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Chris Bates is an artist and muralist who has created art that you’ve surely seen, walked past, and admired in and around Fort Collins. His business, Mighty Fine Art, produces a wide array of work and Chris has some great insights on how to make your work valuable.
Let’s get to know Chris!
My name is Chris Bates and I am a local visual artist out of Fort Collins, primarily working in murals and also commission drawings, live painting with musicians, and work at a couple of galleries.
Is the business of painting a mural more difficult than getting a commission?
They’re similar. The business side that makes murals a tad easier is they market themselves. They’re out in the public eye and it’s easier for people to access the work and find you. The major part of my career is doing that.
Is it normally a city official or business owner that you’re working with in order to do that?
Everybody and anybody. City folks, building owners, business owners, developers, teachers, principals, school districts, individuals, you name it. I’ve worked with the whole gamut.
What’s been the best project that you’ve worked on so far?
They had hired me to paint a lot of their electric meters, water meters, storm drains, telephone boxes, entryways. I did some chalk art for them and then they also commissioned me to do a large scale mural on an intersection of a couple of alleys. It was a really intensive project that took the whole summer.
I was able to do what I feel like my best work to date.
How do you go about tackling a project like that? There’s a huge scope when it comes to figuring out something like a utility box versus an entire canvas of a building wall.
The way I operate, I like to make site-specific work so it was fun.
The challenge of trying to find something for a storm drain and then trying to find something for this 10-foot by 20-foot box. Then trying to find some for the building wall and then trying to work on gas meters.
The client was patient and we had the time to spend all summer coming up with designs for each specific site. We took it one project at a time and just checked them off. It was a lot of fun to be able to take on these challenges to work on different surfaces and different shapes.
Besides your work, who is doing the coolest work in Northern Colorado? Whose art do you look forward to seeing the most?
There are so many great people. Lindee Zimmer is doing a lot of great work. I’ve got a friend I went to college with down in Denver, Jeremy Burns, who’s making these really cool large murals on the side of corrugated steel buildings that can be seen from different angles.
There’s just so much. The whole public art realm is just exploding right now. There’s just so many people from graffiti artists to people that are rolling out really abstract works. I get on the internet and I just am amazed by the level of work that’s out there and the number of things that are getting accomplished.
I’m trying to spend the next three years focusing on what I’m trying to do. I tend to like keep my hands in a lot of different pots and try to work as many angles as I can. I’m t
We talk a lot about business planning during startup week in particular, but to hear an artist talk about their three-year plan is interesting. A lot of your work comes through commissions or through other folks asking you to do certain things, right? How do you plan for that uncertainty?
It’s just a balance of making things happen and letting things happen. I haven’t typically been a huge goal setter. I’ve gone through the process of formulating business plans and mission statements and all these things in the past, but all kind of loosely based and even my three-year goals aren’t … There’s not a huge plan set in place for them. They’re just places that I would like to see myself get to and I’m just going through the process of figuring out the roads I need to take to get to that spot.
What are you looking forward to most in startup week?
It’s always a great thing. There are tons of really smart, cool people that are out in the community. I look forward to, even in down times, just talking to people that are out. Some of the best conversations I’ve had surrounding art and business and moving things forward in the community have come just having a sandwich or some snacks with someone in between talks.
What do you see is the biggest challenge in Northern Colorado in terms of the creative community.
Probably the cost of living. It makes it more difficult for creatives to find work that will sustain their careers in a way that allows them to meet their full potential as artists or whatever genre of creativity that they’re trying to pursue and not have to hold down multiple jobs at the same time as pursuing their dreams or their creative careers.
People have to make some pretty hard choices and are putting things on back burners or maybe just giving their creative ventures half time or a third of the amount of time that they could be, if they could figure out a way to make their art financially sustainable.
What do you think is the easiest path to make that happen?
There’s no one way. It is finding what success means for you and then pursuing that version of that success and staying flexible and opportunistic in that pursuit and just not giving up and just keeping at it until you get to where you need to go. It looks different for every single person. I don’t think there’s really one way to do it.
A lot of the issues that we face in startups from art to tech and everything in between are so complex. It’s really good to have that startup community behind you to talk to different minds in different studies and in different areas.
I like to partner with anyone that wants to partner with me. I really did like the whole experience last year partnering with Brinkmann. I had never partnered with a developer on a redevelopment project and they were really easy to work with and supportive. I worked with Toolbox Creative and Art Lab for multiple years.
It’s just finding those people that like what you do and that want to build with you. Everyone’s got their own taste and their own opinions and their own ways that they handle their business or their fun. Find those people that you’re jealous of and try to make things happen with them.
How can we find out more about you and your work?
I put newer things up on Instagram under
Jeanne Shoaff is a former gallery curator and current arts and creative coach passionate about getting artists to think critically about their art as a business.
Let’s get to know Jeanne!
My name is Jeanne Shoaff. I am an independent consultant for artists.
You must deal with a lot of artists directly day to day.
I have spent almost 20 years as a curator and gallery director. I have had a lot of interaction in that time with artists in all different aspects of their careers, specifically toward getting them to exhibit in the various galleries that I worked in. I have a great network of artists whom I know personally and professionally.
What have you heard is
I would say the biggest challenge is probably the art market that exists here. It’s, I’d say, really challenging to sell your art here as compared with obviously some of the larger cities across the country. And a lot of artists are looking for ways to extend their market outside of the Fort Collins region or outside of the Northern Colorado region.
Another challenging aspect is finding studio space that’s affordable for artists. Many artists do work out of their homes but a lot of other artists would love to have a space either working in community with other artists or even by themselves. But real estate is just so expensive here. The rental rates are very high, so it’s difficult to find a good place to make it work and also just working community with other artists in an affordable way.
It definitely necessitates a coach to sort of guide new artists through the Northern Colorado art scene.
I would say that that is true. I think what artists can benefit most by having somebody else kind of take a look at their career is … First of all, artists have to determine for themselves what are their career goals. Do they want to sell art in a retail or a gallery type setting? Do they want to look at more online options? How are they going to be using social media and really what is their goal? Some artists prefer to do a public art and there’s a whole different kind of direction that you would go than if you’re interested in getting your work into a more traditional gallery setting.
Or if you want to just sell independently and look at some online or even wholesale options, that becomes another pathway towards success for artists. Really, it’s a matter of artists setting their own goals and determining what’s going to work best for them for their personality, for their particular type of artwork and then figuring out, okay, now that I have this big goal, what are those action steps that I can take to get there?
If you could tell a Northern Colorado creative one thing, what would it be?
I would say be realistic. Use your strengths and find others to help you in the areas that are not your strengths. For instance in the whole business realm, a lot of artists need help with even basic things like accounting, to be able to figure out where the efficiencies in their business. And where is their money going, and how much is their art worth? How much do they really want to make? How much should they be charging? Where is the market that’s going to support that price point? And I guess that’s not one thing, but use your own strengths and find someone else that help you with the other things that you’re not as strong or don’t want to be spending your time doing.
Oh, my goodness. There’s a lot going on. I would say Center for Fine Art Photography has met some challenges in some very interesting ways. They have recently given up their brick-and-mortar office/gallery space and they are moving into kind of a more mobile aspect of their business. And I think that, again, that reflects the affordability or not affordability of Fort Collins and they are working with lots of other kinds of organizations to present their artists and figuring out ways to do that better out of the norm.
I’d say any artist who is kind of going in their own direction and creating their own pathway. I’d say Chris Bates is one person who’s going to be a co-presenter with me. And he is beginning to work directly with developers to figure out how to incorporate art right at the beginning of these developments that happen.
There are, I think, a lot of people who are out there kind of figuring out how to make it work. Things are changing rapidly in the artist world. And if you can be nimble and creative in a way that you approach how you’re going to be going, then that’s going to be helpful to you.
You mentioned your panel at Fort Collins Startup Week & Artup Week. What’s got you most excited about the whole week?
I attended that week last year just as an individual. I’m not associated with anything. I did do a couple of panels but there is just so much to offer to artists and creatives specifically. I love the fact that it is really targeted toward people with creative businesses because artists are a different breed. They need different kinds of services. They need to think about things in different ways than your typical business person.
