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Aletta de Wal
Artist Advisor & Art Marketing Strategist







Fabienne Bismuth
3-D Artist






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2-D Artist





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Aletta de Wal
Fabienne Bismuth
Huguette May

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ArtSpan Builds Community for Artists & Collectors in San Francisco

© 2012 ArtSpan staff Cristina Ibarra and Volunteer Malina Arevalo

Cristina Ibarra joined ArtSpan in 2010. She manages ArtSpan's Art for City Youth program, in addition to curating the Professional Development Workshop series, the artist networking Flash Friday mixers, and collector outreach events. In recent years, both domestically and abroad, she has dealt extensively with artists, media makers, and educators in non-profits, such as the San Francisco-based Independent Arts & Media, ActiveVoice, and the Red Poppy Art House. Cristina is an organizer and curator for the Mission Arts Performance Project, and in 2011 she was an artist-in-residence at the art space EDELO in Chiapas, Mexico. Her arts involvement includes dancing tango and singing with The 3 Soulbirds. Cristina holds a BA in Humanities and Arts with an emphasis in Film and Media Studies and Studio Art from the University of California at Irvine.


The 3 Soulbirds. Cristina Ibarra far right.

A.C.T.: What prompted you to start your professional career in the arts?

I grew up surrounded by the arts and from a very early age recognized the importance of the arts both in personal wellness and in society.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2009, I was immediately drawn to the vibrant, close-knit community of creative people in the Bay Area and sought out ways to get involved. I knew that this was the perfect place to put my passion for the arts to good work.

A.C.T.: What makes an arts professional?

I believe that a successful artist professional is someone who has both the creative background to try new things, and the organization and dedication to see those ideas through.

A.C.T.: We first met in person when I delivered two art business workshops for San Francisco area artists. How did your involvement with ArtSpan begin? What insights did you get through that experience about artists and the business side of art?

My involvement with ArtSpan started as a perfect discovery story. I had just moved to San Francisco and by chance picked up an SF Open Studios Guide at a coffee shop. I couldn't believe there were so many artists in the neighborhood and that there was a way to visit them all in such an organized way. I followed the maps, visited artist studios, and was immediately hooked. I started volunteering with ArtSpan and later was offered a staff position, focusing on education and community programs.

Through this work, I began to get a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by artists trying to market and sell their work. Many artists have not been trained in the small-business skills needed to expose their work to the public, or struggle to find time to create amidst overwhelming pressures to promote. In response to the needs of our community, ArtSpan expanded our professional workshop program from three to ten sessions, offering different topics each month, like promotion, marketing, organization, copyright issues.

A.C.T.:  What is the mission of ArtSpan? Please tell us about the journey from founding until now.

ArtSpan mission is to connect the public to visual artists in San Francisco and to create a platform for these artists to thrive. While this mission might sound broad, it really encompasses how broad and diverse the visual arts community is in San Francisco.

ArtSpan started as a grass roots, volunteer-run group of artists that wanted to organize themselves to engage directly with the public. This gave birth to the first SF Open Studios event in 1975, an exciting neighborhood crawl that included demos, live music, events, and an inside look into artist studios, completely accessible to the general public. Thirty-seven years later SF Open Studios has expanded from 100 to include almost 1000 artists in San Francisco, spanning virtually every SF neighborhood over four full weekends, still and always direct to the public, accessible to all. SF Open Studios is the oldest and largest in the country.

With such a large and diverse community, ArtSpan has evolved and expanded to serve the needs of our artists year-round through the Make Your Art Your Business workshop series, Flash Friday networking mixers, and exhibition opportunities, and our public community through special events, participation in SF Art Fairs, youth education programs, and collectors events. It's big commitment to a big community, and it's worth it because of the unique value visual artists offer San Francisco.

A.C.T.: Tell us about the ArtSpan team - full time and volunteers. How are they selected and what roles do they each play?

Really, without the support of incredible long term volunteers on all levels, from artists to local and international interns, friends to Board members, and committees, the work we do would not be possible.

I am part of a small but powerful team.

  • Heather Villyard, our Executive Director, oversees all business and operations aspects of the organization, and is a powerful force behind ArtSpan's forward-looking vision.

