Taking a Risk to Put the Business of Art First

By Rochelle Johnson, Artist and Business Owner- November 2015

Living and working in Denver as an emerging artist is no easy job. In 2014, I had just finished my classes at the Arts Students League of Denver and was making the transition from student to professional artist when I got behind on my phone bill. As I was looking for someone to help me pay the bill, the phone company suggested I give Project Wise a call. Once it was approved for them to pay the bill, I made another even more critical connection: I became aware of Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI), an organization that would help me to really put my business as an artist first. RMMFI, I was told, would take me through an intense Business Launch BootCamp where I could learn how to sell my artwork. “Umm, ” I thought to myself, “If I could do that I would never be late on my phone bill again. So I gave RMMFI a call and the process of putting my business first started.

Meeting with the RMMFI Community was overwhelming in a way that takes your breath away. The chance to challenge yourself in a positive way that makes you do great things is rare. Business Launch BootCamp gave me that chance. After the application interview, I remember thinking how lucky I would be to have a chance to develop a business on my love of painting. When I got word that I had been accepted to BootCamp class #10, I was stunned. They choose me! I had questions: How much work would I have to do? Will it take away from me painting, which is the core of my business? Fear set in. But I was pleased to learn that the program offered 3 mentors that would help me along the way. Then fear set in, again. I thought, “My business is not the traditional hot dog stand plan. How do I explain to the rest of my class that I want to sell my artwork and make a living of it?” But I was so relieved to find out that my mentors were all for my plan! “We can help you through the process of building your business,” they said. What my mentors taught me about business is something they don’t teach in Art School. The hustle of business building is real.

The combination of the BootCamp classes and weekly meetings with my mentors helped me to realize my dream of selling my artwork through my business: Rochelle Johnson Studio. I create unique and quality oil paintings documenting the ordinary moments of everyday life. Living a creative life can be daunting. Adding in the component of running a creative business increases the odds, and the risk, of becoming a successful artist, or not. Still, upon completing the RMMFI BootCamp, I had a launch party and successful art show in my studio. My new business plan is based on participation in summer art festivals. So far, I have participated in 3 festivals where I have been able to cover the cost of participation and make additional revenue that allows me to paint during the off-season and enter my work into winter shows. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I will be curating an exhibit at the McNichols Civic Center Building in 2017. Inclusion: A Visual Exploration of Contemporary Visionaries is scheduled for spring or early summer. The show gives me a chance to feature 15 other artists while also sharing my own artwork.

I can’t stress enough that RMMFI gave me the wings to fly. They provided me with a knowledgeable, compassionate, and generous community where I could confidently put my business first. I ask you to please consider donating your time or money to RMMFI: A place where dreams are made possible for people like me- a onetime “starving artist”, now a thriving business owner and curator.