In the Dec. 7 Maine Sunday Telegram, Bob Keyes wrote, ostensibly, about our ongoing efforts to promote Maine art via Art Collector Maine, the Portland Art Gallery and the Gallery at the Grand in Kennebunk.

In fact, his writing (“New gallery draws competitors’ ire by charging artists for exposure”) and the subsequent online conversation with some of Maine’s old guard art elite highlighted much larger themes:

• Are we willing to embrace change and learn new ways of doing things?

 Is the local art world willing to democratize access to art and allow everyone opportunity to choose, for themselves, what they love?

 Will gallery owners be able to take a cue from area chefs, who embrace competition and often work alongside each other at fundraising events, knowing that “a rising tide lifts all boats”?

It comes as no surprise to me that some people in the art community complain about anything that upsets their version of the natural order of things. These are usually the same people who have knighted themselves experts by their own authority.

However, until we learn to allow creativity in business, to get past outdated processes and to interact with a wired world that has gotten much smaller – and accessible – we will continue to suffer the consequences of art gallery closures.

For those of you who missed the article, Art Collector Maine seeks to establish long-term relationships with artists who choose to increase their market awareness and to find new buyers for their work. Unlike any other Maine art gallery, Art Collector Maine uses its considerable online and social media expertise to promote its artists.

Art Collector Maine offers buyers the opportunity to view art via a carefully selected collection of over 120 artists on their laptops or iPhones, wherever they may be. You’ll see the artists on the pages of magazines, in advertising, in person at our events or hear them speak on-air. Art Collector Maine is thriving based on the quality of our artists, our curatorial oversight, our ability to bring art to where you are, and because of our good old-fashioned Maine work ethic.

After years of promoting Maine art through the magazines Maine, Maine Home+Design and Old Port, it was clear that artists were looking for new alternatives to selling their work. Artists want to enjoy the benefits of living in Maine but also need to pay the bills.

For all of us, consistent employment is critical. In the case of the self-employed artist, sale of their work is imperative. I’ve not met an artist yet who believes that it’s only about the journey and not also about paying the rent, saving for their kids’ education or enjoying a well-deserved vacation. Yes, they want to sell their art. There is no shame in that.

In Bob Keyes’ article, he refers derogatorily to the fees that Art Collector Maine charges as “pay-to-play.” Well, when I was growing up in the County, my friends and I worked every harvest in the potato fields. We’d fill a barrel full of potatoes and tag it with a numbered ticket. At the end of a grueling week of early mornings, muddy fields and manual labor, the tickets would be tallied and I’d get paid a meager 25 cents per barrel.

Forty years later, I do different work. Among other things, I create brands and build marketing platforms. I create websites and grow traffic. I help people sell their goods and services.

And I like to get paid for that work, just as I got paid for filling barrels full of potatoes. My many colleagues, working alongside me on these projects, expect to get paid also.

“Pay-to-play”? What does that even mean? When people provide goods and services through their efforts, they should get compensated in some way. There is no shame in that, either.

I refuse to think of Maine as a zero-sum game, that we need to live with a scarcity mentality. I believe that, with Maine ingenuity and an expansion of our markets, we can all survive and thrive.

In the case of Maine art, there are buyers around the globe who haven’t yet heard about our artists or seen their work. When they do, some will buy that art. We can’t wait for them to decide to take a trip to Acadia, or happen luckily upon a gallery when they finally visit.

We need to do the truly hard and unsexy work of finding buyers, presenting works of art, connecting them with artists. When we do, maybe we can retire the phrase “starving artist” and be happy that we all – not just the knighted few who arrived before us – can make a living in Maine.

— Special to the Press Herald