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Articulate Sage: The Business Behind Successful Artists

No one achieves success on their own. There are always highly skilled people behind the scenes helping… and Angela Parks is one of those people. Two years ago Angela realised her own dream and set up Articulate Sage, a business offering assistance and advice to creatives to help further their careers and achieve their goals.

Through her extensive knowledge and skill set, she has helped numerous artists and creatives realise their own dreams.

Today we spoke to Angela to find out more about her experience since leaving the corporate world…

So, let’s start at the beginning. Where did the idea for Articulate Sage come from?

I decided to go for it two years ago but the idea had been brewing for a couple of years before that. It was mainly through my involvement with the Cheltenham Paint Festival where I realised I had a skill and knowledge set that could be of great use within the creative industry.

I really loved what I was doing with the paint festival and at the same time was hating my full time job in the corporate world and just said to myself, “there’s a business opportunity here”.

Three years ago I discussed the idea with a friend who works in the arts sector. At the time his response was ‘those who need you can’t afford you and those that can have already solved the problem’. But the idea just wouldn’t leave me so I went back to him 12 months later and his response this time was ‘well you’ve worked at a senior level in the business world and you clearly feel passionate about it so why not take the risk? So I did.

At the time I was analysing whether I could afford to quit my job, I was actually made redundant which was quite amusing as I had to act thoroughly disappointed by the announcement.

That’s incredible timing, do you believe in fate?

I think it has more to do with the fact that my company, unbeknownst to them, where probably one of the biggest sponsors of Cheltenham Paint Festival as I was using a lot of their resources to support the paint festival. When I was called to HR I thought this could go one of two ways, fortunately I was offered redundancy.

The following Saturday I went to my favourite arts trail ‘Created in Portsmouth’. While I was there I popped into My Dog Sighs studio and told him about my new business to which he replied ‘well I think I’m going to need a Project Manager for an idea I have’. Then I went to see Donna Poingdestre aka Winnie May whose worked I’ve bought previously and after a brief conversation I walked away as her business advisor. By the end of the day I had a further seven artists who had shown interest in signing up.

Donna Poingdestre aka Winnie May was one of Angela's first clients
Donna Poingdestre aka Winnie May was one of Angela’s first clients

That’s a pretty positive start! How does it work from a financial perspective when you take on an artist?

The initial comment from my friend who said ‘those who need you can’t afford you and those that can have already solved the problem’ actually helped with this. Simply put, I usually work on a percentage basis or a no win no fee if I’ve been taken on to assist with funding. With the percentage deal it allows artists to only pay me if they are making money. That said, it needs to be the right artist at the right point in their career otherwise it’s a lot of effort on my part for very little reward. Equally, and morally speaking, I couldn’t take money from an artist I didn’t think I’d earned. If they’re already doing well on their own then I’ll only get involved if I feel there is something extra I can offer. There’s already too many people with hands in artist’s pockets.

So what sort of things can you offer?

The partnership can work in a variety of ways. For some it can simply be a fresh pair of business eyes, so to speak. Looking at what they’re doing to see if any business opportunities are being missed, looking at pricing structure, or if there’s any additions to what they are already offering.

It helps them to review what they’re doing but also to investigate new revenue streams that they may not have thought of… and then there’s funding.

Ahh yes, the dreaded funding application! So can you help artists to get funding?

Absolutely. I have vast experience in getting funding and knowledge of what funding is available and so far have a 100% track record in ‘Develop Your Creative Practice’ and ‘Culture Recovery’ funding. To be honest even the most successful artists turn into a gibbering wreck over the idea of filling in funding application and that’s where I can help. I’ll have a conversation with the artist about what they want to do and draw out of them what they are looking to achieve with the money. I feel that a lot of the application form is more complicated than it needs to be, so I assist the artist in providing the information they actually need.

Earlier you mentioned Cheltenham Paint Festival (CPF) as a starting point into the art world. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got involved and your role within the festival?

I’ve always been an art lover and when I worked in Cheltenham I used to cycle through ‘the tunnels’ on the Honeybourne Line which were regularly painted by street artists. I found out Andy Davies was the organiser and through conversations and social media we became friends.

This was around the time Andy was trying to get the festival off the ground and one night he mentioned he had a meeting with the local council to pitch the idea so I offered my help to have a look at the documents. What I noticed was, that although it was a brilliant case from an artist’s perspective, it lacked from the business side as in what will it do for the town, why should the council back it etc. Initially they wanted us to be a part of the Cheltenham Culture Trust but we found ourselves getting nowhere, so three months later we decided to just go ahead and set it up ourselves and co-founded the Cheltenham Paint Festival together which we did together for three years.

The whole experience of working with artists just made me smile. It was such a contrast from the corporate world.

So you’re no longer involved with the Festival?

Yes that’s right. I resigned around the same time I set up Articulate Sage. Although I was sad to be leaving, I knew it was the right thing to do so that I could focus on my new business and in hind sight it turned out to be the right time to do it as Covid happened and then I moved to Southsea.

Since setting up Articulate Sage, the My Dog Sighs ‘Inside’ Exhibition and the Background Bob project are two of the biggest things you’ve been involved with. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with the ‘Inside exhibition first?

I was taken on as Project Manager which essentially meant I was there to help support and make the creative ideas a reality. This involved everything from finding suppliers, health and safety issues, market research and funding. The funding aspect was a real rollercoaster ride as we thought it was all sorted, but then Covid hit, and we lost it so had to begin all over again. It was such a crazy to do list and no one day was the same.

