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GROWING | Skidmore Artists Flourishing as Entrepreneurs

GROWING | Skidmore Artists Flourishing as Entrepreneurs

Skidmore's Handmade Pop Up 2018, Tang Teaching Museum. Photo: Andrzej Pilarczyk

Picture the kind of college your average New Yorker-reading, seasonal ramp-eating, NPR-listening, fashion-onesie-wearing adult would create given the proper resources, and you’d probably come up with something that resembles Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

In 1903, the groundwork for the school was laid by Lucy Skidmore Scribner (1853-1931), when she created The Young Woman’s Industrial Club. By 1911, she turned the club into a chartered college dubbed Skidmore School of Arts, with the goal of vocationally and professionally training young women. In 1919, it conferred its first baccalaureate degrees, and, in 1971, Skidmore began admitting men into its ranks.

Set on 850 acres in the sophisticated (there are super star chefs, including David Burke, an Opera, a New York City Ballet residency, jazz festivals and rock concerts at SPAC) but small (28,000 residency) upstate town of Saratoga Springs (whose real claim to fame is its historic Spa and Race Course), Skidmore offers that fertile, liberal arts environment that allows ideas to blossom.

Photo: SPAC

In addition to the standard academic buildings and dorms, Skidmore harbors the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery; the Saisselin Art Building, devoted to studios for painting, ceramic and sculpture, as well as animation, fibers and metals; then there’s the Arthur Zankel Music Center, with a capacious 600-seat concert hall. A bold-faced list of household names stream in and out of campus for workshops, exhibitions, lectures, and concerts. (Russell Banks, William Kennedy, Jamaica Kincaid, Francine Prose, Ragini Shankar, Eric Harland, Larry Grenadier, Taylor Eigsti, Jenny Kemp, Sharon Bates...)

All fabulous, though not sufficient to teach creative student souls how to move their ideas to market and find success. The answer? Add some serious business acumen!

With support from alum Molly Brister Haley, 1964, artist and founder of the textile company Marblehead Handprints, Skidmore's Arts Administration Program began not just offering options that would pave the way for creating their own successful businesses as artists, but also would actively encourage them to pursue, study, and understand the business side of the art world. (Students of all majors can also take courses from the College's popular management and business department, too.)

“To be a successful artist these days, you have to know how to run a business, and Skidmore is committed to creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship,” explains Elizabeth Dubben, the coordinator for the school’s Entrepreneurial Artist Initiative (and also the executive director of Troy’s Collar Works).

Dubben should know. She graduated with a BFA herself from the College of Saint Rose, but has spent most of her career in the business side of the art world, working with nonprofits like Saratoga Arts (The Arts Center) as the Director of Exhibitions and Development, focusing on providing opportunities for artists to grow their practice and develop professionally.

Skidmore approached Dubben about collaborating on a program, she jumped at the chance. The Entrepreneurial Artist Initiative under Skidmore's Arts Administration program officially launched in 2013.

The now Annual Handmade Pop-Up Marketplace at Skidmore founded by Entrepreneurial Artist Initiative. Photo: Entrepreneurial Artist Initiative

“There are four cornerstones,” Dubben says. “The course curriculum, which allows students to understand the business side of art, how to market and sell their art, packaging and product development; then there are workshops and symposiums, with alumni and leaders in the arts community.”

In addition, there is a scholarship program which offers one student a $4,000 grant so they can have a summer intensive experience working in the field, she says. The final component is a series of networking events, drawing alumni and leaders of the arts community to an event to connect with each other and meet promising, eager arts students.

“All together, the program has lead to many successful connections for our students, who have been able to market their work and talents with leaders in the field they would never normally have access to at such a young age,” she says.

One of the most exciting events for students, and for art lovers who want to support them, is The Entrepreneurial Artist Initiative's annual Handmade Pop-Up. This year, 18 students will participate as part of their course curriculum. In real time, they will have the opportunity to display and sell their original works, putting their marketing, promotion and packaging studies in front of potential customers. They’ll learn what works, and what doesn’t, including pricing, Dubben says.

Skidmore's Handmade Pop Up 2018, Tang Teaching Museum. Pictured: Abstract artist Shaw Lenox. Photo: Andrzej Pilarczyk

Visitors to the Pop-Up shop (held at the Tang Gallery on April 26th, from 11-4 pm) this year, will find wearable art, textiles, posters, stickers, live music, zines and more. Typically, there are hundreds of visitors who converge to snag original art that ranges in price from a few dollars for a sticker to a few hundred for larger work, like sculptures.

Skidmore's Handmade Pop Up 2018, Tang Teaching Museum. Pictured: Designer Julia Rinaolo, who recently launched her own company Triangle and PoppyPhoto: Andrzej Pilarczyk

This isn’t Renaissance Europe; patronage is dead. Now, if artists want to succeed, they must perform a balancing act between art and commerce, creativity and business, artistic fulfillment, and the need to pay their mortgage.

Thankfully, Skidmore is teaching them how.

Here are some of Skidmore’s more well-known former students and alumnae/i, beginning with some very familiar-to-us names:

On our own pages, New York Makers features the work of former student and metalsmith Stephen LeBlanc, who hand-forges stunning jewelry that evoke nature in its purest and wildest form, and former graduate Cecilia Frittelli of frittelli & Lockwood, who weaves — along with her partner in life and work, Richard Lockwood — sumptuous clothing and accessories, many of which have appeared at galleries and museums around the world (and can be snapped up here).

Betsy Olmsted, Class of 2002 — Artist known for her vivid watercolor textiles, recently recognized as one of Country Living Magazine’s “100 Most Creative People.”

Home goods made by Betsy Olmsted. Photo: Betsy Olmsted

Courtney Mattison, Class of 2008  Creator of intricately detailed ceramic sculptural works inspired by the fragile beauty of coral reefs and the human-caused threats they face (Mattison was a self-determined major in marine biology and ceramic sculpture at Skidmore), her work has been featured by international outlets, including Smithsonian MagazineBritish Vogue; Oprah MagazineGood Morning AmericaCNN IndonesiaBBC World Serviceand Science Magazine; Mattison lives and works in Los Angeles.

From Confluence (Our Changing Seas V). Photo: Amanda Brooks for Art in Embassies, US Department of State

Emily Lazar, Class of 1993  Grammy winner for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for her engineering work on Beck's "Colors" album, the first woman to win in the category; President and Chief Mastering Engineer of The Lodge in New York City.

Press play to watch "The Sound Master" by Great Big Story

David Miner, Class of 1991  TV producer (30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, etc.); while a student at Skidmore, Miner founded the National College Comedy Festival, still held annually at Skidmore.

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, Class of 1996 — Journalism entrepreneur who started her own production company.

Elissa Nadworny, Class of 2010  Reporter at NPR

Grace Sachi Troxell, Class of 2013 Brooklyn-based visual artist

Ben Van Leeuwen, Class of 2007 — Co-founder of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

Photo: Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream & Vegan Ice Cream Shop on the Upper East Side

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