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Art is (Not) Dead: How to not starve as a San Antonio artist

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

The beleaguered French and Michigan gallery space in Beacon Hill

Photo: , License: N/A


5. Make some damn money.

Louie Chavez and James “Supa” Medrano operate Plazmo Contemporary, taking cues from retail environments and translating them into sly, stylish installations at their artist-run space on the second floor of the same Beacon Hill church as Invisible Gallery. “I want the artists to go big … to use the space and be as experimental as they can be; I want to push their boundaries,” said Chavez. Meanwhile, he’s got to be realistic. “Obviously, a large-scale installation isn’t something a collector will usually buy … [so] we put out merch; stickers, prints, t-shirts, so that people can own a piece of it.

Everything you’re doing is branding. It’s not a dirty word.” According to Chavez, the commercial display has to have strong design and contribute to the work. Also, Plazmo’s relationship with exhibiting artists is baldly entrepreneurial: they take a 30 percent cut.

6. If you aren’t commercial, you still need to be organized.

The Lullwood Group is currently applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status, which makes the entity exempt from payment of federal income tax. Once exempt, the nonprofit will usually be exempt from similar state and local taxes. This status also allows for public grants, tax-deductible charitable donations and limited liability under the law, meaning founders, directors, members and employees are not personally liable for the nonprofit’s debts. Very helpful if you get sued, apply for public funding or want to ensure the entity’s viability beyond founders’ participation.

7. Network hard but don’t be afraid to share the spotlight.

Alejandro Padilla, impresario of Studio Fantomas, is a canny assessor of social possibilities and isn’t afraid to negotiate. “I managed to get four artist studio spaces inside the Michigan Building,” he noted, securing studio space for artists Mari Hernandez, Audrya Flores and the aforementioned Louie Chavez and James Medrano, who “started right out of the gate as Plazmo Contemporary. Once they started having openings, I realized the opportunity to support them and show my work. At the same time, we have a large number of friends and patrons in common, so it seemed natural.”

In finding opportunities for other artists, he opens doors for himself. Also impressive to me: When I issued a call for gallery information on social media, Padilla responded immediately, identifying not only his own gallery, but providing links to nine others. In doing so, he got this writer’s attention, placed himself in a context of valid up-and-comers and raised awareness around a slew of spaces operating beyond his immediate circle. Aspiring gallerists, take note.

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