Two Kinds of Work: Business and Art at Creature and Santangelo
Art is all around us in Thomas, from public murals to bathroom installations. With five different galleries on Front Street, many of which display the work of folks working right in town, artists in Thomas are not just eking out a living but thriving. But what goes on behind the scenes that make this possible?
“Most of the artists that exist inside of the galleries are running their own businesses outside of that, which is something that I don’t think is super apparent to people,” says artist Seth Pitt.
Pitt either owns or co-owns three of the galleries on Front Street, one of which, Creature, serves as a showroom for his illustrations. For Pitt, separating being an artist from being a small business owner is extremely important, a sentiment that he feels that many of his fellow artists can relate to.
“One of the big challenges is realizing that you are running a business and also keeping that very separate from your creative output…. You don’t get to draw and then check your email and then draw again. I think most all [the artists] on the street do that. That’s a necessity for several reasons.”
Each day, Pitt makes a clear divide between the time he’s working on selling his art and the time he spends creating it. When he’s working at Creature, he focuses on answering emails, looking at orders that need to get filled and making the Instagram and Facebook posts needed to promote his brand. By six at the latest, most of the times even if there’s still office work to be done, he switches gears and heads to the studio. The divide isn’t only about maximizing creativity. It’s also about maintaining creative integrity, essentially making sure that business trends don’t influence the direction of Pitt’s art.
While most artists in Thomas sell their works exclusively out of galleries in town, Pitt uses a different approach. Because his work is easily reproducible and can be put on a variety of products, such as posters, pins and cards, Pitt is able to place his work in galleries and venues around the country. Each gallery places a monthly order for Pitt and his team to fill. Many of his prints are also available online.
None of this part of the process is possible without Pitt’s two business managers, who work on promoting Pitt’s work and coordinating getting it into galleries across the country. Without them, Pitt feels that the rest of his business model would not be possible. Pitt also called hiring business managers “smart business,” because it allows him to spend more time in the studio, and thus create more art.
In addition to assistance with the overall business of running an art gallery, Pitt gets a boost in the actual production of art. Once Pitt has made an original design, the job of reproducing it often falls to someone else on staff. Trey Rayborn works in Creature and Santangelo and often spends his spare time reproducing prints when he’s not talking to customers.
“When I’m working at Santangelo sometimes I’ll take materials from Creature, or prints or buttons or whatever needs to be made, and I’ll sit on Santangelo and I’ll work on that,” said Rayborn.
Pitt’s nationwide approach to selling art has not just benefitted him but also other artists.
“I was in Kalamazoo [Michigan] and Seth had a good number of his prints in a gallery there and there was also art there from people we had featured in Santangelo. So Seth brought his work and then brought his peers,” said Rayborn.
Despite the national reach, however, the majority of business for Pitt and other artists still comes out of the galleries right here in Thomas. Whether it’s tourists stopping in on the way to Blackwater Falls or a neighbor in town who is “looking for gifts…or has been eyeballing something for a really long time,” art-related business in Thomas has been steadily increasing. The influx in tourism over the last few years in particular has created a cyclical effect. As being an artist in Thomas has become more financially viable and more galleries have opened, more people are coming to Thomas to look at, and buy, art.
“At this point, there are people who come through our doors primarily to come to our art galleries, which is a change that’s happened over the last two or three years. That’s a huge deal… That didn’t start happening until there was a critical mass of artists working here and art galleries to show it,” said Pitt.
That’s not to say that tourism alone is driving business.
“It’s important to acknowledge that aside from tourists coming here we have a really, really strong local support base… I don’t think that’s as common to have that kind of support in areas this size. I think a lot of other places would be a lot more reliant on tourists. Not that we aren’t reliant on tourists.”
While Pitt knows that his business process is a bit different from some of his peers, putting the time into being both an entrepreneur and an artist is something he sees others working hard oat as well. Watching his friends succeed in doing both is something that he says inspires him.
“Most of the artists here spend a portion of their day trying to be a small business owner and then they get off work and go and work.”