Article by Colleen Anderson
“Guardian Figure,” Jennifer Reis
You’ve heard this. Maybe you’ve even said it, or some variation of it. “I’m an artist, not a businessperson.” If so, you need to meet Jennifer Reis.
“Artists need someone to build a bridge between the traditional entrepreneurial mindset and the creative process. I consider myself a translator or a Sherpa,” Reis told me. She built that bridge for herself and continues to traverse it, guiding scores of artists toward more rewarding careers.
On February 12, Tamarack Foundation will sponsor Reis’s online workshop for emerging and mid-career artists, Creative Entrepreneur Bootcamp. Reis, who is both a practicing artist and an arts educator, is passionate about helping others assess their skills, understand their prospective buyers, and successfully market their artwork.
“Three for a Wedding (House on Fire, A Rising Sea),” Jennifer Reis
Creative Entrepreneur Bootcamp is aptly named. You won’t be sitting idly, listening to a lecture. Reis’s workshops are hands-on events tailored to individual artists. Before each workshop, participants complete a “pre-test” that gives her a sense of each person’s art practice, current marketing activities, and goals.
“Learn, do, share.” That’s how Reis characterizes her workshops, whether the topic is business modeling, time management, pricing, digital marketing, or any other business skill. Because she has been through the process, and continues to use it herself, she connects with artists and conveys an important message: “Recognizing areas of growth is a creative process! Artists just need to make that slight pivot to understand that we’re basically doing creative problem-solving here.”
Reis gave me an example of how creative entrepreneurial thinking has worked for her: During summers, she ordinarily travels all over the U.S. to teach textile arts. When the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person workshops, she spearheaded a Rotary Club project to make 1,500 masks. With that experience under her belt, she examined the inventory of indigo shibori-dyed scarves in her studio. “I thought, no one is going to want a $40 shibori scarf right now, but I bet I can make these into masks. So I pivoted my Etsy shop, and actually more than made up my lost income from those workshops.”
In addition to dyeing, Reis’s own art practice ranges from printmaking and painting to small, embellished works that may incorporate vintage paper dolls, costume jewelry, beads, mirrors, and buttons. “I call them either textile collages or assemblages. I come from an extended family with one priest and four nuns. My art is heavily based on religious iconography and the female form.”
“Queen of Heaven,” Jennifer Reis
Reis currently teaches art entrepreneurship, arts administration, and museum studies at the University of North Carolina’s Greensboro campus. In August, she will teach a textile workshop at John C. Campbell Folk School. Somehow, she balances her several careers gracefully (another entrepreneurial skill!) and takes special satisfaction from teaching.
“The people I work with, even if they take a small bit from a workshop, and they integrate it, and their business improves, their confidence improves, their opportunities improve — I’ve seen that so many times. That is very fulfilling for me.”
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Renee Margocee | Executive Director | Tamarack for the Arts