Artists open a business to help other artists | arts and entertainment
They share an office and a workspace. They finish each other’s sentences.
And they are determined to do the hard work not only to create art, but also to help other artists.
Barbara Gerdeman and Elizabeth Goodwill have known each other for years through their joint tenure as summer art camp teachers at the Art Center Sarasota. But now they’ve gone into business on their own, and they’re taking dramatic license to create something entirely new.
The business, dubbed Creative Liberties, is both a brick-and-mortar operation and an ambitious concept to be something bigger. Artists rent studios to other artists, and they provide all kinds of assistance off the canvas.
“We have this freedom to mold it,” says Goodwill. “It’s something that I don’t think I’ve ever really had as a job – total freedom of realization where I can try and make it happen. We can experiment in our artwork. Now we can experiment in our lives.
Goodwill, who works in mixed media, sculpture and fiber art, and Gerdeman do all the little things to get their business off the ground. They started in a different location, but soon found a new home in the Limelight neighborhood on Apricot Avenue.
That’s when things really took off. There are seven studio artists – in addition to Gerdeman and Goodwill – working in the Creative Liberties art space, and there are also six other featured artists.
Gerdeman says the studio has a waiting list of artists requesting workspace, and Creative Liberties has already established a large and extensive list of events. All of this, says Gerdeman, was able to grow organically.
“The kind of thing we were starting with was an opportunity for artists to put their art on our website,” says Gerdeman. “Do you need help photographing your art? Do you need help preparing for an exhibition? Do you need help contacting galleries or promoting yourself? These were our original services and tools that we offered.
They don’t just build a space to create art; they also help each other to sell their pieces to the public.
Creative Liberties is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and if an artist isn’t around, another will help out if you want to purchase their work.
There are also dedicated exhibitions and market events at the studio. Goodwill says many of their relationships formed at the Art Center Sarasota, and working there really pushed her to go out on her own. But now, as the studio prepares for the summer months, artistic partners are smitten with how much there is left for them to do.
“It’s great that summer is coming,” says Goodwill. “People were like, ‘Ugh, this is gonna get slower.’ We were like, ‘This is great, but we don’t stop.’ We will continue to do more events. We are not going to do outdoor events because it is too hot. But we will continue to organize internal events and encourage our community which is always there. And our community which is not It’s not there, that’s what it’s all about. We’re going to push the site a lot this summer.
Gerdeman, a photographer, painter and mixed media artist, ran a successful private mural business for 20 years before operating Creative Liberties. His daughter, Ashley Harter, manages Creative Liberties’ social media pages, making it a family business. But it’s still not necessarily a big money maker.
Goodwill and Gerdeman are splitting operating costs and are optimistic about the future prospects of the operation.
Every day is an art therapy session, they say, but they bet Creative Liberties can be even more.
“We’re definitely not profiting,” Gerdeman says. “It’s a labor of love at this point. The money we bring in from vendor fees for events and renting walls and things like that are things that are coming back into the business right now.
“Paying for advertising, doing all these things, updates and things we’ve done to the building. Everything that’s happened here, all the materials, has come out of our pocket. It’s quite an investment at this stage.”
It’s not just an investment in their business. It is an investment in people and in an entire community. The bazaar on Apricot & Lime is just a few doors down, and Creative Liberties has relied on the bazaar’s opening hours to encourage more visitors.
Creative Liberties is also part of the Sarasota Studio Artists Association, a group of artists who open their spaces to the public once a month. The best thing about opening their business, says Gerdeman, is the synergy with the artists and their neighbors.
“Just when we were moving in here and creating the studios, we met the chairman of the Park East neighborhood board,” Gerdeman says. “We talked to them about what we were doing and what the plan was and it was so exciting because it fit perfectly with what they wanted to see happen in the neighborhood. This neighborhood is mainly a working-class neighborhood, and they work very hard not to evict the residents but to bring that kind of element in. It’s Rosemary without the gentrification. There’s no million dollar condos or anything like that kind, but we’re bringing exciting, healthy, family-friendly things to the neighborhood and preserving homes for the people who live here.
What does Creative Liberties growth look like? Gerdeman and Goodwill say they don’t necessarily want to operate a larger studio; they want to reach more artists and they want to be able to continue to be a bridge between creators and the consumer.
They want to expand their series of events, which includes artist exhibitions, marketplaces, and opportunities to come and hang out with other creators in a creative space.
Goodwill says she and Gerdeman needed the help of their partners to physically build some of the studio’s art spaces, and so far it’s been a total team effort.
“The funny thing is, we both decided that this would be the year we would get back to our work-life balance and our art. Then we were like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s take a brick business and mortar,” she jokes. “As much as I wanted to focus on myself and my art this year, I’m also the one focusing on my mental health. And that helps me mentally and physically. I move more than before. I don’t have to work sitting anymore.
At this point, Gerdeman and Goodwill are just happy to run their business. Gerdeman says she’s been touched by the influx of clients who come to the studio and mention how upbeat and positive the space is. She couldn’t have asked for a better tribute. And she wants artists to know that she wants to help them, no matter where they come from.
“Inclusiveness is a buzzword for us,” she says. “It’s really important to us that anyone who walks through the door, whether artist or client, feels welcome and finds support here. We have artists who have exhibited their work here who have never shown their art publicly before. We welcome artists of all ages, races, creeds and career points, whether they are just starting out or have been making art for 60 years.
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