Staving off the starving

Nick Lukacena made the hour-plus trek from his Toronto home to Youngstown State University to attend a seminar for artists starting new businesses. The 22-year-old photographer is attempting to make a living by doing what he loves, but it hasn’t been easy.

“I’m just trying to figure out how not to be poor and be an artist,” Lukacena said.

He isn’t alone.

Be it painters, woodworkers or sculptors, many artists around the Mahoning Valley say they are struggling to find their way in an often-complicated and crowded industry.

James Simon, a partner with Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs law firm in Akron, gives several seminars each year specifically to inform artists such as Lukacena who may want to start a new business venture but don’t know how.

“In order to accomplish your vision, you have to have the right resources, the right plan and the right team,” Simon said. “If an artist wants to go into business for his or herself, the things the person should be thinking about in terms of how to form the business and operate the business.”

Ann Miller, a 72-year-old retired art teacher for Bloomfield School District, has been selling her paintings online. While making money that way can be difficult, there are often other variables to weigh.

“It has been OK, but I would like to see what else is out there,” Miller said. “I’ve been in galleries, but there is such a small commission that Internet sites take as compared to galleries, I prefer that.”

According to Simon, artists like Miller need to ask themselves a series of questions before taking the plunge with a new business.

Simon said learning the differences between a limited liability company or nonprofit corporations could mean success or failure in the business world. Those questions often require professionals to answer properly, depending on the artist’s situation and craft.

“People aren’t sure where to start or how to get the best adviser,” Simon said. “When should they call a professional and when they shouldn’t call a professional are all questions that I get a lot.”

Jeff Puccini is a self-taught photo realist currently exhibiting his work at the Star Gallery in the Oakland Center for the Arts.

Puccini, 49, said the life of an artist can be difficult.

“It is especially difficult in this town,” the Youngstown resident said, referring to the struggling economy in the area. “It’s very hard to sell art to the local people and you have to be able to go outside of town with your work. That’s not always easy if you live here and you are just trying to keep your head above water.

“The places that do well selling art are in places that have a lot of disposable income. It’s a tough sell to the locals, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Puccini also sells much of his work through his own website.

“I promote myself wherever I can locally and selectively with some galleries,” he said. “But, I have marginal success. I’ve sold a few things, but not quite as much as I’d like to.”

Meanwhile, Newton Falls resident Dave Davis supplements his income with his art. Davis spends his days as a database administrator for First National Bank, but he has always had a passion for woodworking.

“My grandfather did it, so it was always sort of carrying on tradition kind of thing,” Davis said. “It would be a fun thing to do all the time and I think I would enjoy it.”

His side business, McDavis Wooden Art, specializes in everything from signs and statues to cabinetry. Davis said he would eventually like to open his own business devoted to his craft, but it is mostly a hobby currently.

“We don’t really advertise that much,” the 50-year-old said. “For the most part, it is stuff we do for neighbors or people who drive by and see the house.”

Simon said it is important that people new to the world of small business not be afraid to ask for help.