Angela was taken on as a Project Manager to help realise My Dog Sigh’s vision for his hugely successful ‘Inside’ exhibition

At the start of the project I said to My Dog Sighs ‘what does success look like to you, what do you want this exhibition to achieve?’ His response was ‘it’s not about the money but I want it to take my career to the next level’. From many conversations we had one of the things we implemented was education packs as I felt that surely if kids are learning about you in schools then you must have achieved a certain level of success.

Around 10,000 people visited the exhibition. Did this exceed expectations?

It really did. One of the things I love to do is modelling scenarios and outcomes. As part of my research I looked at visitors to festivals like Upfest and CPF, how many My Dog Sighs fans are there, how far are people willing to travel, and from that our original estimate was around 5,000 people.

The chosen building, although a perfect location for the My Dog Sighs installations, caused issues as it was a health and safety nightmare. Our fire risk assessment came back stating we could only have 100 people in at a time.

We then worked out how long people might spend and as a result extended the time the exhibition was open from 10 days to 17 which gave us a capacity of 8,000. The reality was that people didn’t spend as long as we thought and so we managed to have 10,000 through the doors which is just incredible.

One highlight for me was we never turned anyone away. Everyone that turned up got to see the exhibition.

With everything you guys had to do, all the stresses and issues you had to deal with to pull this huge project off, how did it feel when you closed the doors for the last time?

To be perfectly honest, when those doors closed all I could think is when can I go to bed! We were all completely exhausted.

It was less than a month after setting up Articulate Sage that Covid occurred and as a result the My Dog Sighs exhibition was the only thing keeping me going. We literally threw our hearts and soul into making the exhibition a reality. I remember the first time walking into the space and seeing the artworks in place and just bursting into tears. I was just so proud. As an art lover, as a My Dog Sighs fan, as the project manager, and after all the conversations, I wasn’t expecting to be so overwhelmed by it all.

Would it be fair to say My Dog Sighs is your most high profile client?

In terms of the amount of work I’ve done with him and his reputation I’d say that’s definitely true.

Working with someone so well known must have a knock on effect it terms of business for you?

I guess so, but to tell you the truth I’ve had quite a lot of business from helping artists with the ‘develop your creative practice’ grant. Every one of those I’ve done has resulted in another artist approaching me for help with theirs.

Once they’ve got the funding is that the end of the business relationship or do you find it’s just the start?

It varies to be honest. Some artists, once they’ve got the grant that’s it but with others it leads onto other ideas, suggestions and requests. One artist I’m so proud of is Jimmer Wilmott who we recently got funding for allowing him to realise his dream of becoming a full time artist, and is someone I know I’ll be working with again in the future.

With help and guidance from Articulate Sage, Jimmer has now become a fulltime artist
With help and guidance from Articulate Sage, Jimmer has now become a fulltime artist

Another artist who we got funding for is Pete Codling who is a maritime painter. He has a residency at the historic boatyard where he is depicting the diversity of people involved in the maritime industry painted on sail boat canvasses and we are working together again to get funding for the next stage of his project.

Do artists come to you with a specific idea they want funding for?

Sometimes. Other times it might be a case of they have a few ideas they’re thinking of and then we’ll discuss each one and work out which is the strongest and has the best chance of getting funding. Put it this way I’ve never had an artist come to me wanting funding but without an idea.

For example I work with a transgender artist called Mister Samo who we got arts council funding for. As a result of the funding, Mister Samo was able to exhibit and produce a book which discusses the topic of transgender.

Mister Samo received Arts Council funding which has helped him pursue his goals which include an exhibition and book

That’s amazing, we love Mister Samo’s work. Ok, so now let’s talk about the wonderful Background Bob project! How did you get involved?

So I vaguely knew Noah’s dad Nathan from Korpfest. He is a huge My Dog Sighs and Korp fan who I’ve also worked with so there was a connection. As the Background Bob project grew someone suggested to Nathan they should do a book so he gave me a call on the recommendation of My Dog Sighs and Korp to ask if I knew how to go about it. As it happened I’d just finished researching this exact topic to help Mister Samo with his book and knew about the right designers, what the costs might be, what questions to ask etc.

From there I basically offered my help and advice along the way including helping out with the Background Bob auction. One of the things I’ve loved about getting involved with this project is the great friendship between Nathan and I that’s come out of it.

The Background Bob project has become a huge success raising nearly £100,000 for charity
The Background Bob project has become a huge success raising nearly £100,000 for charity

Are you still as involved in Background Bob 2 as you were with the original project?

Because a lot of what we’re doing is replicated from the first project we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we’ve got certain things in place such as book designers and printers. Having said that I am still involved in things such as working with the charity to set up the Background Bob page to sell the book, organising the ltd edition version of the book but things like the auction set up will pretty much be the same format as last time. First time round was certainly a learning curve but it’s made this time round much smoother… well so far it has!

So finally, what business advice would you give an artist starting out?

I think the key thing I’d say and I think this applies to anybody, if you’re trying to make a living doing something, you are running a small business, and running a small business is a different skill set to the nuts and bolts of what it is you’re actually doing. So I think it’s about recognising you don’t need to be an expert in everything, recognising the limits of your knowledge and then finding the right people to help fill in those blanks.

We all learn from each other and to make it as an artist you need to surround yourself with people who can make your artistic career the best it can be.

Visit articulate-sage.com or drop Angela Parks an email at [email protected] if you want to find out how Angela can help take your business to the next level.

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