Paint Hustle

New Orleans artist went from the streets to mainstream

Name: Lionel Milton
Career: Artist
Location: New Orleans
Power Move: Investigating options in licensing has garnered contracts with various companies, including Walt Disney.
During his teenage years, Lionel Milton tagged public sites with graffiti in the ninth ward of New Orleans. His rebellious spirit and love for a burgenoning art form eventually led him to Young Artists/Young Aspirations (www.yayainc.com), a nonprofit visual arts program in New Orleans.
Milton was introduced to creating functional art with chairs. He toured Europe’s art scene and found discipline and direction that has molded him into an accomplished artist as well as a strategic marketer of his own talent. Milton developed a style that spoke to the spirited culture of New Orleans, which caught the eye of an MTV art director scouting for artwork to dress the set of the Real World when season nine filmed in New Orleans. Kenny Hull, a show producer, also tapped Milton for set dressing on P. Diddy’s show, Making the Band.

Eager for more television exposure, Milton saved $10,000 from sales of his Mardi Gras posters and opened his first gallery in 1999. “I needed an [exhibit] venue,” explains the 31-year-old artist. “[But] I had no idea of the amount of work it [took] to run a gallery from a business standpoint.” The challenge to keep “fresh work on the walls,” however, served as encouragement to persevere. Milton regularly studies the black arts expo circuit and artist Websites for competitive pricing strategies.

Bud Light loved the Steppin’ with Bud logo Milton designed for a New Orleans DJ. The company paid $20,000 for a logo and Mardi Gras posters that appealed to the African American market. The Voodoo Music Festival shells out $7,000 per seasonal poster. Collector and actor Shemar Moore paid $10,000 for a pair of original works, as did NBA player Baron Davis.

Motivated by fellow artist Thomas Mann, Milton attended the 2000 Licensing International Show in New York City (www.liceningshow.com) to research the scene. “Everything is larger than life,” recalls Milton of his first tradeshow experience.

“I wanted to get in the game, and I didn’t see a lot of African American art and artists, so I saw an instant niche to fill. I learned my playbook, but no touchdowns.” The following year, Milton rented a $3,500 booth for his digital and print portfolio. His most instrumental contact that year was Roberta Dobbs, his licensing agent and CEO of The RM Group. A few years later, Atronics, a slot machine manufacturer, grabbed Milton’s vision of Pam Anderson-type beauties jumping about the French Quarter as the foundation for a line of slot games. Retaining “control of publishing and licensing rights,” says Milton, is key to “banking the Benjamins” in the world of licensing. He receives an upfront payment for design and editing and nets a royalty for each reproduction that Atronics makes of his artwork (his work will be released in 72 countries).

Hiring a representative who “speaks the language” and claims approximately 10% to 50% of an artist’s earnings for negotiating contracts is essential. In fact,

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