"So I’m sitting in my hairdresser’s chair, looking at the [Facebook] feed, and I didn’t really notice anything about it other than the Studio School [was] closing permanently," Tatiana von Tauber told me while recalling how she came to purchase the Bull Street art center in 2016.
"And I just remember the phone dropped from my hand into my lap, and I said, ‘Oh, no!’ And this little voice in my head said, ‘You’ve got to buy it!’"
The Studio School opened in 2012 and, according to their website, is "dedicated to the idea that to learn to draw (and paint) is to learn to see." It’s meant to be a place open to all levels of artist, from people picking up a pencil or brush for the first time, to advanced students who’ve been painting for years. It offers classes for teens and is also popular with retirees looking to explore their creativity later in life.
As a self-taught artist, von Tauber felt a certain kinship with the laid-back nature of the programming. Moreover, she’s always been a businesswoman at heart. The erotic paintings that she’s known for today, for example, stem from her successful stint as a boudoir photographer. So she asked her friends and family what they thought of the idea to impulsively buy an art school, hoping that they would talk her out of it. Instead, they all echoed the same sentiment: "Go for it."
"So within 48 hours I bought it," she laughed. "And then I thought, ‘Oh my god, what did I do?
"So yeah, I basically jumped into it faster than I could talk myself out of it," continued von Tauber, "because I really felt like if I gave it more thought I was going to talk myself out of it."
Over the past four years the investment has paid off. The Studio School has doubled its revenue under von Tauber’s stewardship, and it connected the artist to her peers in a way that she couldn’t have imagined that fateful day at the salon.
"It gave me a reason to get into the community of artists," she explained, "and to understand the community itself, what they’re looking for, how I could fit in, what I could provide. I didn’t know that’s what I was going to do when I started, but I just knew that I needed to jump."
The Studio School is facing another closure, as the brick and mortar location was officially shuttered at the conclusion of their lease in July. This time, however, von Tauber plans on continuing with the business in a way that’s more attuned to how she sees the future of her industry. She’s been through something similar before.
"I used to own a bookstore," she recalled, "and I remember when the Kindle came out. It was like this whole big thing about how the books are going to disappear, [e-readers] are going to take over. I’m like ‘oh, they’ll never take over.’ But they are taking over. I don’t read nearly the amount of [printed] books that I used to. So much is digital."
Like the publishing industry, "the art community is changing," von Tauber asserted. And her business-savvy is telling her that it’s time to change with it.
"I’m realizing that I could do this online," she said. "It opens up an entirely different market. So I don’t have to depend on the Savannah population. I can now expand it to a national population."
Von Tauber further noted that with the decrease in her overhead costs she’s able to reduce prices for her students while simultaneously paying her teachers more.
"I think the closures of some of these businesses, it’s terrible," she conceded," but change happens. You got to be flexible. If you want to make it in business you have to be willing to adapt to the new market. And you’ve got to be able to see it."
"I think that, though there are negatives here," von Tauber concluded, "I think the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that’s resulting from it is going to create positive change in the future. Because if you want good change, you have to have the system prior to it fall apart, so that you understand where the changes can be made to make things better."
You can learn more about Tatiana von Tauber by visiting www.vontauber.com or www.thestudioschoolsavannah.com. Listen to my entire conversation with the artist and businesswomen embedded here. Next week I’ll be speaking with Megan Jones about Savannah Glamour and her recent acceptance to Gallery 209.
Tune in to "Art on the Air" every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.