Interview: The Twilight Artist Collective

Mary, Cheryl and Erin from Twilight Artist Collective

by Rasmus Rasmussen on January 20, 2010

Erin Staffeld, Cheryl Robinson and Mary Enslow (front to back) are the three owners and operators of the Twilight Artist Collective (TwAC). They have a boutique in the heart of West Seattle, where they show and sell the works of local artists. I meet up with them after a business meeting, and I’m immediately infected by their positive attitudes and, dare I say it, bubbliness. The store itself is full of bright colors and beautiful pieces of art. Were I not on a mission, I would probably spend half an hour just looking through the many pieces available. At the time of this interview, Twilight has about 70 associated artists, all of whom have an opportunity to have their work displayed and exposed for the local community. Each work of art typically has a shelf life of 60-90 days, and with that many talented artists, those shelves are never short of interesting work.

AP: You have an art boutique featuring the works of many artists. How did you get started and grow into the collective you are today?

TwAC (Mary): We got started, when after several hours of passionate discussion about making it as an artist. We spoke of artists like ourselves falling out of the scene after college and getting trapped in the work world, never to produce art again. We felt the need to create a space for us and people like us. Cheryl and I had been working as a part of the Special Projects crew for One Reel Productions at the time. Erin and I had just returned the year before from a study abroad program in Rome, when this whole thing started to grow. Erin and Cheryl had not yet met.

I had been designing purses and selling them in various locations, one of my outlets was a shop in the Pike Place Market that would soon become the home of Twilight Artist Collective. We got word that this store was going out of business. After a few energized meetings Erin, Cheryl and myself were signing over checks and starting a venture that had all the passion and good intention in the world, but not much actual structure.

During the first year we found ourselves in a sort of business 101 reality show. We learned by doing, reaching out for guidance and following our senses. Looking back it was ridiculous, but when your young and passionate, anything is possible. In January of 2007, Twilight was in a good spot, we had started paying ourselves a small monthly stipend and felt that we had the potential and know-how to get bigger and better. We stumbled upon a great location in the West Seattle Junction, where we had all been living for a few years, and decided to go for it.

We realized after keeping two stores afloat for 1.5 years, that we had too much on our plates and that to survive and provide the quality of service we hold ourselves to, we needed to pull out of the Pike Place Market location and re-focus on our ever growing, beautiful West Seattle location. As a trio, we’ve faced everything together and subsequently make a powerhouse partnership.

AP: When new artists want to join, how do you decide if that person’s work is good enough?

TwAC: We look at the quality of the work first and foremost. We expect work to look finished. The artist must show a certain amount of respect for his own work. We look for work that has an edge; if it’s got a great or compelling concept, shows amazing skill or attention to detail, or if it’s just plain great fun. The work must be new for the viewer. We do consider price point, if the work is out of our range we encourage the artist to pursue the big time galleries. As I said, we are here to be a stepping stone into the art world for artists that want to continue along this challenging path.

Once we are working with the artist we are in a business together and we expect our artists to be active business partners. We don’t continue relationships with people who’s only interest is in dropping off their art and leaving it for us to sell. We want to have an ongoing dialogue that teaches both us and them how to serve eachother better.

Our most successful artists are the ones who take an active role in their position here. We appreciate artists who attend events, promote events, network and are otherwise engaged in the community. These artists are the ones who reap the most benefit as a member, their work sells with greater frequency, because we are equipped with a greater knowlegde of them and their work. This story adds a great amount of value to the work itself. People want to know what inspires art.

AP: You participate in local art walks, you have a twitter account, a blog and more. What does community building mean to you as opposed to traditional advertising?

TwAC: Because we are an art gallery, we do not generate a huge amount of profit. We’ve found these free options to be essential tools for us to communicate with Seattle and our greater community.

Twilight has grown organically from the get-go. Each artist that becomes engaged has a personal experience with Twilight, this goes for our customers as well. Because all the work has a story that is in some form tangible to us all, as humans, coming into twilight is not a standard shopping experience, a platform for interesting dialogue is set and more often than not they begin. Kids express insights and their parents learn something new about their childs mind. Art evokes powerful emotions. The converstations and ideas that are generated inspire us and when we are inpired we are compelled to share. Word of mouth is the greatest marketing tool we have and is a natural product of the environment we offer people.

AP: You’ve been around for more than 5 years, and with art being such a luxury item, how do you deal with tough times like the current recession?

TwAC: Hard work and dedication with a large amount of ingenuity and faith. We realized during the recession that people tend to go one of two ways, they either fold in and spiral down, or they reassess and replan for a sustainable approach. Many people become responsible in a new way, they buy less of what they don’t need and wait to buy the perfect something that will fullfil their consumer itch and give them a the greater gift, that art provides.

Learning how valuable art is, can be difficult. If you grew up in an environment where the only value came from getting more for less, it may be challenging to understand how buying one piece of art that makes you smile every time you see it, is actually more valuable than buying a huge artificial something or other, that only costs $10, but ultimately brings you nothing but more stuff. We had some customers who would save and save for the perfect piece of art. Our loyal customers know that if they want us here, they have to support us being here. We did see that support even in the toughest of times. We are very grateful!

AP: Surely, there are easier ways to make a living. What do you get out of running the Twilight Artist Collective, as opposed to having “regular” jobs?

TwAC: Well, we do both. We all support ourselves independently of Twilight. This is a question we’ve asked ourselves several times and we keep coming to the same conclusion: we can’t not do it. We care too much about what we’ve started and what we believe in to stop. We’ll be here until something tells us, its time to stop.

This experience has absolutely changed us for the better, both collectively and individually. We’ve been able to build something from the ground up. It’s something that we believe in and this is a very empowering accomplishment. Once you have a taste of this sort of gratification, you really can’t go back. Living with purpose and meaning is invaluable. The day we can back off our other jobs and work here more, will be a great day, both for us and for the community. We have so many more things we want to pursue as Twilight Artist Collective and we’ve got the foundation to provide these things. Our other jobs have value because they enable us to run Twilight, but ultimately we want to put all of our time and energy into TwAC.

Check out the Twilight Artist Collective’s website for more about upcoming shows and events. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, you can subscribe to.

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