A Minnesota artist sees some signs of better times

The arts get hit pretty hard in a recession. Spending for theater tickets, paintings and jewelry are easily sacrificed when people are just trying to pay bills.

So Robert Briscoe caught us a little by surprise when he wrote recently to say the economic picture was improving for him and some artists he knows.

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Briscoe, 62 is a potter in Harris and a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network. “For me, 2009 was a better than average year and I expect 2010 to be quite good for me and many of my artist associates,” he wrote us.

I don’t think I have a lot of clarity about the economy, just many anecdotal occurrences and talks with friends. Example: an event I was an exhibitor in Philadelphia last November ( which was fairly good in spite of the news) was 33% better this year.

Galleries that represent my work have been sending regular monthly checks

from sales for the last 6 months. This trend is growing and my galleries

are calling wanting more work as soon as possible.

Other artists I talk to are experiencing growing sales and a new level of optimism, from responses at their studio events as well as at their galleries. It is not universal by any means but it is real and expanding.

Friends who are jewelers, painters, glass artists, woodworkers and photographers are seeing improving conditions. Not fabulous yet but encouraging. Even some younger artists I regularly speak with are excited about the near and longer terms in their careers. I think the creative/handmade aspects of the economic landscape is

about to be very strong.

The last time we checked in with artists in our Network, it was April and things were not looking great. A painter had told us, “people are being very careful with their money…. people are still spending money but each purchase is smaller.”

In the theater, “there is work out there but everyone is doing their best to hold on” with smaller paychecks for the same amount of work, a St. Paul playwright and director told us then.

I’m checking in with those folks and will post any updates they send.

Briscoe says prices for his work range from $20 to $600 with the average somewhere close to $75. Despite his brighter outlook, he acknowledges things are not perfect.

“I do know some artists who were able to support themselves with their work

two years ago who, in all probability, will not recover.”

But he says he’s exploring new tools, marketing and aesthetic directions and encouraging others to do the same. “I ask friends not to succumb to the flurry of bad news.”

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