ShopColumbia makes good on its promise

By Katy Nielsen

Columbia students and alumni are the artists behind such works as the grayscale photos and silver-framed pastel necklaces artistically arranged on a rollaway wall inside ShopColumbia.

Located in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., the store itself is a combination of installation art and a student workshop.

Despite opening during an economic crisis in 2008, ShopColumbia, a store that sells original student and alumni artwork, earned enough in proceeds to begin donating to a scholarship fund.

The office of Student Affairs chose Scholarship Columbia as the fund for the shop.  According to Ronda Dibbern, manager of Exhibition and Performances Spaces at Columbia, at the time there was a strong push to raise money for that particular fund.

Scholarship Columbia matches donations from a $1 million fund given to the school by the board of trustees.  Non-alumni donations through Scholarship Columbia are matched 1-to-1, alumni donations are matched 2-to-1.

Therefore, a $100 alumni donation receives a $200 match, which creates a total gift of $300.  All faculty and staff donations are matched 1-to-1; donations made by faculty and staff who are also alumni are matched 2-to-1.

ShopColumbia contributed 10 percent of its proceeds from alumni sales, which were $727.38, plus donations collected at the sales counter that amounted to $115.69.  The total donation was $843.07.

“It’s been this constant growth and momentum of artists being involved and the college embracing the store,” Dibbern said.

Now ShopColumbia is looking to the future.  Dibbern said she hopes the online store will be ready this October. Instead of being a South Loop boutique, ShopColumbia could be nationally recognized.  “Our biggest goal is to get the online store running,” Dibbern said. “It’s really going to expand our audience.”

Kari Sommers, assistant dean of Student Affairs, helped launch the store.

“We opened ShopColumbia on the weekend the entire country understood we were in the worst economic recession in 40 or 50 years,” Sommers said.

Despite the risk, the store earned over $100,000 in sales since 2008.  “Customers who come into the shop know that they are supporting Columbia—they know that they’re supporting the students,” Sommers said.

According to Sommers, the whole idea behind the shop was that proceeds would go to scholarships if they ever broke even with the 25 percent cut made from their consignment fee—a percentage of an artwork’s original selling price.

Alumni pay a 40 percent consignment fee, and students pay a 25 percent fee.  “We’re not trying to make a profit off our students,” Dibbern said.  “We knew that if we could, we would donate to scholarships.”

According to Clarissa Bonet, a graduate student at Columbia who sells her work at ShopColumbia, the consignment fee is low.

“As an artist you’re still making money,” Bonet said.

Last year, Bonet started selling her work at ShopColumbia; at times she was making $130 a month. She has sold more than 50 pieces through the store.

“It’s given me the confidence to start selling my work at other places,” said Bonet

The store serves as a laboratory for artists by teaching them how to market their work and it provides them with real income.  “We try to do all operations as teaching and mentoring,” Dibbern said.

Jill Casey, a photographer who graduated from Columbia last May, started selling her work when ShopColumbia opened.   “[The store] teaches you how to present and appeal to your audience,” Casey said.

ShopColumbia is also looking to expand the store in the next year or so.  “It will probably be next summer,” Dibbern said.

“We’re advocating for more space and more resources because right now, we represent over 200 artists and we’re running out of space.”