Heather Villyard with volunteers Susan and Mary Molly Mullany ArtSpan Volunteer Appreciation Party 1/11/13 Photo credit: Cristina Ibarra

  • Lindsay Barrick, Associate Director of Communications and Operations, is a communications powerhouse, overseeing all online, print, and social media communications, strengthening our office systems and management, and with her extensive experience and history is really the glue that holds us together. Lindsay Barrick visiting studios on 3rd Street with the Guide!

  • We also work with a variety of wonderful contractors on specialized projects.


A.C.T.: Tell me more about the work you do in educating artists.

Artists are smart, passionate, and good at problem-solving, but many of them lack the basic training to manage a business, develop a career or promote and sell their work. The "Make Your Art Your Business" workshop series, in which you are involved, was expanded to provide more opportunities for artists to learn those basic business skills, in ways that they could easily apply to their own practice.

We cover a wide range of topics from "street" marketing to computer based tools for non-techy artists.  

ArtSpan Open Studios V.I.P. Preview © Aletta de Wal, Artist Career Training

A.C.T.: How do artists benefit from ArtSpan services, space and resources?

Although ArtSpan is most well-known for SF Open Studios, we are a year-round organization for our artists - new to the area and new to being a professional artist.

We produce workshops, print and online resources for artists, post artist events and announcements, provide networking and exhibition opportunities, and offer a lot of personal support to help get artists connected.

Art for City Youth at Bessie Carmichael Elementary Kindergarten and First Grade classes 11/8/2012 Photo Credit: Cristina Ibarra
We also have an Art for Youth program in which we have worked with our neighborhood school for over a decade. We provide the only art education for children at that school, at no cost to the school or the parents, for about $75 per year per student. Arts education is a great need even in a vibrant artistic city like San Francisco. This program demonstrates the power of individual contribution where a donation helps raise the next generation of artist and art appreciators. We are proud to be a link in the chain that allows support of the arts to survive.

A.C.T.: Does the artist's career stage matter for them to benefit? What kinds of issues do they seem to wrestle with most?

Any artist can benefit from becoming an ArtSpan member. It's a really beautiful thing about our organization, and the reason why we are so diverse. ArtSpan is open to any artist at any stage in their career, as long as they live or work in San Francisco.

Because of our diversity we see a lot of different challenges that artists face, especially when it comes to social media and online promotion. While we work with many media savvy artists, we also encounter those that are stuck in the "slide generation" and have difficulty adapting to the ever-changing modes for self-promotion. We help artists learn how to get the word out and make that a meaningful experience, both artistically and economically.

A.C.T.: What is the ArtSpan business model?

ArtSpan operates mostly on revenue generated from grants, individual donations, and membership fees.

We have an exciting Benefactor Membership program that launched in 2011. As grants become less available, we continue to explore new individual and business relationship development strategies.

A.C.T.: Please describe a typical day, and a typical month so readers can understand how you manage your time, money and energy.

My typical day involves a lot of emails and correspondence with artists and event partners. I try to tackle my e-mail inbox in the morning, take a nice breather outside of the office before lunch, and work on longer-term projects in the afternoon.

We hold several committee meetings and small events each month and it's great to inject the work flow with contributions from our community. When we have big events (several times during the year, and especially leading up to SF Open Studios in October), it's a definite shift of pace, including all the excitement and preparation that comes with planning and attending events.

Good organization and a good sense of humor are essential to getting through the busy times.


A.C.T.: What peak moments have you had during your tenure with ArtSpan?

Family Art Day at the Shipyard November 3, 2012 Photo credit: Cristina Ibarra
Most recently, as part of our Youth Program, we co-presented the first ever Family Art Day at Hunter's Point Shipyard, a community building event that brought together artists, businesses, neighborhood organizations, and kids from elementary schools in Bayview for a full day of art-making and activities.

It was the first time that many of these kids had visited an artist studio, and the excitement and participation was through the roof. Definitely a high point for me.

A.C.T.: How do you each define success and how do you celebrate it?

Success to me is when someone new wants to get involved or to know more. That means you've done something that has inspired someone, and that ripple effect is more valuable than anything on a checklist.

