Robert Schimmel: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of Lake Tahoe Art Scene where we bring you the who’s who, and what’s happening in the arts. I’m your host, Robert Schimmel, and if you’d like to be part of the growing Lake Tahoe arts community please check out our website, www.laketahoeartscene.com. And make use of the many resources we’ve got going on there.
I continue, by the way, to load the podcasts in descending dates and according to series so that you’ve got something of interest please keep checking back or email me if you are looking for a particular episode that you can’t find. We’ve been at this for quite awhile and we’ve got two hundred of them on the website and I’ve done 75 so far, at least.
Okay, onward and upward, and my guest today by phone calling from San Francisco is Mia Benenate. She is the co-publisher of Vivant Books, and worked in the publishing industry since 2009 most notably at Art Publishing, Ltd. and Amber-Allen Publishing. She earned her BS in literature and creative writing from Eugene Lang at The New School University in New York City and then studied French, architecture and photography while living abroad in Europe. Personally, I don’t think I’d have come back but Mia had other plans and Vivant Books is what has come together and is a team of dedicated individuals who love the intersection of art and literature and are passionate about making fine art more accessible through its high quality book publications.
Well you heard Mia in the background, and I just want to welcome you Mia! Thanks for talking with me today.
Mia Benenate: Thank you so much for having me, Robert. It’s great to be here.
RS: Cool, and I am very anxious to hear more about how you are making art more accessible and the quality of your publications that your website shows as often including original artwork. So you’re trying to get the artwork out there to folks and I love that. So, why don’t you give us an overview and start with Vivant Books and its philosophy and your niche, whatever you want to tell us.
MB: Absolutely. So, Vivant Books is a boutique publishing company and we tend to work with mid-to-late career fine artists and our focus is on limited edition high value books that we like to call objects d’art because each of our books is a piece of art in and of itself. I think what makes us different from other publishers doing coffee table books that feature art, is that we create a true partnership with the artists we work with and form lasting relationships with them. One of our core values, as you mentioned, is making art more accessible to a broader range of people.
Often a huge percentage of any given artist’s fan base is essentially priced out of acquiring an original piece of artwork and we work with artists whose works sell for a range — anywhere from $3,000 to $100,000 per piece. Even at the lower end of that scale, there’s a lot of people for whom that $3,000 mark is out of reach.
RS: Oh, absolutely.
MB: So that leads me to another aspect of our business that really sets us apart and this is truly the niche that we’ve focused on and that’s that we package a small number of our limited editions with original artworks or hand finished pieces by the artist that they feature. That means that someone who’s unable to purchase a piece from an artist at $3,000 or even $30,000 has a fantastic chance of owning something from that same artist at $250 to $1,800 through one of our publications. So that’s what really sets us apart — it’s that we’re making art by amazing artists very accessible to a broader range of people.
RS: That’s great. I’ve seen a few of those books in my time and didn’t know who still might be publishing work and quality. The limited editions that appear in those are often not only originals but editions that are embellished and hand signed, right?
MB: Exactly. And I think there are other publishers, publishers that we look up to a lot that are creating beautiful books on artists and fine arts but they are doing it at a higher volume than we are and they are trying to appeal to a larger audience. What that means is that they have to cut corners to keep costs down because they’re making more money. Whereas for us, it’s always been about smaller print runs, and higher value products.
RS: Okay, do I hear limited editions in terms of the books that you actually sell?
MB: Yes, that’s correct.
RS: Oh, that’s amazing. So in a way you’re elevating the customer into an area where they’re allowed to get a limited edition, high quality object d’art, so to speak, in a book form and yet lowering it considerably from the range that that artist might draw in the marketplace?
RS: That’s wonderful! So I understand you’ve got a book coming out on Brett Amory. I’ve only just heard of him in passing and from you, but I looked him up and oh my — he’s a very hot American artist on the West Coast, I think? Tell us about him.
MB: Yeah, he’s one of the Bay Area’s most beloved artists, but he’s also acquired some amount of fame globally at this point as he works with one of London’s top dealers and gallerists. Our book on Brett Amory will be available in 2015, so next year. Brett is one of my favorite artists and I’ve been following his career for the last five years or so, and I’ve watched his career trajectory and written articles about him and he’s someone that’s I’ve always really believed in — as an artist but as a person too. He’s someone that I’m very excited to be working with.
RS: I love his work; he seems to be quite prolific as well as there’s a certain variance in his work that’s really neat. He’s got a bit of a Hopper-esque quality to it. . .
MB: Absolutely. And he also plays with dark and light and shadow in a really interesting way, and he’s focused on one thing throughout the majority of his career which is the Waiting series. And I think it’s important for artists to do that because when you do that it tends to brand you and he’s been really smart about that. Because of it, his work is very easily recognizable. And like you said, people draw comparisons to Hopper all the time. The book that we’ve created, what we tend to do is feature the artwork alongside essays by art-world luminaries and that’s a comparison that’s been drawn many times by more than one person.
RS: Excellent. Who else, or what other projects do you have coming up?
