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Sometimes I Even Scare Myself

So I stayed home today with the expressed intention of catching up on the blog, and spending some time painting in the studio. I logged into Wordpress, and noticed that I seem to have forgotten to actually post my most recent blog entry a couple of weeks ago. I read over the text, and the news is so out of date now that I figured I'd just start fresh.

First, let me say that we are in fact back from Romania, and have been for some time now. It was an amazing trip, and we accomplished absolutely everything that we wanted to, as well as laid some foundations for the possibility of moving there full-time in the future. I hasten to add here that we're not packing the dishes just yet. I'd predict that if we do actually make a move, it will be at least a year from now. It takes a long time to get things organized, and to pack up your life. We know that first hand, as we've done it several times so far. We hate the idea of going through all of that again, but are pretty stoked about the possibilities of moving back to Romania, more or less, full time.

In addition to getting all of the paperwork sorted for the new business in Romania, we were able to reconnect with a lot of Bogdan's family during the visit. It's been ages since he's been home, and even longer since I've seen most of his relatives and friends. Those visits went a long way to making us feel welcome, and further that we would be able to have a support system during and after such a monumental relocation. It certainly made me feel a lot more comfortable and secure with the prospect of moving abroad again.

Having said that, perhaps the most important development was that Bogdan's mom, and all of his aunts and cousins, are now looking for a place for us to purchase. Property in Romania is still very affordable, but the moment anyone smells that an expat is involved in a real estate hunt, the prices rise instantly, and exponentially. To have his relatives looking around for us, will make all the difference in what we will ultimately pay for a property there. They know the area, the people, and the places to avoid.

Another recent development is that the apartment right next door to Bogdan's mother is about to go on the market. While this is not precisely what we were looking for, in that there is no land included and it's quite a long drive to Bucharest, it's still a very exciting possibility. If we were to purchase that apartment, we could knock through and create one large, 4 bedroom apartment, that would allow his mom to have some privacy and independence, and still give us a lot of space. The other good thing about the apartment is that we could leave it for long periods of time if we came back to the States, or traveled around Europe. His mom would be there, and we wouldn't have issues with lawn care, etc. while we were away. We'll see where that leads... it hasn't come on the market yet, but his mom is watching the situation closely.

One of the issues that we ran into abroad was the reality that it would be quite difficult to earn a living from art in Romania. The largest art market is here in the States, and although we would have access to the rest of Europe for art fairs and the like, all of those opportunities would require travel and transport of art from one place to another. We just returned this weekend from an art show in Dallas, Texas... only a three hour drive for us, and we spent something like $4,000. Imagine what the artist who flew in from Switzerland paid for the event! We made very few sales over the 4 day event, and didn't come close to paying for our expenses. How often can we lose that much money on an art fair? We thought we might just drive around the EU zone to shows, but it's not as simple as it sounds. For example, while you can easily pass from country to country within the EU, not all countries are members of the union. If I drive into Switzerland, for example, I would have to pay import fees at the border for my art. But even if we were never to pass out of the EU, each country is slightly different. If we were to be driving a Romanian purchased vehicle, it would have to pass the more stringent German emissions standards in order to drive that vehicle across the German border. Such problems are solvable, but there's a good bit of research that needs to take place to stay current with changing laws and regulations throughout all the member countries. We spoke to the visiting artist from Switzerland this weekend, and he mentioned sheepishly that if we were driving a van with Romanian license plates in Western Europe, we would probably be stopped often by police. How do you explain why you have a van filled with art if you are already suspicious? Then there is the issue of my visa. While l will have the right to live and work in Romania, will I have the right to sell art in France? My guess is that I will also need to obtain a general residency visa for the EU in addition to what I have obtained for Romania. I mention all of this to underscore the fact that we're not in the process of moving at this stage. We have a lot more thinking to do, but we are taking the first baby steps toward an eventual relocation. It might take years to figure it out. With the horrors of the war in neighboring Ukraine, we're in no hurry.

What we learned in chatting with Romanian artists and gallery owners is that there is not a lot of support for, or collaboration between, artists in that country. The idea that we would be able to step into a thriving art scene, welcomed by local artists and supported by organizations and systems, is just not going to happen. It occurred to us that perhaps an answer for us would be to try to establish some sort of support system ourselves. Perhaps we could start a non profit that would make it easier for artists in Romania to sell their work abroad. Perhaps we could establish residency opportunities to bring artists into the country as well, to expose them to the rich artistic traditions, history, and inspiration offered by that part of the world. It's a thought we're considering now, and one that might bridge the feeling of isolation expressed by the folks we visited while abroad. Ideally the NGO would be robust enough to offer us a salary for running it, and serve to make a difference in the lives and careers of Romanian artists.

I think the most important consideration is to insure that we offer solutions that make sense to Romanians themselves. The trap of introducing programs and systems that are foreign to a community, and that do not directly address the specific needs of that community, are wasted. There is an inherent arrogance when well intentioned expats sweep into a community and attempt to solve problems that don't exist. I remember vividly volunteering to help rebuild a school in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. We arrived at the school, who had been given all sorts of charitable donations by well meaning foreigners. All of these items were stored in a room with no real plan as to how they would be used. There were out of date sets of encyclopedias, large TVs that had American plugs, and my favorite was large boxes of wooly sweaters for the children. Do you know how hot it is in Sri Lanka? Who on earth sent winter clothing to this sub Indian island nation? It was astounding. I remember when we went to the local librarian there and said; "We have a bunch of money for you to buy books. You can buy any books you like. We'll go with you, and you can do all of the selections. We'll just pay the bill." He was so excited, and obviously chose books we never would have selected on our own. The books were locally published, pertinent to the interest and curriculum of his students... and they were new, not used.

As we consider what kind of non-profit support we can organize for Romanian artists, we will have our work cut out for us. Ideally there would be a sister organization here in the USA, so that fundraising and coordination could take place between the two regions. I've found a possible model for us to emulate, and will be meeting with the director of that organization soon. Regardless, the mental exercise of planning the creation of this entity is proving very inspirational and developmental for planning the future of our art business. Stay tuned, we'll have a lot more to talk about on that front soon.

I think I'll close here. Perhaps this time I will actually post this blog, instead of just writing it and leaving it in the draft folder. I wish I could say that was my biggest mistake in life, but it pales next to my many other goofs. Have a great week.

“Art Life Blog with John & Bogdan” is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. Bogdan is a videographer and fine art photographer who constantly seeks to stretch the boundaries of traditional photographic work, with the added flare of his artistic eye.  Both artists’ work can be seen online, or at their studios at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, in Houston.

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