And to offer all the different kinds of resources and advice and the networking between other people who are approaching ideas in different ways, it’s just fantastic. I don’t know that there’s any one thing about it other than the fact that it exists, that it really does look to help the artists and the creative entrepreneurs in our community.
Tell us a little bit about your panel.
The panel is going to be specifically on helping artists develop goals and then using those goals to determine what the next steps in their career will be.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Probably the best place at this point is to look me up on LinkedIn. And you can contact me directly at Jeanne [email protected]
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more knowledgable about music in Fort Collins than Julie Sutter. An avid concert-goer, Julie’s experience with several music-based startups makes it no surprise that she’s the Community Manager at The Music District.
Julie’s main squeeze at Techstars Startup Week and ARTup Week Fort Collins is The Music District’s free Sonic Social on Saturday, March 2nd.
Julie, tell us about yourself!
I am Julie Sutter. I am the Community Manager at The Music District. I’m also the content captain for the music track for ARTup week sessions, which are a part of Techstars Startup Week Fort Collins.
What are you most excited about in terms of the music sessions you’ve seen so far?
This year we are combining The Music District’s Sonic Social, which is kind of an immersive open-house, with ARTup week. So on Saturday, March 2nd, we’re going to have this big celebration at the end of ARTup week that invites the public to plug in, turn up, and geek out.
It’s a themed event that incorporates science fiction, fantasy, video games, and it has music at its core and it’s going to be super fun.
There will be two sessions that are related to music production and sound engineering and tech as well.
We’re going to see some geeky bands in Northern Colorado come out and play?
That is the hope. We are working on booking some live performances for Sonic Social as we speak. We’re working really hard to make sure that we are inclusive, which is one of the key values that we’re exploring via
Do you see access and inclusion as big challenges in the Northern Colorado music community?
We always have work to do around that. It’s important that we are mindful about it. Music is by its nature, inclusive. It’s one of our shared languages that you don’t have to work very hard to understand each other through. It’s good to be very intentional about access and inclusion and make sure that you are exploring the opportunities you have to invite more people in.
If access and inclusion aren’t the biggest issues, what are the biggest challenges for the Northern Colorado music community?
We have challenges surrounding abundance and making sure that we’re getting through, and I’m really not trying to make a pun here, all the noise. That’s a challenge for anybody producing any sort of event or wanting people to explore the art that they’re sharing. There’s a lot of competing interest and we are especially blessed in Northern Colorado with lots of choices of fun things to do. There are some challenges around just making sure that people know what you’ve got going on.
Musicians and artists also have different approaches to learning about technology, and we’ve got a session on how to leverage technology to advance your career that’s geared towards musicians and presented by the Fort Collins Musicians Association.
Who’s doing the coolest things in Northern Colorado?
I am a big fan of the Downtown Artery. They are one of our most creative venues and do such a wonderful job of combining artists and music. They are always doing something that pushes boundaries.
The Lyric Cinema is also amazing. They have so much going on in terms of movies, but they also have music outside on their patio, and they’ve designed some pretty interesting art installations within the cinema itself.
If you could tell a Northern Colorado creative one thing what would it be?
Don’t forget that if you are exploring this as an
One of the challenges that
Have you seen any good examples of a business integrating with art and music?
They do such a good job of inviting in so many different people in the community. I know that maybe they don’t look at themselves as a business but they serve lots of businesses. Whether it’s through helping people learn how to navigate the nonprofit world or just by having a business librarian. They also manage on top of all that to bring in some really good elements of thinking about weird stuff, and I love that about the Library. And it’s for everybody.
I admire what they do and I continue to learn about things that they do that are really cutting edge, more than people would think. When you think, sometimes, about the Library you think about a place for books, but it’s a community-connected place with lots of things other than books.
Where can we find out more about you and the work of the Music District?
TheMusicDistrict.org – we have
About The Author
Julie Sutter is the Community Manager for The Music District and a content captain for ARTup Week’s music track.