Giving art away is good business, according to Steven Derks, a Tucson sculptor, painter and photographer, as well as the owner of Gallery 801. Derks learned this lesson with a little sculpture he gave away for an AIDS benefit auction.
"I think the biggest thing that catapulted my career in sculpture was I donated a piece to a PAC for Life fundraiser," he says while standing in the yard of his gallery, surrounded by a few dozen brightly colored metal sculptures of varying shape, size and functionality.
"People bought (the small donated sculpture) and then sent their parents down and they bought thousands of dollars worth of stuff. Then they sent some friends down." He continues, "You could track it to thousands, tens of thousands of dollars worth of sales within a year, all from one $300 art donation."
That's the type of business Derks hopes to generate with the first show from the newly formed Tucson Revivalist Artist Collective.
With the economy tanking and many galleries feeling the pain, Derks says he knew he had to take a proactive approach to marketing the gallery and supporting the Tucson arts scene. So he called some artists he knew, and some he didn't, and started brainstorming ways to not only weather the storm, but also go on the offensive.
They decided the best thing they could do was pool their resources, bring together artists from all different points in their careers and use the collective knowledge and skills to help each artist further unique career goals and help the arts as a whole.
The artists came together with three unifying goals: support fellow artists, revive the Tucson arts scene and benefit local organizations working to foster arts revival.
The 10 Tucson artists showing at Gallery 801 came to be known as Tucson Revivalist Artist Collective or TRAC--an allusion to the railroad, Derks explains, shouting over the rumble of the train roaring past the gallery.
Their first show, opening Saturday, Jan. 31, will stay true to their mission and Derks' business philosophy that donating art is not only a nice thing to do, but it's also profitable.
Each artist will be donating some work to a silent auction, with 100 percent of the auction proceeds going to Beads of Courage, a Tucson-based national charity that uses beads to help children with serious illness stay positive through their treatment and recovery (see TQ&A, this issue). With each milestone, children in the program are given a colorful bead as a symbol of their achievement, and add it to their strand of beads as a way of documenting the many steps on their road to recovery.
Derks says he was looking for a benefit with a connection to the Tucson gem show starting at the end of this month, and when he was introduced to Beads of Courage, he knew it was the right organization to help.
"It just felt right the instant it was suggested," he says.
Doing what feels right has worked pretty well for Derks so far.
He "landed ass backwards" into his career as an artist after taking a trip to Mexico, where he met a Jesuit selling drums in exchange for medical supplies and food. Derks wanted to help sell the drums as part of a church service project but says they didn't sell very well.
"So I painted on them and within a year I had a drum in (Bill Clinton's) oval office," Derks says.
Derks says while many galleries are suffering, his sales are up a little since the economic collapse, and already he has noticed "they're coming from odd sources."
The Tucson Revivalist Artist Collective's first show will open Jan. 31 and run through Feb. 28. The opening reception will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7, with live jazz by the Rosano Bros. The event is free. Check the Art in Arizona Web site for more information on the artists and the collective. Check the Beads of Courage Web site for more information on the Beads of Courage charity.