Art is big business - Artist Robert Campbell says proper management, marketing and imagination are needed to profit from the arts
At Robert Campbell’s place in Coffals district in Race Course, Clarendon, the signs of industry are everywhere – in his workshop, in his yard and in his house. For this artist, woodcarver, mould-maker and ceramicist does not subscribe to the notion of the poor artist who is suffering for the arts.
To him, art is big business, and he is hell-bent on getting his share of the artistic pie. But why are some artists and artisans suffering for the arts? He said they do not see art as a business that should be properly managed and do not have a system of management and marketing set up to make money.
His businesslike approach to his art is heavily influenced by the book The EMyth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to do About It by Michael E. Gerber. It is about the mistakes that owners of small businesses make. The essence of the message in the book is that people do not work, but systems do. If the practitioner can turn the practice into a business, then it can create work.
“You have to identify your product first. Identify what you are going to sell, whom you are going to sell to, whether the high-end or the low-end market,” Campbell explained to The Gleaner.
The artist can also produce for both ends of the markets because not everybody can afford high-end items.
“Innovation is the driving force behind being successful,” he said. “A part of my innovation, since 2011, was to stand out and be different.”
He recalled attending a convention called The Human Imagination at Work in Trinidad in 2014.
“Listening to the discussion as an artist, and how people do business in the world, you realise that innovation is important in any business,” he said.
Closely connected to innovation is the idea of diversification. He produces different things for different clients/customers, or the same product packaged differently for different customers. It is about making creative changes to get different results after identifying the markets and identifying the products to suit those markets.
Another idea that he had pitched to a fellow artisan is the sharing of their respective clients between them. “Give me your clients, and I will give you mine so we both can grow,” said the man who is not interested in rivalry because he believes that everybody has a share in the market.
It is for you to identify your share and work towards seizing it by taking action. He believes in being content with his share but also in creating opportunities for growth. But Campbell was not always business-savvy with his art.
During his foray in the creative industry, there were points when he was perhaps ‘poor and suffering’, but he has learned from his experiences, and what he has learned has propelled him to where he is today. He said he did not understand systems and the business side of art. He was just an artist making things, earning some money, and getting a good name.
“I did not identify products for a market. I was just working randomly as an artist and just working from freedom of the mind,” he recalled. He was doing arbitrary ‘one-of-a-kind’ pieces that could not sustain him, “as opposed to developing a system where you have some products that you sell to tourists, some products that you sell to corporate organisations and individuals, and [some that you sell] to Government as awards”.
A sojourn to Barbados did not work out either, as he said he was struggling despite all the knowledge and skills he had. Since his return to Jamaica in 2011, he has developed a businesslike attitude towards his art and is back on his feet.
“Money does not make money; everything is from human imagination. If you want to make money, it has to start in the mind. If you want to be different, it has to start in the mind,” he strongly suggested.
Though he is multitalented, Campbell’s focus is now on making ceramic items under the brand of Khadabra – Hands in Clay. He wants it to be an umbrella organisation through which artists can develop and market their products worldwide.