Artists Unite

By Gabrielle Fellows

Photo courtesy of the Independent Artist Association.
Photo courtesy of Independent Artist Association.

The art community in the Mahoning Valley is a tightknit network of people that have always been riddled with the issue of organization. As an artist, it can be difficult to learn how to book shows of recent art, manage finances, draw crowds and overall make a decent living off of creativity.

This is where the Independent Artist Association and Power of the Arts step in.

The Independent Artist Association is a collection of professional artists in Northeast Ohio that aims to provide assistance to young artists who may have a hard time starting their career.

Through the IAA, the artists can network with other artists, share experiences, take part in shows organized by the group and more easily find their place in the growing art culture developing in the Mahoning Valley and surrounding areas.

Barry Burkey, president of Independent Artist Association, is a self-taught artist hailing from Warren. Burkey explained that, in his earlier days as an artist, he found himself struggling with promoting himself and his work, networking, and planning shows or organizing gallery exhibitions.

“It was horrible when I was starting out. I was an unknown, unproven artist trying to show at these galleries and would get rejected. It was really frustrating. I just started hosting little shows, which cost a lot of money. Luckily my first show worked in my favor,” he said. “Every show since, I’ve had two or three artists come up to me and ask me about getting their feet off of the ground. It doesn’t matter if you have a degree in art around here to get booked in galleries. An artist that went to school is going to suffer through the same things as a self-taught artist, at least it seems. [IAA] started up to help out these artists.”

The Independent Artist Association was created to unite artists, whether the artists are self-taught or have had pursued a degree in the field. Many of the artists who associate themselves with the group are younger artists who are unsure of how to bridge the gap from just creating pieces to selling, marketing and making a living off of them.

“We showcase young upcoming artists so that they know the process of setting up a show. When I was younger, I never got any help or advice to how to go about hosting a show or showcasing my art,” Burkey said. “So this was started so that we can tell young artists how to invest their money into their art, what they sell and how to show, promote and get people to the events.”

The art and culture scene in the Mahoning Valley is one that has always been growing, changing and constantly churning out new creative forces while disbanding old ones. Burkey said he believes a large problem with the art community is the fact that there isn’t enough publicity surrounding individual artists or the shows they participate in.

“There have always been a lot of artists in this area. That’s part of the problem,” he said. “A lot of artists have quit being artists because it sometimes can’t pay the bills, but people have still been coming out and showing their art and creative side.”

Burkey said that “everyone is welcome at IAA, we want to help out all artists.”

The organization is planning to host an event in September called the Downtown Takeover, which is expected to present the art of approximately 50 artists. Artists who are interested in becoming a part of the IAA and wish to be a part of the group’s meetings, shows and other activities should contact the group directly through Facebook.

Power of the Arts assists artists in a way similar to the IAA. Power of the Arts works to raise participation and revitalize art’s presence within the Mahoning Valley by means of organizing events and conducting research.

Power of the Arts was conceived in the fall of 2009 after a community session focused on the impact and involvement of the arts in the Mahoning Valley community.

Power of the Arts’ advisory council is comprised of the Economic Impact Study Subcommittee and Public Sector Funding for the Arts. The Economic Impact Study Subcommittee is currently conducting research on the economic impact of the arts and artists in the area.

Taking an economically concerned approach to their advocacy of the arts, Power of the Arts is organizing the event Art Means Business.

Art Means Business is a quarterly event for professional development among artists — or in other words, an event for learning to sort out the business side of being an artist.

This quarter’s Art Means Business event will be hosted by Youngstown native, David Craig Starkey. Starkey is the founder and general and artistic director of the Asheville Lyric Opera in Asheville, North Carolina. This is the third year Art Means Business has existed.

Art Means Business will be held on March 26 at the McDonough Museum of Art. Refreshments are available at 5:30 pm, and the event begins at 6 p.m.

Additional reporting by Billy Ludt.