Seth Clark has gained national recognition for his striking collage-based art on deteriorating architecture. He created Studio Direct, where art patrons pay him a set amount upfront and during the course of the following year, he creates a piece of art for them. They get a discount; he gets a way to run a sustainable studio practice.
Kelli Stevens Kane, poet, playwright and oral historian, performs her original work nationally. She kicked off the innovation Community Supported Arts series locally at the New Hazlett Theater.
Ed Piskor, an inventive comic book artist, recently became a New York Times best-selling author for his first book of a five-volume series, The Hip-Hop Family Tree.
The one thing these artists have in common? They were all fellows in Flight School.
Founded in 2010 by Courtney Ehrlichman, Flight School allows select artists to rethink and restructure their careers without sacrificing their art in the process.
The 15 fellows, selected from a highly competitive pool of 100 or so applicants, spend two full days of instruction from Creative Capital, a professional development program with tools for “career, community and confidence-building.”
They spend the following eight weeks work-shopping with local professionals, artists, and mentors. If all goes as planned, the artists graduate from the program equipped with a sound strategic plan for their career, a fresh set of resources, a strong network, and a revived or newfound confidence in their art. It all takes place at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
The fellowship program, co-directed by Courtney Ehrlichman and Jasdeep Khaira and funded by foundation grants, is the brainchild of Ehrlichman who got the idea during her time as a researcher in the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University.
Ehrlichman didn’t see much of an art market in Pittsburgh at the time. Her goal? “Creating an economy of young artists and demonstrating it’s possible to have this type of community in Pittsburgh,” she says.
It’s also very much about “making Pittsburgh a desirable place for artists.”
In the eight weeks of workshops, topics range from negotiation and marketing to logic models and elevator speeches. By the end, fellows “change the way they are thinking, and they have developed a way to break goals down into actual steps,” notes Ehrlichman.
What happens after fellows develop a strategic plan and complete the program? As graduates demonstrate, they take flight.
Alisha Wormsley, pictured above, has found success as a multimedia artist who splits her time between Brooklyn and New York, exhibiting widely (including the Warhol) and teaching in various programs.
“Sometimes a person almost needs permission to keep going and flight school affirmed lots of the stuff I was doing right and illuminated a few sticking points that I’ve taken some time to correct,” says Piskor.
“Education is the responsibility of the student, not the teacher, and the program picks good artists on the upswing and helps them focus with laser precision. Flight School’s success is Pittsburgh’s success as long as we choose to stay living here,” he adds.
In his plan written at year’s end, Seth Clark wrote: “I entered Flight School hoping to receive specific instruction towards advancing my career in the arts. I wanted to be told how to price my work. I wanted to know if I should attend grad school. Do community engaged projects lead to better opportunities? Which city should I be trying to exhibit in? How much should I separate my art and design practices? …Naïveté led to me believe there was a single path to success within my areas of discipline. Most of my questions were never answered. Instead, I walked away from Flight School with a newly invoked confidence and clarity—this extraordinary ability to answer my own questions, on my own terms. This outcome is something I had never even considered. It is remarkable. With a strong network of peers, mentors and friends, and a very honest understanding of what I want, I have everything needed to make the correct decisions for my personal career path.”
The artist, now 28, has eight patrons “investing” in him and was just featured in a prominent art magazine, one of many success stories from Flight School.
“It’s a game changer,” says Ehrlichman.
Flight School’s closing night is free and open to the public on April 28 at PearlArts Studios at The Mine Factory. Address: 201 N Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15208. Refreshments kick off at 6:30 followed by 7 pm presentations.