Pueblo's art economy is growing, but it remains difficult for many artists to make their craft a full-time career
Pueblo may have a growing and appreciated art scene that is beginning to compete with the larger metropolitan cities and art hubs such as Denver, Santa Fe and Taos, but the dream of making a living as an artist in Pueblo is still far from a reality for many of the city’s artists.
Because selling art isn’t consistent, many Pueblo artists say they are left creating art as more of a hobby and less of a career. Pueblo’s location in relation to other art cities and the low cost of living seem like an ideal place for artists to thrive but the lack of disposable income by residents in Pueblo leave artists with a small pool of customers.
Nancy Goodenough, a member of Steel City Artworks specializes in pastels. She worked as an art teacher in Pueblo City Schools for 30 years. While art has been a constant in her life, being a full-time artist wasn’t a practical choice.
“I don’t know anybody that loves art that wouldn’t really love to just do art. It isn’t a very good reality check point for most people,” she said. “Some of the people that I know that have really given (an art career) a good try are still just scraping to make ends meet a lot of the time.”
But being a “starving artist” isn’t just reserved for Pueblo. It’s hard to make it just anywhere, said John Deaux Art Gallery owner Radeaux – who goes only by Radeaux.
“I don’t think Pueblo makes a difference; it’s difficult anywhere, he said.
For Radeaux, art is meant to be abstract, so the harsh market in Pueblo isn’t because art is worse or different. That’s all subjective.
“What I look for in art is vision and that an artist has style and that there is some truth in it. It’s all debatable,” he said.
But Pueblo’s location does give the art scene a bit of an edge.
“The advantage of Pueblo,” he said, “is that there is a market here. We’re close to major metropolitan areas, Springs and Denver that do attract tourist traffic but we are also close to Santa Fe and Taos which are major world art markets.”
The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo has made a major push in the past two years to host big shows that attract tourists, but also do good for the community. Last year, Executive Director Jim Richerson was able to bring in an exhibition from a private collector with pieces from Picasso, Matisse and Chagall.
“We stopped doing (art) shows and just started selling in the gallery; we are not here to make a living out of it we’re here to share our art.” – Deborah Foy, Steel City Artworks
Richerson told PULP earlier this year that the arts center has a major role in community and regional art. Some of the bigger shows have reengaged major donors. But the arts center, he said, also has a duty to bring in these bigger shows that add to the city’s art culture.
And while there isn’t a shortage of inspiration in Pueblo, there sometimes is in having a place to show.
Bob Sweeney, member of the Steel City Artworks co-op on Union Ave., specializes in woodturning. The co-op exhibits more than 40 artists from all different types of mediums.
He said it is difficult to find other galleries that will show three-dimensional art.
“Two-dimensional art is so much easier to find space for because you always have a wall for it, 3D art you have to have a space already available,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s wife, Deborah Foy, also works at Steel City Artworks and shows her watercolor pieces and also adds to Sweeney’s wood work by burning pictures onto his pieces.
The couple said that they believe it is hard to sell art in Pueblo and that they could not support themselves solely by just doing art.
“We stopped doing (art) shows and just started selling in the gallery; we are not here to make a living out of it we’re here to share our art,” Foy said.
That holds true for many artists out of necessity, or they end up moving to a market that can support their craft full-time.
Lynn Chapman, who specializes in pastels, has had a passion for art her entire life. She has been a member of Steel City Artworks since its inception about eight years ago.
She said she’s heard fellow artist say that it is hard to sell in Pueblo and that Pueblo doesn’t support them and their work and they end up going elsewhere.
“Pueblo needs to support the arts more; there is plenty of money in this area and it’s amazing what they spend it on,” Chapman said.
“You can’t eat ribbons and you can’t eat compliments, but I will do art for the rest of my life,” she said.
Unlike other art galleries Goodenough said that for the co-op members pay monthly dues, work a couple times a month and if they make a sale they pay around 25 percent to the gallery. In other art galleries artists have to pay a commission to the gallery that usually stems from 40 percent or higher depending on the caliber of the gallery for every piece that is sold.
The marketing aspect of being an artist is diverse among the artists around Pueblo. Some say that marketing is important to them and some would rather just focus on their art without the added headache that marketing can be.
“It takes people that are not only very talented but it takes people that are very good marketers, to be able to be artists that lives off of their art. I find so many artists that I know that really hate the marketing part, they don’t like to have to concentrate on that part,” Goodenough said.
She said that being a good marketer is more unusual than usual as an artist, but there are artists in the Steel City Artworks co-op that do thrive and market well.
Chapman said that she does not set an agenda on how she markets but she has a website and tries to get information about her artwork to other galleries and that marketing and everything combined all take up a lot of time.
“I keep track of who I contact and it usually pays off,” she said.
Artists like Foy and Sweeney do not make marketing their priority but they do advertise their work online. EBay, consignment work and Etsy are ways that the couple get their art out to the public and outside of Pueblo.
Many of the artists said they do not think that it’s difficult for the community to support local artists, and even a little goes a long way on a monetary basis.
“To have a successful arts community you need collectors of art, but I would encourage people to buy art from their local artists because a little goes a long way,” Radeaux said.
Goodenough said that in the last five to 10 years Pueblo has made a large effort to make Pueblo an art center.
“It may not be the top of the heap when it comes to people raving about it and it may not be the top of the heap for people to demand prices for things but (buying art) is a viable option for people. I think that people know that Pueblo is more of an art place than it used to be and I think (the community) really has worked hard to make that happen,” Goodenough said.