It’s a big jump from selling hand-painted stemware to starting a nonprofit arts society, but that’s exactly the leap Jude Kusnierz has made. And she’s entirely thrilled about it, even if the back story involves the collapse of two tall buildings and the gutting by fire of a third.
“I used to have a business in glass painting that started in, like, 1997,” the artist and businessperson relates, on the line from her Beaumont Studios office on West 5th Avenue. “It was one of those little niche markets where I was painting martini glasses and plates and bowls and platters, and being super-crafty, and I did really, really well with the product line in the United States.”
So well, in fact, that Kusnierz’s sales had reached about $500,000 a year by 9/11. Her business was one of the casualties of the ensuing economic meltdown. As she notes, “People weren’t buying $65 painted martini glasses anymore.”
It was only after a fire in her own workplace, however, that she decided to open the Beaumont facility, which now hosts approximately 40 artists in 16 studio spaces, along with a storefront gallery and a rehearsal room that doubles as a 70-seat performance venue. And this week, to celebrate its newly won nonprofit status, it will also host HeadstART, a gala art sale and fundraiser featuring over 100 works from a similar number of emerging artists.
Kusnierz and her partners have high hopes for their studio. The Beaumont tradition of providing affordable space in one of North America’s hottest real-estate markets will continue, but workshops in arts marketing and business development will eventually serve an equally important function.
“How to get a job or how to get your work into the gallery system is not part of the education system when you go get a fine-arts degree,” says the Beaumont’s gallery curator and manager, Charmaine Carpenter, joining in on speakerphone. “They teach you the skills and then kind of leave you to it.…So with HeadstART we thought we’d do as much as we could to launch ourselves, and as much as we could to launch emerging artists.”
Characterizing submissions to the show is difficult, but the two artist-entrepreneurs have identified one rising trend.
“Digital,” says Carpenter.
“Lots of digital,” Kusnierz agrees.
“Lots of photography that’s been digitally manipulated,” her colleague elaborates.
The good news for art buyers is that the work on view this Saturday is distinctly affordable, with prices ranging from $150 to $500. And the young artists themselves will see more than just their share of the receipts: $10,000 in prizes will be awarded, including a $2,500 “people’s choice” award for best artwork, as chosen by event attendees. (Admission to HeadstART is by donation, with one ballot being allotted for every $10.)
Kusnierz, who ran the Beaumont Studios as a sole proprietorship until February of this year, admits that she’s still getting her head around the shift. “The thought of going and asking people to give me money to keep my business alive was… Maybe it was ego, but I just wanted to never have to do that,” she says. “But I recognized that we were missing out on a lot of funding that could be put towards things like programs to help mentor artists stepping into the business arena. So, yes, those things are happening here, and they’ll happen more and more as our not-for-profit grows.”
HeadstART takes place at the Beaumont Studios on Saturday (November 24).