Welcome to the Real World: My Experience as an Emerging Artist

In December 2011, I applied to be part of the Emerging Artist Program at the 2012 Cherry Creek Arts Festival (CCAF). I fit the requirements well: I was 18 and halfway through my senior year of high school, and I had had no previous experience exhibiting or selling my artwork at any venue. The next six months marked that significant movement from high school into the “real world.” It was a move that, for me, seemed even more fast tracked. In May 2012, I would graduate and two months later I would emerge into the arts festival world, selling my paintings as an individual businesswoman and entrepreneur.

When I first applied, I hadn’t really considered that it would all happen so fast.

I had known about CCAF’s Emerging Artist Program and that I intended to apply at some point in the future. But why not right then? There are no additional requirements to the program besides minimal experience, so although I felt young, there wasn’t anything holding me back. I already had a comprehensive body of work to apply with (my college portfolio) and saw the $40 application fee as being worth the risk. I quickly changed from a state of mindless teenage bliss to the mindful building of my desired adult career.

The Psychic Center, 2012, 60” x 30”, Oil on Canvas The Psychic Center, 2012, 60″ x 30″, Oil on Canvas

Although I applied with a strong collection of paintings, I do think that the high quality photographs of my artwork (my jury images) ensured my acceptance. Jurying is largely based on first impressions. Since the physical artwork isn’t actually there to impress the jurors, the photo has to speak strongly in its place. I had already learned how to properly photograph artwork for my college portfolio, which — especially since I was competing with other emerging artists who probably didn’t have this knowledge — put me ahead of the game. About 200 other artists applied to the program, but only eight were invited to have a booth at the festival. Collectively, we represented a wide range of work, both in media and subject matter.

I received my acceptance to the festival about six months in advance of the event. Because of my naiveté in the business world, I was originally quite overwhelmed. I would have to increase my inventory immensely and create an entire brand for myself as an artist without anything in existence to build on!

This may seem fairly obvious and logical, but there is nothing lost in extensive planning.

I had to learn more about the business behind being an artist and, especially because of my lack of any job or career experience, nothing was intuitive and I was truly starting from step one. Practice and organization proved important in my preparation for the festival. For months I kept lists of things I had done and things I had yet to do. I kept a schedule for my inventory that I used as a key for how many paintings of which sizes and price points I wanted to produce in the time leading up to the festival. I practiced set-up and take-down of my booth several times; reviewed the process of selling, wrapping, and saying goodbye to a work; and planned how to rotate through displaying pieces as my inventory decreased. Keeping up with that schedule was necessary for success, because I found that there were many more things to do than to just create work to sell.

Anna Charney posing with one of her paintings at the 2012 Cherry Creek Arts Festival.

I’m so thankful that CCAF has such a helpful program for their emerging artists.

CCAF held workshops for those of us in the Emerging Artist Program. We were paired with local artists who had previous festival experience, all of whom were eager to share their years of knowledge and to mentor us. I learned how to set up a booth, develop price points, and act appropriately as an entrepreneur — without these lessons I would otherwise have been completely lost. Another great perk I had was a decreased booth fee, which saved me a considerable amount of money. During the festival, CCAF placed all the emerging artists in the same area in individual tents they provided to us and showcased us all to the public as well. All of this extra help made me feel welcome in the industry, capable during the festival, and kept me from feeling like I was drowning.

By the time of the festival, I was organized enough to have a highly functional booth and good sales. I had been taught most everything I believe I needed to know and had been trained properly on how to have a good show. The only thing I wish I had been given more warning of was how painful it would be to give back money in taxes, but I suppose that was also a lesson in just becoming older and feeling the woes of hard adult work that everyone else already knows.

I would highly recommend that other artists who are applicable for emerging artist programs take advantage of them when available.

If there is a program that is tailored to help introduce artists into the festival, world and you are an artist aspiring to join the festival world, you should take advantage of the opportunity. Festivals want to encourage new artists to join their industry and are happy to teach them how to succeed in it; your participation as a festival artist benefits them as well, so it’s a win-win situation.

Although the process of preparing for an arts festival for the first time went smoothly for me, due in part because I was lucky enough to be in the program, the most valuable information that I was given wasn’t from the folders of info they officially gave out at the workshops, but was from the mentors that we were introduced to as emerging artists. These were artists with extensive festival experience, and there are hundreds of artists with similar experience all across the country! If you are looking to learn similar lessons, my advice would be to reach out in your local community of artists and do your best to find a helpful contact or at least get some answers to a few of your questions.

One always has to start somewhere and my experience as an emerging artist was an encouraging one for my pursuits as an adult to continue in the art festival business. I just finished my first year at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and am on a three-year track to graduate in Spring 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Because of the intensity of my studies, I currently do not have time to develop a large enough body of work to participate in any large arts festivals like CCAF in the near future, but I still intend to sell my art and continue building my business over the next few years. Once I finish my studies though, I do plan on pursuing a career in the fine arts as a traveling artist at fairs and festivals, so wish me luck!

Solemn Contentment (Back Detail), 2013, Clay and Glass Beads, 14″ x 13″ x 14″

–By Anna Charney
Anna Charney studies studio painting and drawing at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. After her experience with the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in 2012, she decided to spend her 2013 summer back in Denver hanging around the ZAPP® offices as an intern to learn even more about the arts festival business. While they share a last name and an excellent fashion sense, she is not related to ZAPP’s managing director, Leah Charney. You can see her full gallery at annacharneyart.com.