The business of art

Rural artists seeking more awareness and resources

In the economic recovery from the pandemic, the arts and culture industry was one of the hardest hit — the arts economy was responsible for 4.2% of the GDP in 2020 but contracted at nearly twice the rate of the economy as a whole, according to new data released by the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account and other federal agencies.

Independent artists in rural areas like Jolene Peters can face the added challenge of not receiving the same recognition for their artwork or opportunities to finance and advance their businesses. Peters led a fulfilling career as a nurse while raising her family, but her lifelong passion for exploring art mediums turned into Art on the Fly in 2011.

Until the pandemic hit, the Jefferson resident traveled across the state teaching a range of art techniques to people of all ages and skill levels. She bought her first studio in downtown Jefferson two days before the pandemic shutdowns.

“Mentally, [the pandemic] really threw me for a loop,” Peters wrote. “My life revolved around increasing the self-esteem and happiness of others, which in turn made me feel happy and fulfilled.”

In her off-hours from working as a school nurse, she has returned to teaching as pandemic restrictions lifted, but rising supply costs and building expenses have meant much of her income is going toward keeping the building open.

While Jefferson is progressing in integrating art into its community and economic development, Peters said in general she feels “isolated and out of touch” with other artists and resources like grant opportunities.

The need for awareness and publicity is a main challenge. She said urban areas tend to have a larger share of the corporate financial support and incentives for businesses to promote local art as well as spaces, such as Mainframe Studios in Des Moines, that have helped increase the number of local artists. Even small grants that help rural artists advertise and get recognition through word-of-mouth helps, Peters said.

She is focusing on improving the marketing and branding side of Art on the Fly while continuously looking for new financial resources.

“I continue to try to think outside the box for new and unique ideas to create experiences that my customers will remember, whether it be a unique class or piece of artwork,” she wrote in an email.