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Tavia Brown working in her studio. Photo courtesy of Tavia Brown.

It is never too early to start thinking about legacy planning, but you may be wondering what legacy planning even is. Legacy planning is deciding how you want your assets (everything you own, including your wealth, artwork, tools, etc.) to be distributed after you die. For artists, a great way to start is to think about how you want to be remembered and how you want your artwork to be remembered.

Tavia Brown, 46, is a jeweler in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is in the early stages of envisioning her own plan, but she started thinking about these topics years ago. “Right after graduating from Appalachian State University, I was looking at the classifieds, and I found an ad for a bunch of metalsmithing equipment from a retired jeweler that was such a good deal,” recalled Tavia.

Fresh out of college, she couldn’t afford the tools outright, but it really was an amazing deal and she refused to pass it up. Tavia borrowed the money, and that single purchase jump-started her business. Her purchase included a rolling mill, bench shear, torch, casting equipment, and hand tools–plenty to get her jewelry business off to a healthy start.

Aside from feeling incredibly lucky to have the tools needed to launch her career, Tavia began to reflect more deeply. “It made me think about the longevity of tools and equipment and how, if they are cared for, they can be passed down from generation to generation.” Today, Tavia mentors college students and teaches them how to keep their overhead costs low by finding and purchasing used tools. In many cases, older tools are not only a great bargain, but they are of much higher quality and durability than many tools that are manufactured today.

Tavia, 46, is now in her 21st year of business as a jewelry artist and continues to thrive. However, her life has not been free of challenges. When her son was a year old, Tavia needed heart surgery. Terrified about the procedure, she did not have a will in place. Still, she recognized what a treasure her tools and equipment were for her career and thought deeply about what would become of those if something happened to her. She told her husband that if she didn’t make it

out of surgery, she wanted her tools and equipment to go to friends who are also jewelers. Once they chose what they wanted, the rest should go to Appalachian State University, her alma mater. Her children are now 14 and 17, and while Tavia is healthy and past that surgery, she finds herself reflecting again upon her own legacy planning, not just for herself but for her family as a whole. To help her get started, CERF+ shared Crafting Your Legacy with Tavia. Crafting Your Legacy is a free guidebook that includes case studies, checklists, and resources to help studio artists think about and plan for the fate of their tools, equipment, materials, library, archives, and other art making assets as part of their creative legacy.

A few years ago, Tavia started making wonderful jewelers saw pins and pendants (above). She donates $10 per sale to CERF+. She plans to continue making these as well as other mini tools for various media with the same plan to donate to CERF+. Thank you, Tavia!

James Aarons is a ceramic artist who has completed the steps to secure his legacy. He spoke with us about the importance of estate planning. “Simply getting one’s affairs in order is part of managing a healthy studio and business.  But it comes with weighty social stigma and often gets pushed off to the side. It certainly did with me. I bought my home and studio 21 years ago next month and it’s taken this whole time to finally get my butt in gear. I do feel a sense of relief that it’s finally done.”

James believes so strongly in CERF+’s work that he generously named CERF+ as a beneficiary in his trust. “CERF+ rises up to the top of the sea of zillions of worthy charities to consider for the shadowy endgame of this little enterprise that I call home and work.  My hope is that when my final wave comes rolling in, there’ll still be enough left over in my treasure chest to do a little good.” Find out more about CERF+’s Legacy Circle.

Meg Ostrum was the Director of Special Projects at CERF+ for several years, envisioning CERF+’s Crafting Your Legacy and managing that project as well as many others. CERF+ created the Meg Ostrum Creating a Living Legacy Fund in her honor, which annually provide two Get Ready Grants of up to $500 for artists to begin planning their legacies. Ostrum says, “A creative career can have so many unexpected twists and turns—some good, some not so good. Legacy planning is such a vital career protection strategy to ensure an artist’s vision, passion, and talents have enduring recognition and impact well beyond their years of practice.”

CERF+ encourages artists of all ages to start thinking about these important questions. Please visit our Legacy Estate Planning webpage and the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy for information on planning your own legacy. These resources were created specifically with artists in mind. Remember, no matter how few or plentiful your assets are, it’s important that you get to decide what happens with it all after you are no longer here. We understand that death isn’t an easy subject to ponder, but it is the one thing that we will all face someday. Having a plan can make things much easier for your loved ones and ensure that your wishes and intentions are followed.

All photos courtesy of Tavia Brown.













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