Cooperatives offer distinctive benefits to artists of all types. By working together, they can gain marketing advantages, reap quantity discounts on supplies through joint purchasing, share studio space and equipment, and maintain control over the distribution of their work. Performing artists use the cooperative model to increase their artistic freedom and control over performances.
Artisan cooperatives are member-owned, democratic organizations that are governed on the basis of one member, one vote. Members typically elect a board of directors that makes major policy decisions and may hire a manager or staff to oversee day-to-day operations. Some artisans operate their cooperative as a collective where all members function as the board of directors and make decisions using a consensus model.
Most artisan cooperatives form for joint marketing purposes. By marketing their products jointly, co-op members can earn more from sales because they do not have to pay a dealer or middle person. Artists can market through the internet or share retail or studio space that they may not be able to obtain on their own. When artists use similar supplies and materials they can use the cooperative for joint purchasing and save money through bulk or quantity purchases. They can share expensive tools, kilns, or other equipment by purchasing them together. If they wish to, members can offer technical assistance, collegiality, and constructive critique to one another.
The most common type of arts and crafts cooperative is a retail store. This model allows artisan members to maintain their independence and unique creativity and expression while reducing the time-consuming aspects related to selling and promoting their art through joint marketing. The store provides members with display space to sell and market their product. Artisans can pool their resources and hire a store manager so that they can devote more of their time to their craft, or take turns with the various tasks. Because they are member-owners of the cooperative, artists can decide how their work will be displayed and devise equitable ways to rotate or share prime display sites within the store. By marketing their products jointly and eliminating the need for a broker members increase their earning potential. They may also be able to reach a broader market through retail, internet, or/and catalogue sales.
Some arts and crafts cooperatives operate as performance troupes. These performing arts cooperatives are owned and democratically controlled by the performers, directors, stage hands and other staff of the troupe. Performing arts cooperatives offer member artists more artistic freedom and control over performances than is usually available in more traditional stage companies and dance troupes.