Starting this fall, artists of various disciplines will have the opportunity to apply for a six-month residency valued at more than $10,000, and it’s exclusively for women in Dallas.
Varenport, a nonprofit organization, located at Alto 211, a high rise on Ervay Street, will provide fully sponsored memberships to as many as 30 Dallas-based women arts entrepreneurs each year. Residencies with Varenport are split between fall and spring terms and include a downtown studio space, meetings rooms, financial mentors and other amenities.
Founder and executive director Laura Allen Golatt says current resources for artists in Dallas are “fractured and often fall short.” For that reason, many artists aren’t able to make their profession and business sustainable.
Varenport’s residencies are intended to serve as an incubation period for artists. Golatt says they would provide intangible resources for artists to establish themselves.
“There is a great demand for all of these services to merge into one program that is affordable and gets artists on their feet,” Golatt says.
Varenport is supported financially by fellow arts organizations, including Art Conspiracy and Walk The Light as well as Circles, an annual conference of creatives, Staff Retreat Co., Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts and Dallas Fort Work, a co-working space also housed in Alto 211, measuring 20,000 square feet, plus a gallery. Underwriting funds, in-kind and private donations and workshop fees also keep the nonprofit afloat.
Three members have been selected for the fall 2015 residency so far: Tiffany McAnarny, a painter and illustrator, the visual and performance artist Erica Felicella and Lori Fox, a painter and fashion designer.
Making the program benefit only female artists came from Golatt’s own experience as a creative woman and mother. “Women can be disadvantaged in the arts when their financial needs aren’t being met by traditional systems,” Golatt says. Plus, the artists who initially responded to the concept of Varenport were women.
Painter Lori Fox began pursuing fine art full-time for three months last summer when the job market had slowed down, she says.
“I think having a platform specifically for the artistic endeavors of women in Dallas will be a great opportunity for inspiration, brain storming, confidence building, creative support and moral support,” Fox says. “Having women all from Dallas will provide a great opportunity of continued support long after the program has finished.”
Varenport aims to provide business sense to freelance artists with clinics and workshops from successful artist-entrepreneurs on topics such as pricing their artworks and effectively marketing them. And then the “incubation factor comes into play,” Golatt says. The artists-in-residence are paired with mentors and consultants to help them build a sustainable, creative business plan.
“No matter how you shake it, a creative endeavor is entrepreneurial,” she says. “Although many wind up working for a company or organization owned by someone else, many artists need to do their own networking, freelancing and decision-making for the success of their own products.”
When Fox began freelancing, she felt invigorated as an artist and wanted to find a way to gain more time, space and support to pursue those endeavors, including completing larger-scale paintings. She thinks Varenport will provide those resources.
“I’m excited to see what the other women will be working on and how our work will influence one another,” Fox says. “Being part of Varenport will benefit my career through increased skills, being exposed to other creative processes, added confidence in business dealings, and an ongoing supportive community.”
Golatt says many women are leading prosperous nonprofits and arts initiatives in the city, but the ability to “compete in the marketplace while consistently creating art” remains difficult, and she wants to find ways to ease that burden. For example, Varenport’s leaders are interested in letting members bring children to attend workshops and meetings, Golatt says, because some women are likely to prioritize familial duties over their creative endeavors.
“It is no secret that women are less likely to achieve renowned status in the arts, like many other competitive labor markets,” she says. “Our vision is to go beyond empowering the women who go through our program; we hope be a voice for women’s issues in Dallas, in order to “even the playing field” for women everywhere.”
The application process
Candidates fill out the online application, and a committee reviews the submissions and invites selected artists for a 30-minute, in-person interview to determine if they will be members of the program. Each term can sustain at least eight artists but no more than 16, depending on the studio space an artist needs, Allen says.
Interested applicants must be 21 or older, female and a working Dallas resident without any other academic program obligations. Read more on eligibility and requirements.
Allen says the curatorial committee is looking for candidates with a portfolio, a growing client base, customer base or constituency base and a passion they want to push into the marketplace and generate public interest.
“We would conversely like to address what we are not looking for: which is an artist who is still in the beginning stages of discovering their craft, is vacillating between genres, or has an unclear vision,” Golatt says. “One item that we require to be submitted with the application is a thesis of the artist’s vision for their career path.”
The fall application period closes Oct. 11, and the spring application period opens the same day.
The inspiration for the name came from a Dutch word, “varen” which means “to sail.” The same word is also used in Slovenian to mean “safe.” One way to interpret the word’s meaning is “smooth sailing.”
“Often times the entrepreneurial life is depicted as stormy and volatile,” Golatt says. “As a freelancer myself, I know how unpredictable these waters can be. However, with the right foundation, and a community of support, the entrepreneurial experience can be more like a calm sea, and storms become easier to navigate.
“Applying this analogy to our program was a perfect fit because we want this to be a safe harbor where women who have been battered by the waves can come rest in our port, learn from old ‘sailors,’ and more importantly, can gather tools to set sail towards a new horizon.
Painting photo outfront: Shutterstock