By Sandy Cyr
A healthy local ecosystem is essential to maintaining the wellbeing of a community. Community, economic and cultural development are integral in this ecosystem, and artists are anchors for all three. Historically, artists have moved into neighborhoods people generally do not want to live in, seeking studio space they can afford. At first, empty warehouses or abandoned factories become sanctuaries for creatives. Slowly, other businesses start to follow, until eventually the artists get priced out of now trendy areas and they need to move somewhere else.
The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists (CHF) works to overcome the need for artists to leave their communities by providing them the training they need to be fully functioning entrepreneurs who can sustain themselves through the sale of their work. “The way to do that is by understanding that you are running a business and that you are a magnet and you do have this incredible power,” says CHF Executive Director Elizabeth Hulings. “You can use that to be successful in creating your art and embedding in your community and being a part of a life force.”
CHF was founded in 2013 by Elizabeth and her mother Mary Hulings following the passing of her father artist Clark Hulings. Clark Hulings was a successful painter and commercial illustrator. Having grown up in an entrepreneurial family, Clark did not experience the stigma that a lot of other artists have about the business side of their practice. A business strategist by trade, Elizabeth Hulings works on the hinges: startups, transition, turn around growth. That moment when something needs to shift. In founding CHF, Elizabeth saw this need within the creative class to equip professional artists with the business skills they need to be sustainable.
The idea of a visual artist as a business person is not a new idea. Artists have been entrepreneurs for centuries. This entrepreneurial arm of their work has always been there. “Artists are taught from the minute they declare they want to be an artist pretty much, historically they have been taught that they shouldn’t be in business, they can’t be in business,” according to Elizabeth Hulings. “If they come out of the studio and balance the check book, the muse will disappear and they will never be able to create anything again. That’s what the Fund tries to overcome. We train them to be fully functioning entrepreneurs who can sustain themselves through the sale of their work.”
Direct training through CHF addresses nine practice areas that cover every functional area of a business. Adults learn often by interacting with other adults, and sharing the expertise and knowledge they already have, so CHF marries those hallmarks of adult education together to deliver a variety of content in all nine of those areas. This training can be direct, in groups, or at conferences. CHF offers a digital campus, as well as a targeted accelerator program.
Through The Artist Federation, CHF facilitates the creation of peer networks. Often times, artists are working alone in their studios. The Artist Federation facilitates the creation of artist peer networks, to have that connection to one another and learn from each other. The Thriving Art Exchange extends that connection to the larger community. This includes all the stakeholders – local government, other nonprofit, other arts organizations, gallerists, collectors, and economic development people and merchants. “You have got to get everybody involved to say, ‘how do we create an ecosystem that is innovative and going to move us forward,’” according to Hulings, “and artists are a natural part of that. They don’t work in a vacuum, so we extend beyond just training the artists directly.”
Independent visual artists are small business owners. Artists are at the core of the community ecosystem. Without artists in these neighborhoods, these ecosystems will falter. The work of The Clark Hulings Fund is giving these artists that anchor to remain in their communities, to create these ecosystems, to become magnets of economic development and to remain in place.
Elizabeth Hulings is the Executive Director and Accelerator Director & Facilitator at The Clark Hulings Fund. Elizabeth is the founder and a principal of the business-strategy consulting firm Counterpoise, where she has worked with startups to build their resources and infrastructure; helped long-established nonprofits expand their programs; guided corporations that were struggling with growing pains and outdated systems; and collaborated with sole proprietors, who must wear both business and creative hats simultaneously.
Before launching Counterpoise in 2001, Elizabeth worked on (and lived through) five Fortune-500 mergers at the predecessors of Citigroup, Cendant, and Verizon Communications. She also honed her skills at several nonprofit organizations including the International Development Exchange, The Management Center/Opportunity Knocks, and Human Rights Watch. Born in New York and raised in New Mexico, Elizabeth speaks Spanish and French. She holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Stanford University, a B.A. in International Relations and History from Tufts University, and the Alliançe Française