Smith gets down to business

By James Sanford

Lansing glass artist spent last Friday at Business Leaders Briefing in Washington

Plenty of people insist that nothing gets accomplished in Washington these days. Craig Mitchell Smith is not among them. The Lansing glass artist took a quick trip to the nation’s capital last Friday to attend the Michigan Business Leaders Briefing, hosted by the White House Business Council and Business Forward.

“What I wanted to talk about was successful public/private endeavors in the arts,” Smith said. “I wanted to talk about what has worked, to be an advocate for the arts in general and for the business of art in particular.”

Smith said he’s often stunned by how many artists don’t give any consideration to business matters.

He recalled a previous trip to Washington in 2010. “I met a group of artists that had gathered together. I spoke with them, and not a single one of them had plans of marketing what they had done. That’s a huge loss of opportunity, because people want to own these pieces. They were focused on the artistry and not on the practical side. I see that as a cop-out; to be a professional artist, you have to be both.”

Smith has taken his own advice. Three years ago, he said he was “ready to give up” on his artistic ambitions before he received a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. With the money came a stipulation: Smith would have to set up a public show. An exhibition at Cooley Gardens led to a larger showcase at Dow Gardens, which led him to open his own gallery in the Meridian Mall 20 months ago.

Don’t talk about cutbacks and down-sizing to Smith; he’s on another track entirely.

“I’m bursting at the seams,” he said of the Craig Mitchell Smith Glass Gallery. “I have to expand because I can no longer continue with production at the current facility. The four kilns are maxed out.”

Smith is looking for an offsite location, “some place I can work privately without being viewed by the public. I love dealing with the public, but it can often be an interruption to the work. So my plan is to split my time between the secondary facility and the mall, and to hire additional people to help me make the glass.”

Smith said his positive outlook put him in the minority at the briefing.

“Pretty much everyone else there had some sort of complaint or issue,” he said. “People were talking about business hurdles and the administration was doing a wonderful job of referring them to people in the government who might be able to help them.”

Smith said he learned about a Department of Commerce Import/Export Division program that could make it easier for him to sell his work overseas. “It’s something I never would have learned about had I not gone to this briefing,” he said. “It will help streamline the process of exporting the work to other countries.”

He also plans to continue pushing artists to think about commerce as well as craft.

“If we can convince artists to put their creative minds toward business, we are better suited to problem-solving than MBAs,” he said. “Having the soul of an artist is 50 percent of the battle of being a professional artist. This was most difficult part of my endeavor: teaching myself to think like a businessperson. I have always thought like an artist, so thinking like a businessperson is really a recent addition to my brain.”