Chris Bates – StartUp FoCo Podcast

Chris Bates is an artist and muralist who has created art that you’ve surely seen, walked past, and admired in and around Fort Collins. His business, Mighty Fine Art, produces a wide array of work and Chris has some great insights on how to make your work valuable.

Let’s get to know Chris!

My name is Chris Bates and I am a local visual artist out of Fort Collins, primarily working in murals and also commission drawings, live painting with musicians, and work at a couple of galleries.

Is the business of painting a mural more difficult than getting a commission?

They’re similar. The business side that makes murals a tad easier is they market themselves. They’re out in the public eye and it’s easier for people to access the work and find you. The major part of my career is doing that.

Is it normally a city official or business owner that you’re working with in order to do that?

Everybody and anybody. City folks, building owners,
business owners, developers, teachers, principals, school districts,
individuals, you name it. I’ve worked with the whole gamut.

What’s been the best project that you’ve worked on so far?

The latest one that I just finished over the entire summer of 2018. I was working with Brinkmann, a local developer in town that was revamping a block of old town they named the Exchange.

They had hired me to paint a lot of their electric meters, water meters, storm drains, telephone boxes, entryways. I did some chalk art for them and then they also commissioned me to do a large scale mural on an intersection of a couple of alleys. It was a really intensive project that took the whole summer.

I was able to do what I feel like my best work to date.

How do you go about tackling a project like that? There’s a huge scope when it comes to figuring out something like a utility box versus an entire canvas of a building wall.

The way I operate, I like to make site-specific work so it was fun.

The challenge of trying to find something for a storm drain and then trying to find something for this 10-foot by 20-foot box. Then trying to find some for the building wall and then trying to work on gas meters.

The client was patient and we had the time to spend all summer coming up with designs for each specific site. We took it one project at a time and just checked them off. It was a lot of fun to be able to take on these challenges to work on different surfaces and different shapes.

Besides your work, who is doing the coolest work in Northern Colorado? Whose art do you look forward to seeing the most?

There are so many great people. Lindee Zimmer is doing a lot of great work. I’ve got a friend I went to college with down in Denver, Jeremy Burns, who’s making these really cool large murals on the side of corrugated steel buildings that can be seen from different angles.

There’s just so much. The whole public art realm is just exploding right now. There’s just so many people from graffiti artists to people that are rolling out really abstract works. I get on the internet and I just am amazed by the level of work that’s out there and the number of things that are getting accomplished.

I’m trying to spend the next three years focusing on what I’m trying to do. I tend to like keep my hands in a lot of different pots and try to work as many angles as I can. I’m trying to take a two or three year period here and just stay really focused on achieving a couple set goals for myself and not worrying about what other people are doing as much.

We talk a lot about business planning during startup week in particular, but to hear an artist talk about their three-year plan is interesting. A lot of your work comes through commissions or through other folks asking you to do certain things, right? How do you plan for that uncertainty?

It’s just a balance of making things happen and letting things happen. I haven’t typically been a huge goal setter. I’ve gone through the process of formulating business plans and mission statements and all these things in the past, but all kind of loosely based and even my three-year goals aren’t … There’s not a huge plan set in place for them. They’re just places that I would like to see myself get to and I’m just going through the process of figuring out the roads I need to take to get to that spot.

What are you looking forward to most in startup week?

It’s always a great thing. There are tons of really smart, cool people that are out in the community. I look forward to, even in down times, just talking to people that are out. Some of the best conversations I’ve had surrounding art and business and moving things forward in the community have come just having a sandwich or some snacks with someone in between talks.

What do you see is the biggest challenge in Northern Colorado in terms of the creative community.

Probably the cost of living. It makes it more difficult for creatives to find work that will sustain their careers in a way that allows them to meet their full potential as artists or whatever genre of creativity that they’re trying to pursue and not have to hold down multiple jobs at the same time as pursuing their dreams or their creative careers.

People have to make some pretty hard choices and are putting things on back burners or maybe just giving their creative ventures half time or a third of the amount of time that they could be, if they could figure out a way to make their art financially sustainable.

What do you think is the easiest path to make that happen?

There’s no one way. It is finding what success means for you and then pursuing that version of that success and staying flexible and opportunistic in that pursuit and just not giving up and just keeping at it until you get to where you need to go. It looks different for every single person. I don’t think there’s really one way to do it.

A lot of the issues that we face in startups from art to tech and everything in between are so complex. It’s really good to have that startup community behind you to talk to different minds in different studies and in different areas.

I like to partner with anyone that wants to partner with me. I really did like the whole experience last year partnering with Brinkmann. I had never partnered with a developer on a redevelopment project and they were really easy to work with and supportive. I worked with Toolbox Creative and Art Lab for multiple years.

It’s just finding those people that like what you do and that want to build with you. Everyone’s got their own taste and their own opinions and their own ways that they handle their business or their fun. Find those people that you’re jealous of and try to make things happen with them.

How can we find out more about you and your work?

I put newer things up on Instagram under mightyfineartist. I have a website, MightyFineArt.org, that is updated every three years and it’s about that time to do that. I’m always happy to connect with people and talk and give advice andget advice. I like to be involved in the community.

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