Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in fine arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with McLean Emenegger, Founder of AMcE Creative Arts, located in Seattle, WA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Established in June 2021, AMcE Creative Arts presents fine art exhibitions and cultural programs designed to foster community engagement and inspiration through unique exchanges with contemporary visual artists and makers. With an emphasis on creating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, AMcE's programming offers rotating art exhibitions, art workshops, talks with artists and arts educators, and partnerships with area nonprofits and art organizations.
The gallery also features a Niche Market that showcases smaller works and artist books from local and national artists at lower price points to encourage burgeoning art collectors. AMcE's partner agency McLean Art Projects also supports the artist community through educational and professional development workshops and dialogues with established artists and arts professionals held in the gallery.
My clients include art collectors, the art curious, artists, arts professionals, and the general public. My company's ethos is positive human connection and exchanges through the lens of art, so my guests and clients range in age and demographics, which is wonderful and offers a unique reward. I work hard to create a welcoming environment so people aren't daunted by the perceptions of the art world as elite and austere.
Tell us about yourself
I once upon a time worked in the television production industry and jumped ship to nourish my soul more readily via a profession in the arts. I had been volunteering at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, a small, contemporary art museum built on the kunsthalle model, and was inspired by the artists, exhibitions, and community it provided. That was 25+ years ago, and I have not looked back since. Over the course of my wide-ranging art world career, I have worked in the for- and nonprofit sectors, including as the Executive Director of a nonprofit supporting emerging South California artists.
Three years ago, I decided to leave my native hometown of Los Angeles in order to reboot my story, and I moved to Seattle in 2020 with an open slate regarding what my future would hold. I knew my passions centered around art, working with and supporting artists, curating art exhibitions, and developing programs that fostered human connection (I was an event planner for 11 years and produced hundreds of community-based events annually). I rolled all that into my new solo venture, AMcE Creative Arts, my first fine art gallery and brick-and-mortar business. Perhaps initially a quixotic enterprise, I knew that I would always regret not giving my own business a go. I tend to forge my own path, and being my own boss suited me. So far so good, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have a space and platform that offers everything that I love and care deeply about.
I honestly could not have fathomed the positive community response to the gallery, its programs, and its exhibitions. Of course, I want to be fiscally successful so I can keep on keeping on, but the success that is really paramount is the richness I am fortunate to enjoy when I am at the gallery - the meaningful exchanges with new and regular clients and ushering a sense of discovery and wonder through the art and exhibitions. As terrifying as it is to run your own small business, I knew I had it in me, but the rewards are more than I would have ever imagined.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
When I opened the gallery, it was in a new city where I had no formed relationships professionally and personally. Seattle has a very different art scene than the one I know and Los Angeles, and I joke that it was either complete bravery or wild folly opening a gallery here. Let alone it's my first brick-and-mortar business. That all said, I feel exceptionally fortunate and pleased with how much I have grown in less than two years in terms of the gallery's reputation, visibility, and reach. The community and public acclaim are astonishing.
I have a marketing background, and it's incredible to me how all of my professional experiences have so seamlessly dovetailed into starting a business from scratch. Everything I have done to this point has been instrumental in developing the gallery and its wonderful and dedicated fan and collector base. I also marvel at how much I have grown as a human running my own small business in ways I would never have predicted. It's stressful, to be certain, but I've developed new skills to handle whatever is tossed my way with aplomb I wasn't aware I had in me.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Where do I start? You really have to learn how to quickly pivot, move on and let go when you have your own small business. Things will not always go to plan. But you can't dwell when things go sideways. You have to see everything, good and bad, as a learning tool.
You also really have to watch your mantras - not making or losing money is really hard to endure, but you can't dwell there. You have to take that gnawing energy and flip the coin – how can I work with but not live at the effect of the scary bits of owning your own business? If you are living with 'OMG, this is so hard/expensive/scary,' you'll get stuck in a fear-based loop. And that will not only not pay the bills, but it will thwart progress. Fear does not beget gain. You have to keep your wits about you. It's a balancing act - optimism and pragmatism with a grounded hold on reality.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Have enough money set aside to live on for at least three years to cover your known business and personal expenses. Know that you'll also run into unexpected expenses, so have contingency funds.
- Know your brand. Who are you, and how do you want to operate in the world? Be clear on who you are and what you offer. Don't try to be something that you are not. Authenticity strikes a chord.
- Learn how to ask questions! Understand who the right people are to ask these questions! The clearer you are on your needs, the better you can articulate what you need in order to get results. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Also, realize that most problems have solutions. So, when something comes up, take a deep breath, and figure out what needs to be done and who can help.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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