Artists on the edge learn how to market themselves

by Jordan Green

The meeting of Artifacts Collective was hitting mid-stride in the sun-bathed conference room of the Interactive Resource Center when David Mayo walked in with buds dangling from his ears and took a seat at the long table.

He wore a red T-shirt that said, “I brought the awesome. What did you bring?” Mayo pulled out a blank sheet of paper and started sketching a star with a Sharpie, listening and periodically commenting as the collective members discussed an upcoming showcase of members’ work at the Fun Fourth Festival in downtown Greensboro, a workshop scheduled for Tuesday and the importance of self-promotion through artist statements and other means.

Comprised in almost equal parts of people experiencing various stages of homelessness and individuals volunteering their talents to help them attain self-sufficiency, the collective meets every Friday at 1 p.m. at the Interactive Resource Center, a bustling day center.

Matt Goldberg, a psychology major at Elon University who acts as volunteer manager for the collective, was printing out agendas, when Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, director of fund development and marketing, popped in.

“Did you know Ricky got a place?” she asked. “Yeah,” Goldberg said. “I’m super-stoked,” Frisbie-Fulton enthused. The collective was established in 2011 by UNCG professor Channelle James’ social-entrepreneurship class.

One of the artists with whom they developed a close partnership was Don Ames, whose finely crafted woodwork, including clocks and ornate boxes, has come into high demand after being showcased at the Interactive Resource Center, and featured in YES! Weekly, O. Henry magazine and the News & Record.

“People come to a sale and say, ‘We’re helping these people,’” James said. “And then they see the quality and they say, ‘Oh, okay.’ We try to give the artists the profits the day of the sale. They need it. They’re good about reinvesting in their art.”

Roger Roberson, a candlemaker and Atlanta native who learned about the Interactive Resource Center from a man he met at the public library while staying at the Greensboro Inn, concurred.

“I had to get wax and wicks and dye,” he said. James reported, “We set up an Indiegogo account — it’s crowdsourced funding — to get Don an industrial-strength saw.”

“Seventy percent of my time is spent repairing machines,” Ames added. “It’s not charity,” James said. “The person who donates gets an item in return.”

They spent much of the second half of the meeting discussing artist statements.

“Where’s your artist statement, Don?” Goldberg asked. “It’s back at the shop,” Ames said. “I have to tweak it.” “That’s what you always say,” Goldberg said with a mixture of humor and exasperation.

“It doesn’t necessarily portray the message about me I want it to,” Ames explained.

Carolyn Owen, vying for awesome with a T-shirt exhorting “Get excited and make things,” issued a dry challenge.

“I could it write it for you and say all the things you don’t want them to know about you,” she said.

She gently prodded him. “When I see you at your table with someone who’s looking at your work, you’re always telling some life story,” Owen said. “That’s an artist statement.”

Ames has been attempting to juggle the vying demands on his time that come with managing a business while producing a craft — in addition to fielding cell-phone calls from a persistent friend.

“While I’m cutting this wood out, people are knocking on the door,” Ames said. “I can’t stop. It’s like someone with a paintbrush. You can’t just stop in the middle of the stroke.”