Charley Shipley has wanted to be an artist since he was 14, when he made his first oil painting. It was of a herd of wild burros he saw when traveling with his father in their pickup truck near Wikieup, Arizona.
Four decades later, Shipley is working three jobs in Helena to make his dream of being an artist come true.
The biggest boost in launching his art career has been MAP (the Montana Artrepreneur Program), offered by the Montana Arts Council.
Shipley and 61 other MAP artists will be showing their work at Celebrate Montana Art -- Artists’ Showcase and Sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel.
There you will meet MAP artists and their work, including paintings, sculptures, fiber and glass art, jewelry and photography.
For Shipley and East Helena quilter Maureen Foster, MAP has been like a college business class in how to market their art.
It’s a course that even Montana’s most famous artist Charlie Russell could have used.
If his wife, Nancy, hadn’t taken charge of marketing Russell’s paintings, who knows what would have happened to his career.
Focus is what artists pick as one of the most important things they learn in the program.
“I try to stay pretty focused and pretty committed,” said Shipley, who is a landscape and wildlife painter. The day he was being interviewed he was at work painting, but also manning Mountain Sage Gallery on Last Chance Gulch, which is one of the jobs he juggles.
Although Shipley’s been a business owner previously, he never made his own art the focus of his business. That is until he started MAP in 2011.
“The course covers branding and knowing yourself and your art, doing shows, doing a booth, how to do a business plan and how to approach a gallery,” he said. “It forces you to keep records and set time aside each day for art.”
It also gave him the opportunity to work with a mentor -- a successful Montana landscape artist.
“I don’t know of any other state that has this,” he added. “It’s just a wonderful thing. I think every artist should take it. It’s like three or four college courses rolled into one.”
And this is one course you don’t skate through.
There are 34 tasks to complete on the Artrepreneur’s Toolbox homework list.
“None of them are easy,” said Shipley. They include everything from a log of studio hours (minimum of 120), to creating a business card and brochure to making a videotape presentation of the artist presenting his or her work.
Quilter Maureen Foster
For quilter Foster, she’s doing something she’s enjoyed since she was 5 years old -- sewing and drawing.
Her specialty is creating original digital designs for quilters. They bring her the quilts they’ve pieced together and she creates an original stitching design to sew the quilt top, batting and backing together.
Typically, Foster interviews the quilter, and as they talk she sketches their ideas into a design. Once they agree on it, she puts the design into her computer, creating a digital design and then programs it into her long-arm quilting machine, which she uses to finish the quilt.
“It’s a magical thing to see my design appear,” she said.
At the upcoming MAP show, she’ll have both her customers’ quilts that she created original designs for, plus a few pieces that demonstrate her quilting designs.
“One of my favorite things about MAP is it helps us focus,” she said. “As an artist you can see the potential of everything. MAP made me focus in. The focus is really important for me.”
A former kindergarten teacher, Foster can now devote her energy to her art. “This chapter of my life is what I was meant to do with my life,” she said as she sewed a quilt on her long arm machine.
Logging her time in the studio, which was part of her MAP homework, was a revelation, she said. “That was very good for me. It’s usually more than 40 hours a week.” She realized she was doing way more work on a project than she was billing for.
On Monday morning, she was fine-tuning the finishing details of what she needs for the Nov. 1 show -- which includes a professional-looking booth with special lighting that highlights samples of her work. She’s also created a card for her business, HumbleBee Quilting & Handwork.
Another part of MAP both Foster and Shipley came to particularly value was their “cohort,” a group of fellow MAP artists working with all different media who took the training workshops together and meet to work with a local coach and share ideas.
“You see things from a different perspective,” Foster said. “The sharing was fantastic!”
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The advantage of MAP is it’s flexible, she added. Artists can work through the steps at their own pace, depending on the demands of their jobs, family or art.
It’s also taught her to pick one step, do it and move on.
“Your whole goal is to learn the business of art as you grow it,” she said.
Cindy Kittredge and MAP's roots
MAP is the brainchild of Edrienne L. “Cindy” Kittredge of Cascade, a native Montana fiber artist with expertise in marketing, museum work and adult education.
“I really like the idea of kitchen-table learning,” she said of how she developed this unique course specifically tailored to helping artists learn the business end of art.
“I was an entrepreneur from early on,” she said. “I had chickens at 4. I washed and sold the eggs.”
She used the money to purchase a pig and then sold it. Her parents gave her a calf, which she used to build her own herd.
“That herd paid for my undergrad and graduate degree,” she said.
From a very early age, she also learned weaving, which she traces back in her father’s family tree to 1700s Kentucky.
Although a career took her away from Montana, Kittredge returned and worked at the Cascade County Historical Society for 18 years. “I was very aware that the arts I had grown up and what I saw around me -- those arts were disappearing,” she said. To shine light on these arts, she designed an artist course at MSU Great Falls and also put together folk art festivals.
“I took the components of what I learned and that became the MAP Program,” she said.
What she’s learned from working with artists is that “many highly creative people have not been well served in the format that mainstream society goes forward in,” said Kittredge. “We lose these people and they’re too rich a resource to lose.”
“Artists are not well trained in the university system on how to make a living doing this,” said Arlynn “Arni” Fishbaugh, MAC executive director.
“We’re particularly interested in helping artists in rural communities,” she said. “We started out with traditional arts and then branched into visual arts as well.”
MAP was funded by a New York foundation, Leveraging Investments in Creativity. And because of the work LINC does, it immediately shined a spotlight on MAP nationally.
“This was a really big deal,” said Fishbaugh. “It put this program up on a high pedestal.” Later, a USDA grant and one from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation helped fund the program.
Fishbaugh calls it a “blue ribbon” program.
“This is a program that is so different than ones in any other state,” she said, which may just offer a series of workshops or a weekend retreat.
The feedback they’ve gotten from artists, she said, is “this is the most valuable training they’ve ever received.”
Kittredge said she never envisioned that MAP would result in rural Montana artists suddenly making hundreds of thousands of dollars, but she wanted them to make enough money from their art to stay on the ranch or cover their heat bills.
Kittredge started with four MAP groups in 2009 -- Melstone, Fort Belknap, Hamilton and Kalispell.
Artists go through 52 hours of instruction in a series of workshops. In addition to these, the group or “cohort” also works with a trained coach.
Once the artists complete all their assignments and submit the tools they’ve created, a “jury” certifies them as “market ready,” said Kittredge. ”It’s a really big deal.”
So far, more than 300 artists have been involved in MAP, she said. Some are certified, while others are still working toward it.
The Celebrate Montana Art -- Artists’ Showcase and Sale in Helena, Nov. 1, is a chance to hear about the program firsthand from the artists in it.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the public to interact with artists who are so accomplished,” Kittredge said. “They know how to tell the story of their art.
“Come with a checkbook in hand,” she added. “It’s a great opportunity to buy really good quality art."
To learn more, visit the Montana Arts Council website at www.art.mt.gov or call 444-6430.