawing, should I want to visit him. “I will photograph you again,” I promised.
“Bring your good camera this time,” he said.
By Crista Cloutier
Crista Cloutier’s crowdfunding campaign ends on March 30th. Visit www.igg.me/at/theworkingartist to see how you can participate.