Helping Artists Turn Passion into Sustainable Living


August 20, 2019 | By Cindy Stovall


Next Session
September 10-November 5
Registration Information Here

It’s one thing to have the talent and the passion to create beautiful artwork, or to share it. It’s quite another to pay the light bill with it.

Perhaps you’d like to open a gallery or center your business around art. It’s likely that each of us can think of an artist or gallery owner who we think of as successful. We see their work all over town, read about their latest project in the paper, social media, or see it on TV.

Often, we witness the growth and evolution that led to the artist or arts entrepreneur making their living creating or dealing with art. And we can think of many more who fall into the stereotypical “struggling” artist category even though they may be every bit as talented. They work one or more jobs in unrelated fields to pay the bills and make art when they can.

What explains the difference? Is it Luck? Is it having the right connections? What makes financial sustainability as an artist elusive to so many?

Co.Starters, an art-centered education program, endeavors to answer those questions and to eliminate “struggling” from the artist or arts entrepreneur’s vocabulary.

Creative Pinellas has made it a priority to find fresh ways to provide support and educational programming to local artists and arts businesses. Collaboration is often the best way to help identify needs and solve problems.

Enter Tampa Bay Innovation Center. 15 years ago, they saw an opportunity to enhance business development for fledgling companies – predominantly in the tech sector. Over time, it became apparent that these principles were applicable for many business models and, to date, Tampa Bay Innovation Center has helped hundreds of companies, many well-known, to realize their full potential through expert coaching, teaching, facilitating and capital acquisition.

Creative Pinellas asked Tampa Bay Innovation Center to apply their expertise in helping artists and arts enthusiasts develop their talent… for business, that is. It was only natural to partner with them and create a curriculum that makes success for those in the arts an attainable reality.

On July 30, 2019, the sixth class graduated. Creative Pinellas provided the dollars needed to make the program possible for all attendees. “It’s truly life changing for these artists and fledgling businesses,” says Creative Pinellas Executive Director, Barbara St. Clair.

In a nutshell, Co.Starters is a 9-week series of classes whose mission is to provide an action-driven collaborative process with a small and supportive group of like-minded individuals, facilitated by expert entrepreneurs. Bottom line – “Co.Starters helps transform a passion into a sustainable business.”

Tonya Elmore, President of TBIC, oversees all the company’s programs and points to the invaluable contribution of Chris Paradies, board chairman, attorney and facilitator of all six Co.Starters cohorts to date. “He is our go-to person for Co.Starters,” she says.

Chris Paradies

Paradies is president of Paradies Law, P.A. and has been giving his time to the Innovation Center for 12 years. His specialty is intellectual property law, a perfect fit in the art world, and his enthusiasm for the project is undeniable. “I love doing it,” he says. “I’ve always believed that with knowledge, comes success. Or, at the very least, you greatly improve the odds.”

Paradies continues, “Entrepreneurship changes lives – the lives of the artists, their families, their employees, customers… everyone.” He then offers a stunning statistic. “The fact is, 80% of new businesses fail. With Co.Starters, we turn that stat on its head and 80% of them succeed!”

So, how do they do it? What is the formula for success in the world of art?

Well, it starts with a simple question: What are your assumptions about what it takes to succeed as an artist and/or business owner?

Next, arts patrons and entrepreneurs are carefully surveyed to compare their expectations to those assumptions. Through this process of data collection and feedback, from as many as 60 people per student, flaws in the student’s plan are quickly uncovered and viable models for success can be identified. “Sometimes, it is just as important to find out if entrepreneurship ISN’T right for you,” says Paradies. “We uncover that.”

Accounting for growth, planning for the future and other important topics for long-term success are covered, along with a great celebration on week nine.

How do the graduates of this latest Co.Starters class feel about the program? Grateful and ecstatic are two adjectives that come up a lot. “It’s changed my life,” says one of the newly-minted arts entrepreneurs.

“There are no illusions about the hard work ahead,” says Paradies, “but they know they have a solid foundation and the tools to move forward.” He says many of the graduates come back to speak to new classes and share their experiences.

Sound good? Of course, it does! Here’s how you can get involved.

The next series of classes starts very soon. The nine Tuesday evenings that could change the trajectory of your career begin on September 10 and run through November 5. Classes are held in downtown St. Pete, and the course continues to be facilitated by Chris Paradies.

You are invited to study, shape concepts and fine-tune ideas in a supportive, collaborative and welcoming environment. Get your arts business “off the ground and on the map.”


Details and a link to the online application can be found at:

Thanks to Creative Pinellas,
artists, art organizations and arts-related organizations
within Pinellas County can participate in CO.STARTERS at no cost.


Here is a list of the most recent graduates. Google them, check out their work or businesses, or better yet, become a customer!

Leslie Bestulic, Alexis “Stix” Brown, Ann Marie Cash, Linda Costa Cheranichit, Micah Cittenden, Janice Garrin, Percy Kleinops, Amelia Matteliano, Ann Mohan, Suzanne Murphy, Coleen Naylor, Alan ReNae’ Neal, Ari Robinson, Rootman, Rebecca Sipe and Davis Wood.


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