While working as teachers at a summer art camp at the Art Center Sarasota, Elizabeth Goodwill and Barbara Gerdeman received many questions from artists trying to make their way in the industry.
In the non-profit, the duo answered questions such as “How can I find a gallery to present my art?”. free. That’s when the light of the business idea came on.
Even before the idea, which morphed into Creative Liberties, became an active LLC, Gerdeman and Goodwill knew they wanted to go into business together. Since then, the pair rarely said no when opportunities presented themselves, which is how they found each other on Apricot Avenue in Sarasota. This is where Creative Liberties LLC became an artist’s studio and gallery space.
“Let’s go with the flow,” Goodwill says of their business tactics. “It worked amazingly.”
The company charges $25 an hour to provide support for things like an artist’s personal website, portraits, and even help getting into art shows. They also provide studio space for rent and wall space for featured artists in the studio to showcase an artwork, which costs between $50 and $100 per month. Artists can sell their art through the Creative Liberties website for $125-375 per year.
The partners spent less than $10,000 in start-up costs, noting that the bulk of those expenses went to buying plywood for the walls. While Creative Liberties carries the majority of the lease, the company gets some help from studio artists who sign month-to-month leases.
“We are not a non-profit organization,” says Gerdeman. “But this 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 – providing opportunities for all artists. It doesn’t matter if an artist is 70 or 18, the studio has a place for everyone, business partners say. With the last few years being “upside down,” Goodwill says it was important to create something flexible and inclusive. “We want to create a safe space for everyone,” she says.
Gerdeman and Goodwill, looking to the future, take the summer to look back at what has worked so far. “This summer will be a time of reflection,” Gerdeman said.
The studio is not yet profitable. But the partners acknowledge that the business is growing through art sales.
“It benefits us to sell their art,” Gerdeman says, noting a commission. So they are constantly looking to get more people through the doors to buy more art. But they also plan to support more artists and even expand to have space for teaching classes.
To spread the word, the pair did quite a bit of online marketing. They have also formed partnerships with entities such as the Cat Depot, the Sarasota Art Trolley, and the Sarasota County Arts and Culture Alliance. And the duo were featured on the Sarasota Stories podcast.
Currently, the studio has nine studio artists and nine featured artists on the wall. There’s even a waiting list of 10-12 artists looking for a studio. “For a brand new company, we’ve done very well,” says Gerdeman.
They recently launched an event called Evening Open Studio to provide evenings for people to meet the artists, watch them work and buy their creations. “We like to have fun,” says Gerdeman. “It’s not just business.”
The duo are artists themselves. Goodwill works with structural works such as creating animal masks and spinning wool. Gerdeman, meanwhile, used to create residential murals and decorative paintings, but now focuses on expanding her skills in photography and acrylic painting. One of his most recent creations is a pop-art painting of a telephone resting on a collage of torn telephone directories. She admits that with the business, she struggles to find a balance between running the business and creating her own personal artwork.
Prior to their current location, the couple rented a studio apartment in the Rosemary neighborhood outside of downtown on a short-term lease with a commercial business that had open space. From May to October 2021, they stayed there until they suspected losing the space to a commercial tenant. That’s when their current location “fell into our lap”.
The sudden need for space they experienced last year combined with their current waiting list highlights a specific void in the community, Gerdeman says. “That says a lot,” she says, “about the need for affordable artist studio space.”