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Five Questions for Suzanne Williamson

March 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Mastering the financial and creative challenges of a career as an artist is never easy—and it’s especially challenging in the context of a recession. On Sat., Mar. 21, the 3rd annual Self-Employment in the Arts Conference at the University of Tampa aims to give practitioners in the visual, literary, performing and film arts a leg up on the climb to self-sufficiency. The daylong lineup includes sessions on marketing, networking, work-life balance and intellectual property led by professional artists, writers, filmmakers, professors and an attorney. This year’s conference is organized by Suzanne Williamson, a recent transplant to Tampa Bay whose experience as a visual artist makes her uniquely suited to the task.

You’re new to Tampa– what brought you here?

I moved to Tampa last July from New York City with my husband, John Capouya, who accepted a full-time position as an assistant professor teaching journalism and writing at the University of Tampa. We love New York, but we wanted to change our lives. I was the photo editor of ARTnews magazine, and I am a photographic artist. I wanted more time to work on my art, and John wanted to teach full-time and write. We were drawn to Tampa and the university when we visited. We have really enjoyed meeting artists and participating in the cultural life here in Tampa. The photographic possibilities in Florida are so rich—I enjoy working here.

How did your past experience prepare you for organizing the conference?

Being an artist requires that you juggle life, work for money and time to make art. That ability that artists develop—to work in different modes on different projects—was useful to me in organizing the conference. Having moved to Tampa without a network of colleagues, I was reminded of how crucial formal and informal networking is. Directing the conference clarified how we need to work together.

My past experience includes a number of day jobs, even careers, which involved outreach or multi-tasking—perfect for running the conference. Like most artists, I worked at these jobs so I could continue with my art. Some of my previous jobs include working as a gallery director, a curator/manager of a private photography collection (later donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), a magazine photo editor (plenty of deadlines and collaborating required), and as an artist board member of the MacDowell Colony, the oldest art colony in the U.S.

I was part of a collective of artists in New York that launched a photographic exhibition of the events and our response to 9/11. The exhibition relied solely on donations of goods and volunteer time when we began. It was entitled “Here is New York,” was installed in downtown SoHo, and traveled in the U.S. and overseas. The show came to Tampa and was exhibited at International Plaza. Pulling ourselves together and helping others during a tragedy was beneficial for us as well as the people who were touched by the exhibition. I will never forget the experience of organizing with others in the face of disaster.

One of the conference’s tag lines is “Discover the art of turning creativity into capital, even in a tight economy.” In a nutshell, what are the essential skills artists will learn (or learn to improve) at the conference that might help them weather the recession?

Our all-conference speakers in the areas of visual, performance, literary and film arts—and art law—will reveal the skills they find necessary for an artist to succeed, particularly now. The breakout sessions are more specific in targeting skills for each art. Many skills they will reveal apply to all of the arts.

Some of these skills are:

  • To use inexpensive methods for marketing yourself.
  • To use the latest social networking sites and Internet resources to market and brand yourself.
  • To legally protect your concepts, your art and your finances.
  • To work with your time—so art doesn’t get squeezed out. There are different strategies that work.
  • To identify a niche market in your field which could support your business.
  • To learn how to translate your artistic skills into applicable businesses or business skills.
  • To establish networks of associates who will share information, perhaps create new groups that can reach out to the community for help.
  • To research existing community art organizations, which provide information, help and project funding to artists.

Who would benefit more from the conference: a beginning artist/student or a seasoned practitioner?

Both would benefit.

Most younger or beginner artists have a lot of social networking and digital skills, and they network within their group of friends. They need to learn how to “talk to strangers” about their art. They need to learn how to come up with project ideas on their own–initiate a show or idea and make it happen. They need tools to transition to the scary “real world.” The conference will inspire them and give them examples of how they could succeed.

Seasoned practitioners need to network or connect. They understand that cultural and economic circumstances are always changing, and they need to adapt to “now.” The conference will help them meet new people and come up with new ideas for marketing themselves. We seasoned practitioners know we can use a refresher course on new technology or law. These tight times call for artists to come up with new strategies, and this conference will have them. We will also encourage artists to share ideas with each other.

What should visual artists in particular expect to take away from the conference?

Artists will have been reminded that they are important, that their goals and dreams move them and society forward. Artists provide the world with our most precious commodity—free expression. They remind us to think for ourselves. They create meaning and satisfaction.

And they need an audience. Artists need to share their visions—that’s why they are artists. Our conference goal is to encourage them to keep making art, and encourage them to find their audience. There will be plenty of great advice and practical tips, but the key to success is persistence.

Tough times are good times to think and organize. We hope that the artists of the Tampa Bay community are ready to think about what we want and need right now– and how to get it.

For the full SEA Conference schedule and registration form, go to www.ut.edu/seaconference.

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Tags: Arts Marketing · Events · Five Questions · Professional Development · Tampa

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 S Mermaid // Mar 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Great interview!
    Your descriptions prompted me to pick up the phone and call a few more people who would benefit from this experience.

    This will be my third year and I’m excited to attend this year.

  • 2 Leigh Toborowsky // Mar 17, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article as I didn’t realize the depth of your background! The conference seems innovative and will be quite beneficial given the economic climate we are faced with.

  • 3 Gianna Russo // Mar 18, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Great article, and with Szuanne’s experience and professionalism, I know the SEA will be a success. We are lucky to have such a devoted and talented artist (I’ve seen her work) here in the Tampa Bay Area.

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