My personal favorite part of event or project wrap-up is the photos. Documenting success, especially in photos and videos that can be shared with others, is such a great way to look back and feel the excitement of what we've accomplished.

A.C.T.: What obstacles has ArtSpan encountered and how have you handled them?

ArtSpan Editorial Staff Photo credit: Jeremy Joven
Being a small staff we often struggle with having big dreams and doing a lot of projects with few resources. We rise to the challenge by staying organized and relying on the wonderful support of our artists and volunteers. We joke about cloning ourselves all the time!

A.C.T.: What opportunities has a professional approach to your career brought you that you might otherwise not have had?

A professional approach to a career in the arts has allowed me to work closely and build relationships with many collectors, business people, artists and art professionals who I might otherwise not have known.
It's been especially inspiring to see so many artists and art professionals volunteer their time to give back to the community.

A.C.T.: Who are your role models and mentors? What was the best advice they gave you?

The two best points of advice I have received regarding a career in arts administration are "Take risks, with purpose" and "Trust your instincts." I try to remember those points whenever I am feeling unsure or overwhelmed.

A.C.T.: What is the ArtSpan marketing strategy? What promotional materials and actions do you use most often?

We market our events using online platforms, social media, and traditional print media in postcards, mailers, and the SF Open Studios Guide.
The Guide is an incredibly rich resource to which we devote a lot of energy. It serves as a Guide to SF Open Studios, the event, but can also be used as a year-round directory of SF artists.
In coming years we're excited to continue our transition into more online and mobile marketing strategies, and attract new audiences who use tablets and mobile devices.

A.C.T.: How does ArtSpan use social media and how have sites like Twitter, Face Book and Linked In changed art marketing?

We have a very active presence on Facebook and Twitter. Lindsay manages most posts and is really committed to engaging interactions and commenters, posting timely and relevant material, whether it be an event, interesting link, or artist-of-the-day spotlight.

During SF Open Studios last year, the whole staff used Facebook and Twitter to post artists in their studios in real-time as we were visiting them, resulting in a ton of activity and new likes.

Social sites have definitely changed the game in terms of art marketing and promotion, and we try to offer resources, workshops, best practices, and suggestions to artists so that we can support them through our own channels.

A.C.T.: What changes have you experienced in the art market and how have you navigated them? What lessons have you learned?

Sales are really a huge concern to our community of artists and many have felt a decline as the economy continues to struggle.
A big topic of discussion is whether more open studios events and smaller art events are saturating the open studios market and tiring collectors.
Another big trend on our minds is the migration of artists from individual studios to large group sites, and the lack of affordable workspace. There have been shifts in how studios are clustered and that changes how artists market.

At the same time we recognize a huge rise in the influence of "makers," "wearable art," and "functional designers" who are blurring the lines between fine art and craft.
As an organization with a diverse community, we have to be in tune to all of these changes, and recognize that there is no one best strategy for any artist.

A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to artists who want to succeed in any economy?

Don't forget to give back to your community even if you are having a hard time yourself. It's the best way to build lasting relationships.
One of the artists in our community was struggling with how to find a way to sell his art and make a living. He developed an interesting project called The Gift Prolific. He gave a gift almost every day and made a painting based on that gift experience. It was literal gift giving and after a year he had 333 paintings that he gave away as the final gift. He has built over 340 relationships and made sales of high quality art inspired by these experiences. This has allowed him to have art be his sole source of income.


A.C.T.: How you feel artists can benefit from the types of programs, services and products we offer at Artist Career Training and The Art Business Library?

ArtSpan was blown away by the two workshops you offered last year in terms of the breadth of knowledge and resources and we are looking forward to more in the fall.

Artist Career Training offers incredible resources for artists to learn business strategies and marketing skills. The Art Business Library is especially great because the short, blog-format articles contain a wealth of information in an easy-to-read chunk and there are lots of DYI books, e-books and recordings.

Like all of Aletta's offerings, both sites provide resources that are straight-forward, well-informed, ACTION-oriented strategies. I've seen artists in her seminars literally making to-do lists as she speaks, immediately motivated to take action.

Aletta de Wal delivers "Art Business Basics" to ArtSpan artists© 2012 Artist Career Training