What does it take for artists to start their own business?

As an artist and counselor interested in starting my own small business, I am very interested in what it might take for  creative types to enter into the business world. Specifically, what kinds of beliefs do you need to have to keep afloat in such a competitive market? I thought an interview with artist Marie Barron, owner of Nightingale Arts of Salem would be a great start.

From left to right: Shawn O’Donnell (refinishing and re-upholstery), Marie Barron (owner and designer), boyfriend Michael Chouinard (refinishing, re-upholstering, designing), niece Melissa Chouinard(artist and crafter), niece Heidi Chouinard(artist and crafter)

Ever since Nightingale Arts opened last October 2011, I have been dying to go inside and look around. The black crow standing outside always beckons me to peruse their unique handmade arts and crafts. Last week I was finally able to make it inside, and discovered they also sell upcycled and vintage items. All their merchandise were priced very reasonably.

I met Marie’s nieces, who also work in the store, and get the “inside scoop” on this lovely and uniquely personalized store.

The Crow invites us to come inside! (image from the Salem Patch, by Stephen Oakes) Nightingale Arts is located at 124 Boston Street in Salem.

Here is what I found out:

  1. Stay true to your beliefs and aesthetic

  2. Play to your strengths

  3. Involve like-minded people

  4. Participate in your community to help get the word out

  5. Be patient and work hard — even if money doesn’t come right away

 **Read my full interview below to find out more!

I am very interested in the kind of convictions that motivated you to start a small business–especially one that is arts and crafts based. Can you tell me about the personal beliefs that helped you get started, and what you hope will carry you through in this tough economy?

Marie: We believe that we are not on this earth for a long time, so let’s do something vauable with our lives.  We believe strongly in community and using local people to put their items in our store–there’s so much talent out there!!  Our items are unique (a lot of them are handmade) and reflect local culture and the environment as much as possible. We [also] believe in recycling old items and making them beautiful again. We scour the local auctions and yard sales and pick up furniture or any unique items to put in our store–but we refinish all the furniture first. [We sell] nothing you can go and buy at the local Target or Walmart!!!

Mass production and mass marketing are not for us–although we do advertise.  Slow down and look at your own backyard–there is a treasure trove of wonders in the neighborhood and the people around you!!  Get out from behind the TV and the computer!!   You have to believe in yourself, your workers and your product and you have to stick to that!!  And forget about making alot of money right away–it takes time to make an ideal work.  Money should not be a motivating factor in this process.  Of course you need to make money to succeed–but it will come.  Also–we greatly believe in kindness and goodness–we always treat our customers and vendors with respect and kindness–and we get it in return.  In fact we treat EVERYONE this way!!

Heidi and Melissa showed me their custom-made mouse hole, complete with a little bed inside! My daughter Jenna loved playing with their toy mouse!

Me: What has been one of your biggest obstacles so far?

Marie: It is tough to start a business with this kind of aesthetic because, as my web designer tells me, you need buzzwords or knowledgable products and such to put into a search engine to get people to find you.  Unfortunately the world has gone the direction of everyone wanting the same thing duplicated over and over again at ridiculously low prices.  Electronics also rule–and we don’t have that in a handmade shop.  But we are hoping that peole will see the beauty in what we do and that it will last for generations!!

Interior entrance of Nightingale Arts

Me: How did you get started? 

Marie: My boyfriend (Michael) and I owned a construction company but the work was very hard for him because he had developed back and neck problems. I bought the building that we’re in and Michael and some friends redid the entire store according to my plans.  We painted the outside red to attract attention.  I picked out the checkered tile floor to look like old estate floors. It took us almost a year of planning and construction.

I went to the Boston gift shows and have used some handmade items made in Africa and India by companies that belong to the Fair Trade commission–where the women control what they make and the prices and they also recieve a good percentage of the money.  We also have had local people come into the store with their own items to see if they would fit into the store and we have put many of these items in the store. This past February, Michael and I took a trip to the Southwest where we met many Native Indians and various crafts people and we bought items from there also.  It’s always interesting and fun to see what we’re going to find next!!

Another shot or the interior with local art hanging on the wall

Me: What kinds of beliefs or convictions do you think it takes to start a business and make it successful?

Believe in yourself and what you are doing, and do it with a POSITIVE AND HAPPY attitude!!  The world needs more good in it.  And realize that it takes alot of time to be successful–years and years sometimes.  Work hard–it’s so much better than sitting on a couch and you’ll feel good about yourself!!

I noticed that your business is a family affair! Can you tell me why you decided to involve your family, and why you think there is so much creativity within your family. Specifically, I am interested in how certain beliefs and traditions are passed to other family members.

 We have wonderful families and the business is a good way to include and be with them.  We all help each other out and give tips about projects to each other.  We try to always get something positive out of all our work–even if we make something that doesn’t come out good–well the next one will be better!!  Always constructive critisism and never put down anyone’s attempts at something new or different.  We all make mistakes and that is how you learn!!!  We all learn from each other and help each other if there is a project that needs help. 

Nieces Melissa and Heidi help make this business a family affair. They produce most of the paintings and many of the other arts and crafts.

Me: Can you tell me your thoughts about the role of art in the community?

Marie: We feel that local art is a reflection of who we are, supports our local community and makes us feel better about our community.  Art can last for many years and be a learning tool for future generations to understand our culture, people and environment.

We will be selling our handmade items in front of the Orange Leaf in downtown Salem in the month of October.  They have graciously allowed us to use the space in front of their store.  I think we will be there daily from 2PM-9:30PM.  Orange Leaf commissioned us to do a mural of local attraction of Salem and it is in the store right now, if you would like to see it.  They have done murals in 4 other stores using local artists and they are all unique and wonderfu!!  I like how they used local people in each town even though they are a corporate business.
What about you? What ideas or inspiration did you get from Marie?

I don’t know about you, but I will definitely be looking for them in front of Orange Leaf in October!

Check out Nightingale Arts in Salem at http://www.nightingalearts.com/

— Madelene Pario


3 responses to “What does it take for artists to start their own business?

  1. Pingback: Business Reads » Home Business Ideas for Crafters and Artists How·

  2. I like this because it combines BOTH the theme (Beliefs) and a unique local business that needs to be known. (I could see the photos too.)

  3. Pingback: DIY Holiday Gift Ideas « Connect Shore·

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