For the past two years, I was working in a studio complex with 35 art studios open to the public for visits. The building is part of a renovated textile mill called the “Golden Belt” just Southeast of Downtown Durham, NC.
Whenever I went to Golden Belt to see an art exhibition or visit the artists in their studios, I was fascinated by the large studios, the old architecture, and the enormous-sized windows. My dream was that at some point I would have a studio there. A little over two years ago, I came home from one of these visits and announced to my husband that I wanted to apply for one of these studios. “If I wait until I’m a ‘grown-up’ artist I will never have a space there!”. And so, I took the plunge.
Let me look back and share with you what has worked for me and what hasn’t:
I created a rather strict schedule. I would leave for work in the morning and come home late afternoons. The separation of physical space required/allowed for a separation of activities and energy. I still did my office work at home, mainly after dinner and on the weekends, but while I was in the studio, I could immerse myself in the bubble of creating. Pure bliss!
The studio complex is open to the public. As an introvert I was concerned about getting interrupted while creating and having difficulties getting back into the ‘groove’. It turns out, that there weren’t as many interruptions as I had anticipated. Moreover, and even better, I learned to handle the interruptions as little ‘breaks’, conversing with visitors, sharing the ideas behind the work on the wall, and explaining the process of creating the current art piece. Many interesting conversations developed, and visitors became part of the experience.
Every third Friday of the month, galleries and art venues in Durham participate in an Art Walk. The spaces are open late, and frequently visitors are welcomed with a glass of wine and hors d’œuvres. On some Third Fridays, only few people wandered through the studios. I sat there with my opened bottle of wine, nibbling on the treats. Luckily, my husband was my loyal companion for these evenings and therefore, I had at least ‘somebody’ to talk to. On other evenings, we had masses flood the space. Definitely, the art work on my studio walls was seen, there was the ‘visibility’ artists need, and a certain validation of me as an artist. I now was ‘on the map’. A fair amount of my artwork found new homes during these events.
Working alongside other artists is energizing as they are able to critique your work with a keen eye. Some folks do that even without being asked! Most of us were respectful of each other’s time and often, we would meet only for lunch to discuss work, family, and life in general. Seeing other artists at work fuels your own discipline and being ‘expected’ at work is a form of accountability.
When choosing a studio outside your own premises you do have to consider the financial viability of this endeavor. Not only do you pay rent for the studio, many landlords require you to purchase liability insurance. In addition, you might need property insurance for your artwork, supplies and tools/machines. You will need to sell more artwork just to brake even!
Your rental agreement binds you to what you can do in your studio and what not. That might affect the types of lights you can install, techniques you use (eg creating fumes and/or waste), in extreme cases even the topics you address in your work such as political or social issues, nudity and more. Yes, ‘censorship’ may exist.
To some extent, you are at the mercy of the landlord. In my case, the Golden Belt campus was sold in August 2017, and the new landlord changed the lease from yearly to monthly (including an increase in rent). We were supposed to be relocated to another building once its renovation is finished. Many artists left the studios as they were worried about their future. The first relocation was scheduled for July, now there are 7 days left until the Grand Opening of the new studio space. However, the construction isn’t completed yet and the remaining handful of artists are still stuck in the old building, with their supplies packed up in boxes. I, personally, could no longer handle the uncertainty. It impacted my business, my creativity, and my overall well-being. After careful considerations, I moved home a week ago.
In retrospect, the experience of having a studio outside of my home was a positive one. I learned more about art techniques (I didn’t go to art school so I have lots to learn), I expanded my skills talking about my work (art does not speak for itself, especially not abstract art), I matured in running my studio as a business. I found patrons who enjoy my art work, and I made wonderful friends.
Most of the negative aspects were in conjunction with the new landlord’s miscalculations of the construction phase and other issues along the way. This situation, however, is unique to my experience and cannot be generalized.
I certainly will consider a studio complex again when the opportunity arises!
For now, however, I’m back in my home studio. I’m happy, relieved, and at the same time adjusting to different challenges. But more about these next time!
How is your experience regarding working from home versus working away from home? Can you choose? Please share as the experience does apply to lots of professions, not only artists.
I’m looking forward to your comments!