They share a desk and working space. They finish each other’s sentences.
And they’re determined to do the hard work of not just creating art but helping other artists.
Barbara Gerdeman and Elizabeth Goodwill have known each other for years thanks to their shared tenure as summer Art Camp teachers at Art Center Sarasota. But now they’ve gone into business on their own, and they’re taking a dramatic license to create something entirely new.
The business, dubbed Creative Liberties, is both a brick-and-mortar operation and an aspirational concept to be something bigger. The artists are renting out studio space to other artists, and they’re providing all kinds of assistance away from the canvas.
“We have that freedom to mold it,” says Goodwill. “That’s something I don’t think I’ve ever really had as a job — full directorial freedom where I can give it a shot and make it happen. We can experiment in our artwork. Now we can experiment in our lives.”
Goodwill, who works in mixed media, sculpture and fiber art, and Gerdeman are doing all the little things to get their business off the ground. They began in a different location, but they soon found a new home in the Limelight District on Apricot Avenue.
That’s when things really took off. There are seven studio artists — in addition to Gerdeman and Goodwill — working at the Creative Liberties art space, and there are also an additional six featured artists.
Gerdeman says the studio has a waiting list of artists who are requesting work space, and Creative Liberties has already built a wide and expansive list of events. All that, says Gerdeman, has been able to develop organically.
“The kind of thing we were starting with was an opportunity for artists to put their art on our website,” says Gerdeman. “Do you need help photographing your art? Do you need help preparing for an exhibition? Do you need help reaching out to galleries or help promoting yourself? Those were our original services and tools we were offering.”
They’re not just building a space for creating art; They’re also helping each other sell their pieces to the public.
Creative Liberties is open to the public from 10 am to 4 pm Wednesday through Saturday, and if one artist isn’t there, another will help you if you’d like to purchase their work.
There are also dedicated exhibitions and marketplace events at the studio. Goodwill says that many of their connections were formed at Art Center Sarasota, and working there really gave her a push to go out on her own. But now, as the studio prepares for the summer months, the partners in art are struck by how much they still have left to do.
“It’s great that summer is coming,” says Goodwill. “People were like, ‘Ugh, it’s going to get slower.’ We were like, ‘That’s great, but we’re not stopping.’ We’re going to continue to still do events. We’re not going to do outdoor events because it’s too hot. But we’ll still be doing inside events and encouraging our community that is still here. And our community that is not here; that’s what the website is about. We’re going to push a lot on the website this summer.”
Gerdeman, a photographer, painter and mixed media artist, successfully operated a private mural-painting business for 20 years prior to operating Creative Liberties. Her daughter, Ashley Harter, runs the Creative Liberties social media pages, making it a family business. But it still isn’t necessarily a big money-maker.
Goodwill and Gerdeman are splitting the operating costs, and they’re sanguine about the operation’s future prospects.
Every day is an art therapy session, they say, but they’re betting that Creative Liberties can be even more.
“We’re definitely not profiting,” says Gerdeman. “It’s a labor of love at this point. The money we’re bringing in through vendor fees for events and wall rentals and things like that are stuff that is currently going back into the business.
“Paying for advertising, doing all those things, updates and things that we’ve done to the building. Everything that’s happened here, all the materials, has been out of our pocket. It’s all an investment at this point.”
It’s not just an investment in their business. It’s an investment in people and in an entire community. The Bazaar on Apricot & Lime is just a few doors down, and Creative Liberties has piggybacked on the bazaar’s hours to encourage more walk-in traffic.
Creative Liberties is also part of the Sarasota Studio Artists Association, a grouping of artists that open their spaces to the public once a month. The best thing about opening their business, says Gerdeman, is the synergy with artists and their neighbors.
“Right around the time we were moving in here and creating the studios, we met the president of the board of directors of the Park East neighborhood,” says Gerdeman. “We told them about what we were doing and what the plan was and it was so exciting because it was right in line with what they want to see happen with the neighborhood. This neighborhood is predominantly a working class neighborhood, and they’re working very hard to not push residents out but to bring this kind of element in. It’s Rosemary without the gentrification. There’s no million-dollar condos or any of that stuff, but we’re bringing in exciting, healthy, family-friendly type things into the neighborhood and preserving the homes for the people that live here.”
What’s growth look like for Creative Liberties? Gerdeman and Goodwill say they don’t necessarily want to operate a bigger studio space; They want to reach more artists and they want to be able to continue being a bridge between creators and the consumer.
They want to expand their series of events, which includes artist exhibitions, markets and opportunities to come in and hang out with other creative people in a creative space.
Goodwill says that she and Gerdeman needed help from their partners to physically construct some of the art spaces in the studio, and so far it’s been a total team endeavor.
“The funny thing is that we both decided that this was going to be the year where we found our work-life balance and our art again. Then we were like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s take on a brick-and-mortar business,’” she jokes. “As much as I was wanting to focus on me and my art for this year, it’s also me focusing on my mental health. And this is helping me mentally and physically. I’m moving around more than I did before. I do not have a sit-down job anymore.”
At this point, Gerdeman and Goodwill are just thrilled to be operating their business. Gerdeman says she’s been touched by the influx of customers who come in to the studio and mention how upbeat and positive the space feels. She couldn’t have asked for a better tribute. And she wants artists to know that she wants to help them no matter their background.
“Inclusivity is a big buzzword to us,” she says. “It’s really important to us that anybody who walks in the door — whether they’re an artist or a customer — that they feel welcome and that they will find support here. We have artists who have displayed their work here who have never publicly shown their art before. We welcome artists of all ages, races, creeds and points of career, whether they’re just starting or they’ve been making art for 60 years.”
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