Interview with #ZAPPcon2018 presenter, Chris Dahlquist

Author: ZAPP Team
Date: January 9, 2018


We had a conversation with artist and leader in the visual arts and festival industry, Chris Dahlquist! Chris will be presenting during this year’s eighth annual Arts Festival Conference. Read on to find out her take on networking at festivals, tips for making your business sustainable, and who she’d revive from the dead to have a picnic with!

Q: You’ve been practicing photography and filmmaking for a long time. What influenced the start of your artistic endeavors?
A: “I started in elementary school—  working in the darkroom. It was a way to bridge science and creativity. I was lucky because I figured out what I wanted to do early on and stayed on that path.”

Q: You’ve served as a juror and advisor for national fine art festivals. How does your perspective and experience as an artist help influence this work?
A: “Having the arts education and breadth of experience influences my jury process. I’m a part of the artworld 100% of the time as opposed to some jurors. As a travelling artist, I also see a huge variety of work, both at festivals and because I get to travel and go to lots of different museums and have those kinds of experiences.”

Q: As someone who’s participated in many arts festivals throughout your career, what is one of the most important things for artists to keep in mind while applying?
A: “Do your research! Truly know what you’re applying for. It’s also important to keep in mind that just because an event is highly rated, doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be the best fit for you. You must find the right fit.”

Q: How else does attending festivals affect your business?
A: “I do a lot of networking during festivals, both with other artists and with clients. I feel like the connection I make in my booth with someone is just the first stop. It’s the first step to building a relationship with potential collectors, peers, and gallerists. This has influenced my career by opening up a lot of other business opportunities, outside of just the sales that happened at a festival.

To look at a festival solely as a transactional/sales opportunity is shortchanging the entire experience. That leaves a lot on the table.”

Q: For a new artist who wants to create a sustainable business, what tips can you give them for where to begin?
A:You have to start with goal setting and having a clear path to where you want to end. Diversify your avenues of revenue— have multiple revenue streams. We’ve grown up with a myth that if an artist makes 100% of revenue just by selling their work, that’s the ultimate dream; if you do this, you’ve arrived. Doing this is actually putting yourself in a very precarious position. So by having multiple channels of revenue for business, you both support your income and allow yourself the freedom to live more creatively.”

Q: What professional accomplishment in the last year are you most proud of?
A: “I just installed my first large, permanent public art piece! It’s in downtown Kansas City, Missouri on the exterior of a Hilton Hotel. The piece is 130ft x 10ft. It’s an image created by perforating steel that was commissioned by the hotel developers and Mid-America Arts Alliance.”

If you’d like to read more about this installation, click HERE.

Q: What professional endeavor in the last year has been most challenging for you and why?
A: “I was hired by the city of Salina Arts and Humanities to create a professional development program series for artists. So working as one piece within a larger system has been challenging for me because I am used to working autonomously and independently. Now I am part of these larger teams and systems, working on both public arts projects and in the professional development field.

Taking it one step at a time has helped. I face each new challenge as it arises. Another thing that has helped make this type of workflow easier is my understanding of why they hired me in the first place: because of the outside perspective I bring to the table.”

Q: When you’re not working and presenting at arts festivals, what is your favorite pastime?
A: “Kayaking! We (a group of four of us) went on our largest kayaking endeavor this year— we kayaked from Kansas City to St. Louis. That’s 384 river miles, 15 days of paddling seven hours a day, and camping along the way. We did that immediately after my last show; within a week we were on the river. It was pretty spectacular! I expected the trip to be more physically demanding and it was actually more about keeping going and staying in the present.”

Q: For fun, if you could invite 5 famous people — alive or not — to a picnic with you, who would they be?
A: “Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Friedman, Imogen Cunningham, Sally Mann, and Maya Angelou.”



The reason she became attracted to arts festivals: “I’m married to a musician. I got to see the direct interaction he had with his audience on stage. As a gallery artist, I dropped my work off to the gallery and never really had interactions with collectors. I was jealous of those relationships my husband got to have with his audience. Arts festivals seemed to be the closest thing to that for my world! My husband and I were already used to traveling since we would go all over the place with his band, and continuing to be on the road appealed to me. The people we meet as I exhibit, and as he plays his music, become part of our larger story and we get to make all these connection wherever we go.”

A proud professional accomplishment: “I’m proud of the work I’ve done with Kansas City to launch micro-lending funds for artists. This was the first model of this kind in the country! The program stemmed directly from my work with artists and my understanding of their need for capital. This was a project that the economic development council and I worked together on. We started working with the city and eventually got city money to back the loans. Currently, our lending pool is $750,000. Now, the city is getting calls from all over the county from others interested in learning how our artist funding is set up, to see how it’s working, and to model programs off of it.”


Dhalquist will be presenting at the Arts Festival Conference 2018. Her session is called “Get Your Story Out: Developing and Delivering your Message” and will be held from 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Come learn how shows and artists can work together to engage their audiences through multiple channels — from press, to social media, to one-on-one interactions. Everybody has a story, and through discussion and interactive exercises, this session will help you develop yours. Prepare to leave with the building blocks you need to deliver your freshly-honed story over a variety of platforms and a strategy to Get Your Story Out.

Read the agenda and register for the conference:
Check out Dahlquist’s website: