Monday, October 17, 2011

Public Art 101 with Jeff De Boer – The Business of Being a Professional Artist

Jeff De Boer with his Lighted Ball instalment -
Honest. Entertaining. Conversational. These were the words used following The City of Calgary’s September instalment of the Public Art 101 series with Calgary’s own Jeff De Boer.

“Is there someone in the audience who will volunteer to assist me?” challenged De Boer in his opening statement. The audience grew still and eerily quiet. De Boer waited. And waited. Finally, a volunteer rose from the front row in response. The task was simple: to unroll a print and show it to the audience. The reward was great: keeping the print.

The entertaining and poignant demonstration ignited a conversation with participants who admitted to fear of taking risks without knowing if there would be a reward.

“A successful career in the arts involves risk,” confided De Boer. “The difference between a business person and an artist is that a business person takes more risks.”

And so began De Boer’s presentation The Business of Being a Professional Artist. He admitted to past failure and provided solace in sharing the knowledge that failing is actually a good thing.

The keys to success are essentially the same in every industry – hard work. And Jeff works hard. During, the first 10 years of his career he participated in 115 exhibitions. That’s 15 exhibitions per year!

Along the way he met a lot people, forged many important relationships and worked on selling himself as a brand. He was inherently aware of creating something that people wanted to buy while maintaining the highest of standards because the quality of your work is a representation of your integrity.

“You’re only as good as people remember,” he said frankly. “Are you selling your work? If not, you have to ask yourself why and ask deeper.”

The harsh reality is that artists are trained in how to create rather than how to sell. Yet business training is imperative to an artist that wishes to succeed.

De Boer substantiated this point by illustrating a sample budget that included studio rental, car payments, utilities, insurance and a $30,000 a year salary. To maintain this budget, an artist would have to sell $80,000 worth of work a year.

“To sell $80,000 worth of work requires planning,” said De Boer. “You need to create a business plan for every project and understand the passion within each one because it allows you to contextually perceive and understand your project before it begins.”

As another successful artist, Andy Warhol said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.”
One of De Boer’s career highlights was when he was featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics, Russia. He attributes the cover to not taking his work too seriously and recommends having fun and looking at art from a bigger perspective.

De Boer’s candid and constructive discussion about The Art of Being a Professional Artist was enlightening and ripe with possibilities. It was in perfect alignment with the Public Art series goal to provide education, inspiration, information and collaboration for artists in Calgary transitioning from a studio-based practice to the collaborative practice of planning, designing and producing public artworks.

The Public Art 101 series is an important component of the City of Calgary’s Public Art program and assists in achieving the strategic direction of the Arts & Culture division. For more information please visit

Submitted by Carissa Vescio.

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