MB: Our next project is a monograph featuring the very well known and much celebrated Los Angeles-based artist Kimberly Brooks. She is a wonderful artist who has been painting for over 20 years. She started with realism and then segued into figuration abstraction. Her work is incredibly bold and exciting and I would urge everyone to look into what she’s doing as well. And also check out our book when that comes out, I think that it’ll be a smashing success.
RS: Say her name again for everybody.
MB: Kimberly Brooks.
RS: Because I hadn’t run across it on your website. And by the way we are talking with Mia Benenate and the website of the publishing house, Vivant Books, is what you’d suspect, www.VivantBooks.com. So check that out and you can see what they’re up to in more detail.
Vivant sounds like it’s embracing the art of publishing as well as the arts that give it the content for its books. In what way do you offer writer, author, fine artist — whatever, something more than any other publisher?
MB: Well I think it’s an interesting question, and we’ve definitely embraced the art of publishing. The process of publishing a book, be it a trade book, or a coffee table book like we do, it’s a very intimate process to begin with. When you do that, when you go through this with someone. . .when we partner with an artist we are digging around in their life but also their most intimate belongings: their art. Because that is them. It’s putting themselves out there or putting themselves up on a canvas and then they give it to the world to pick apart, or celebrate, or tear down, or whatever’s going to happen. And that’s kind of what happens when we choose to do a book with someone. We’re also choosing what goes in, what fits, what makes sense, what’s important to your story as an artist.
So that process is incredibly intimate. I’m always very grateful to the people that we work with that they entrust us with that responsibility. And it’s something that we take really seriously. We believe in every artist that we publish, and more importantly, we really love the work.
That sets us apart, that makes us different. It gives us an emotional investment in the projects that we take on in addition to the financial investment required to bring a book to market.
RS: When an artist asks you about publishing his or her work, and this may be a couple of pronged question, but I’ll throw it out there and you can take what you want. How do you determine what and who should be self published versus what should be full service published by Vivant and is there a formula for artists that are checking in with you?
MB: There is, yeah. There’s a few things that we look at. We’ve been doing this for awhile and our approach is pretty formulaic. First, here’s what my process looks like: first I look at the artwork and I want to love it. If I don’t love it aesthetically, so if I don’t like what it looks like, what I’m thinking about is do I appreciate it, does it make me feel something. Beyond that, I start doing research. Who is this artist? Why is what they’re doing important? Is it important? What is their place in the art world? What is their place in art history? Do they have one? Do I think that they’ll have longevity in their career?
MB: That for me is a big one. It’s important because it leads to the next question I have to ask myself: Is it a viable business move for us to invest in their career? At the end of the day, that’s a huge aspect of what we’re doing — investing in the careers of artists.
RS: Right. Because you’re basically taking them on and they’re not paying a thing, right? Because you’re taking the risk with them. . .
MB: Exactly. They’ve already done the work and we take on the financial responsibility of creating a book about their work, and the financial responsibility of marketing that book and everything that goes along with it.
MB: To finish answering that question though, for any artist who is thinking about getting published or wants or self-publish, one of the biggest things that I look at is their existing fan base. What kind of gallery representation they have, what their presence on different social media channels looks like. At the end of the day, no matter how much I love a particular artist, I have to believe that we’ll be able to sell books. So I have to know that there are other channels other than our website, and other than third-party vendors like Amazon and Barnes & Nobel, where we’ll be able to sell those books.
MB: So when I look at Brett Amory for example, and I see that he has 9,000 fans on his Facebook fan page, that’s really heartening to me. I can see that other people are invested in his work, just like I’m going to invest in his work and there’s a possibility to sell.
RS: Gotcha. That’s great. You know, I hadn’t thought about how social media would be such a category that someone like yourself or would be a good business practice to look into.
MB: It’s so important.
RS: You know, we’re kind of running out of time and I don’t want to push this too much. One last question: As a publisher, do you believe that there’s a most important part of the final book and how do you proceed with the marketing and distribution, if you can make a real quick statement.
MB: I think the most important part of a book — aside from the artwork it features, because that’s obviously front and center — is the team behind it. We’re really lucky in that we’re working with some of the best talent in the business. I think it’s your team that makes everything come together and look seamless while on the backend of things it’s not quite like that at all.
MB: Sometimes it feels like a three-ring circus. Regarding your second question. . .
RS: Marketing, yeah.
MB: We take on all the marketing for any given book. We tend to rely heavily on social media and sometimes we work with PR firms as well. We’re small so when it comes to distribution we tend to manage that ourselves. We’re not publishing the volume that would make working with a distributer necessary.
RS: Fantastic. Well that’s a good closing statement and I hate this. I always get into these conversations and love it and want to do more and I can’t. Folks, thank you so much for joining us today and Mia, thank you so much for taking time out and calling in. It was fun talking to you the other night. I just appreciate this so much and hope we can do this again.
MB: Absolutely, Robert. Thank you so much.
RS: I want to thank Mora Communications in LA for putting us together. Folks, make sure to check out Mia and Vivant Books at www.VivantBooks.com. And you can reach Mia with questions or whatever at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week, thank you so much for tuning in and have a great arts week out there!