Santa Fe Community College Creates Student-run Red Dot Gallery | - September 26, 2011

"...entrepreneurial college programs can help change the stereotype of the ‘starving artist’..."

I have a daughter in her first year of law school and another daughter in her first year of an MFA program. Yes, you know what I am thinking. One daughter will likely have a successful career practicing law, but the other one may struggle as an artist and entrepreneur in the creative workforce.

Students who anticipate working in the legal field have multiple options to gain experience, including interning with a law firm or through pro-bono work. At my daughter’s law school, there are numerous ways students can put their learning into practice such as helping with a free tax clinic or providing support to victims of domestic violence or through internships at the Office of the District Attorney or with the Public Defender. These opportunities for law students occur while they are still in college. What are the opportunities for art and design students before they leave college?

As the dean of Arts and Design at Santa Fe Community College, it is my firm conviction that entrepreneurial students need career opportunities before they leave college, too. Students must be exposed to student-run initiatives, internships, study abroad programs and workforce training. This article is about how to create a student-run business.

While doing a Google search recently, I ran across this description: “so you want to be an artist… is this a realistic career choice, or are you going to live in a cockroach-infested flat for the rest of your life, fulfilling the ‘starving artist’ stereotype? In short, the odds of being a successful fine artist (someone who makes a living by creating original, one-off pieces of art) are against you -- but some people do succeed.” ( I am still shaken from this description. I do not want my daughter to live in a cockroach-infested flat for the rest of her life and I do not want Santa Fe Community College students to be starving artists. What to do…?

Santa Fe has many strengths as an arts community. It is the second largest art market in the country. The diversity of work shown in the galleries includes nearly every type of American art. Santa Fe hosts annual world-renowned art markets, such as SOFA (Sculptural Objects & Functional Art), the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market and the Santa Fe Indian Market. SFCC offers programs in architecture, book arts, ceramics, drawing, fashion, fine woodworking, interior design, jewelry, painting, photography, printmaking, performance arts and sculpture. All these students should have the opportunity for internships. People come to Santa Fe to buy art, and they would buy student art if there were a gallery on Canyon Road. Now, with the founding of the Red Dot Gallery there is!

Santa Fe gallery owner and businesswoman Sandy Zane, of Zane Bennett Contemporary Gallery, worked with Santa Fe Community College to develop a comprehensive training program to teach students the entire gallery business. The Red Dot Gallery is a result of this invaluable partnership. The gallery features the work of emerging artists, students, faculty and alumni from Santa Fe Community College.

Along with sharing her passion for helping students, Zane donated the gallery space, a beautiful old adobe building strategically located on Santa Fe’s famous Canyon Road. The gallery’s space serves as a hands-on learning environment incorporating gallery management, business and marketing. Through internships and practicums, students assume leading roles in gallery operations, sales, web design and marketing. It’s a cross-campus collaboration with students from multiple disciplines including arts, business, media arts and culinary programs. Students chose the name, helped design the logo and are developing a website that will accommodate online training and shopping, the sales from which are expected to support the Red Dot Gallery.

Millikin University’s Center for Entrepreneurship helped Santa Fe Community College get our new enterprise started. Their symposium in spring 2010 entitled “Entrepreneurship Across the Campus, an exploration of entrepreneurship pedagogy,” set the stage for our venture Often, I heard the words of William “B.J.” Warren, manager of the Blue Connection and lecturer in Arts and Entrepreneurship at Millikin University, say, “if it is a true student run initiative, then you need to let the students do the work – have the successes, but also experience the failures.” Entrepreneurships require mentorships. Millikin University is our mentor.

“This is a priceless opportunity for the students to gain real-life entrepreneurial experience before they get out into the real world.” said SFCC’s Kathy Eagan, Red Dot Gallery Project Coordinator and Director of Art & Design Internships. Eagan managed the student interns as they planned and coordinated the first Red Dot Gallery opening in July.

The group established an advisory board, which worked with the New Mexico Small Business Development Center to write a business plan. Students were a part of the process and different populations on campus were involved and engaged to make the student-run business a campus-wide project, earning buy-in from everyone. Photography students documented the preparation of the gallery for the first show. Media Arts students helped develop the logo, business cards, ads, Facebook page and signs. On opening night, SFCC’s Culinary Arts students prepared and served hors d’oeuvres.

Since the launch, not only has art sold, but several artists were picked up by other galleries.

All SFCC students – not just arts and design students – are welcome to submit their work through a jury process to be accepted into the gallery. Submissions details are listed on the Red Dot Gallery website. Submissions are also accepted from faculty and alumni.

The Red Dot Gallery is not just a learning laboratory; it’s an extension of the classroom. Training sessionsin collaboration with the Small Business Development Corporation cover such topics as “Pricing Your Art Work” and “Business Practices.” Extension courses and symposiums will be offered at the Red Dot Gallery, part of SFCC’s mission in serving our community.

SFCC student Sam Atakra is an example of the early success of the gallery initiative: “The Red Dot Gallery has helped me progress as an artist. I was involved in the internship program over the summer. I got a lot of new and invaluable knowledge on all of the various aspects of starting up a gallery,” he said. “From buying supplies to gallery marketing, I’ve learned all sorts of things about gallery management that I would not have known otherwise.”

The experience has continued to be productive for Sam: an art representative in San Francisco who wants to present his portfolio to various clients in the entertainment industry has approached him; a buyer from the Museum of Native Arts and Culture is interested in acquiring a print for their permanent collection; and Skotia Gallery in Culver City, California has invited Sam to exhibit in their Los Angeles location.

Student-run businesses provide a platform for students to make professional connections and earn money from commission sales while they are still in college. Certainly, students want to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world, and after interning at the Red Dot Gallery, they have experience to bring into the job market. Because of these outcomes, I have seen a renewed optimism in students. I believe strongly that entrepreneurial college programs can help change the stereotype of the ‘starving artist’, and I look forward to reporting on our continued work.