Although not profitable yet, a pair of opportunistic art studio partners looks at multiple areas of potential growth.
While working as summer art camp teachers at the Art Center Sarasota, Elizabeth Goodwill and Barbara Gerdeman got a lot of questions from artists attempting to make their way in the industry.
At the nonprofit, the pair would provide answers to questions like ‘How do I find a gallery to showcase my art?’ for free. That’s when the business idea light buzzed on.
Even before the idea, which turned into Creative Liberties, became an active LLC, Gerdeman and Goodwill knew they wanted to go into business together. Since then, the pair has rarely said no when opportunities present themselves, which is how they ended up on Apricot Avenue in Sarasota. That’s where Creative Liberties LLC became an artist studio and gallery space.
“Let’s just go with the flow,” Goodwill says of their business tactics. “It worked out amazing.”
The business charges $25 an hour to provide assistance with things like an artist's personal website, headshots and even help on how to enter art shows. They also provide studio space for rent and wall space for in-studio featured artists to showcase a piece of art, which costs between $50-100 a month. Artists can sell their art through the Creative Liberties website for $125-375 a year.
The partners spent less than $10,000 on startup costs, noting the bulk of that expense went to purchasing plywood for walls. While Creative Liberties carries the majority of the lease, the business gets a little help from studio artists who sign month-to-month rental agreements.
“We’re not a nonprofit,” Gerdeman says. “But having that experience taught us to be resourceful. It gave us the ability to think on our feet. Then COVID-19 taught us to pivot.”
The studio is designed to be inclusive — offering opportunities for all artists. It doesn't matter if an artist is 70 or 18, the studio has a spot for everyone, the business partners say. With the past few years being “topsy turvy,” Goodwill says it was important to create something that was flexible and inclusive. “We want to create a safe space for everyone,” she says.
Gerdeman and Goodwill, in looking ahead, are taking the summer to look back on what has worked so far. “This summer will be a time of reflection,” Gerdeman says.
The studio isn’t profitable yet. But the partners recognize that the business grows through art sales.
“It benefits us to sell their art,” Gerdeman says, noting a commission fee. So they’re consistently looking at how to get more people through the doors to buy more art. But they’re also looking into supporting more artists and even expanding to have space for teaching classes.
To get the word out, the pair has done quite a bit of online marketing. They've also formed partnerships, with entities such as the Cat Depot, Sarasota Art Trolley and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. And duo has been featured on the Sarasota Stories podcast.
Currently, the studio features nine studio artists and nine artists featured on the wall. There’s even a waiting list of 10-12 artists looking for studio space. “For a brand new business, we did really well,” Gerdeman says.
They recently started an event called Evening Open Studio to provide nights for people to meet the artists, watch them work and buy their creations. “We like to have fun,” Gerdeman says. “It’s not just all business.”
The pair are both artists themselves. Goodwill works with structural work such as creating animal masks and spinning wool. Gerdeman, meanwhile, used to create residential murals and decor paintings, but now focuses on widening her photography skills and acrylic painting. One of her most recent creations is a pop-art painting of a telephone sitting on a collage of torn phonebooks. She admits with the business, she struggles to find a balance between running the business and creating her own personal artwork.
Before their current location, the pair rented a studio in the Rosemary District, outside downtown, in a short-term lease with a commercial business that had open space. From May to October 2021, they stayed there until they had a suspicion they might be losing the space to a commercial tenant. That’s when their current location “fell in our lap.”
The sudden need for space they experienced last year combined with their current wait list highlights a specific void in the community, Gerdeman says. “It speaks volumes,” she says, “of the need for affordable artist studio space.”