John Ross Palmer’s Escapist Mentorship Program was founded in 2009 as a casual way for a motivated group of local Houston artists to meet and communicate with each other about art and business while learning by example from Artist John Ross Palmer as a group leader. In 2010, the program was elevated by the business of John Ross Palmer Art by having a juried application process. Applicants were required to submit images and answer a series of essay questions. Applications were received from all over the United States of America–and one was from an artist named Wavinya Ngei–a full-time resident of the country of Kenya. Since the first year of formalizing the process, the program has evolved as it gained prestige. Applications have been received from all over the United States and the world: South Africa, Indonesia, England, Scotland, France, and India.
In 2011, an in-person interview component was introduced. In 2012, the “in-person” interview was modified to occur via Skype because one of the Finalists and eventual Escapist Artists was a permanent resident of London, England. In 2012, the Escapist of the Year Award was created. The winner was decided by a private voting ballot of all current and former Escapist Artists. Escapists of the Year now include Tra` Slaughter (2012), William H. Miller (2013), Sue Donaldson (2014), Stephanie Gonzalez (2015), Hugo Perez (2016), Jan Golden (2017), AVM Hawkins (2018), and Lindsay Burck (2019). For 2014 and 2015, the Escapist of the Year was decided by private voting from all of Palmer’s 400+ VIP Collector Database. Votes were tabulated by the Houston accounting firm of Weinstein Spira. From 2016 to 2019, the honor was decided by a panel of approximately a dozen “secret” judges that visited each Escapist’s solo show and scored them on various components including ambiance, theme, pricing, lighting, and artist confidence.
In 2013, Palmer launched the massive Refuse to Struggle® Campaign to build an Escapist Artist Gallery & Studios adjacent to his personal gallery in the Historic Houston Heights. That Summer, he raised over $50,000 cash-on-hand from top art patrons before launching a crowd-funding experiment on Indiegogo. In just 46 days, the Refuse to Struggle® online campaign earned $76,113 from over 300 contributors worldwide. Construction of the state-of-the-art “ultimate artist training ground” took the lion’s share of 2014. Escapists Donaldson, Reinholtz, and Lulu Lin were only able to “move-in” for their black-tie graduation gala in October of 2014.
At the onset of 2014, eight Finalists were chosen from a wide range and talented group of applicants. A “speed dating” format was introduced to the interview process, where Finalists rotated to three separate interview rooms and judges. This same year, all artists received a detailed report of their scoring from both the written and interview phases of the application process. Applicants appreciated this feedback on their hard work, and so this element will continue in the future. The speed dating interview format continued with the selection of the 2015 and 2016 Escapist Artists.
Formality was added to the structure of the Escapist Mentorship Program in 2014 with the requirement that Escapists must complete assignments and earn badges in the following areas to graduate: Correspondence, Event, Fame, Finance, History, Journal, Mechanics, Sales and Philanthropy. Now, when someone “graduates” from Palmer’s Escapist Program, they will have a proven record of involvement and accomplishment. At the onset of 2014, Escapists Sue Donaldson, Lulu Lin, and Joseph Reinholtz were welcomed into the program at a private initiation ceremony where they took The Pledge of the Escapist.
Since the construction of the Chrysalis, a hallmark of the program has been the Escapists, each hosting their own solo show in the Franklin Gallery. That means that beginning in 2015 with the Class of Gonzalez, Poteete, and Tarbox, the Escapists had free use of their own Personal Artist Studios (“Goehausen,” “Jennings” and “Patriarca”) for the entire year plus exclusive show space in the Franklin Gallery. Unlike a traditional art gallery where an artist delivers his or her paintings to the gallery for the unveiling, with the Escapist Program, the Escapist Artist is responsible for every detail of their solo show: invitations, theme, marketing, collector calls, ambiance, pricing, lighting, price negotiation, collector follow-ups and much more. It is a tremendous learning lesson for their future career as self-sufficient artists. Each step of the way, they are coached and supported by their mentor John.
In 2016, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Art Launch was formed to manage and operate the Escapist Mentorship Program. Now, donors can support the program and the Art Movement of Escapism through tax-deductible donations. This element has allowed the program to grow and thrive like never before. One addition that came with the creation of Art Launch was the Escapist Retreat, a crash course in the program that’s hosted at the private home of a top collector. Panels of collectors and former Escapists gather to give advice and answer questions for the new class.
Top patrons of Art Launch are members of an elite group called The Monarch Society. The Monarch Society has a private preview at the gallery with each Escapist on the evening prior to their solo exhibition unveiling. During this evening, the Escapist is interviewed and has Q&A with the small group in attendance. Next, the Escapist leads the Monarch Society into the Chrysalis. They go into great detail about a few of their art pieces: inspiration, technique, media, any challenges, and communication goal, if any. The Escapists have practiced for weeks in advance of this very special occasion. What began as a benefit of being an Art Launch top donor has indeed evolved into priceless training for the artist to communicate about themselves and their artwork in a public forum.
In 2020, Escapists Thaddaeus Arvie, Sarah Luna, Sarah Rimboch, and Patricia Ramaer had the challenge of being mentored during the mandatory lockdown and a global coronavirus pandemic. Weekly coaching sessions proceeded with regularity via Zoom and FaceTime. Solo shows were still executed via private previews, a limited capacity Monarch Society evening, a solo show divided into three-time slots, and a Saturday virtual exhibition. Reservations were required for all in-person gallery visits, and a plethora of safety protocols were observed, including masks and social distancing. While it might appear that these Escapists had misfortunate of being in the program during this year, the truth is that they have quite possibly received the most intense and necessary coaching in the history of the program – how to hustle and work smartly to make ends meet during the most challenging of times. In terms of sales, the 2020 class has either equaled or excelled past the results of Escapist graduates.
Since its inception, being selected as an Escapist Artist in John Ross Palmer’s Escapist Mentorship Program is entirely free. Besides a nominal cost to apply, there is no fee whatsoever for the hours and hours Palmer pours into the program. The “heart” of the Escapist Mentorship Program is the individualized coaching and mentoring that Palmer gives to each Escapist–outside of the assignments. Escapists call for personal meetings…and they get them. Palmer doesn’t “force” an Escapist to meet–the artist gets from the program exactly what they put into it.
To become an Escapist Artist, the individual must complete-in-full the written application released on this page in the Fall of each year. For all timely-submitted and complete applications, a four or five-person jury then scores the applications on a point system. (Artist John Ross Palmer is therefore only a fraction of the voting power and retains no personal selection or veto power.) A separate jury scores the Finalists for the interview phase without a review of the written applications. The highest combined scores from the written and interview phases determine the next Escapist class. Beginning with the 2017 Class, the application for the Escapist Mentorship Program has been online through Submittable.
John coaches the artists not only on evolving their art technique–but also on how to promote their art, retain exclusivity, have savvy business salesmanship, and overall personal and professional confidence. Unlike many other artists concerned with the competition, John Ross Palmer sees the inherent benefit of elevating all artists to add power to the profession.
Honors and Accolades
Each year since 2010, the Escapists have been celebrated and honored at a casual Afternoon of Escapism and black-tie Evening of Escapism at Palmer’s Historic Houston Heights Art Gallery. Palmer invites all of his top collectors to support the hardworking artists…and he features them and their artwork in an annual high-quality Escapism Catalogue. For the Afternoon & Evening of Escapism, the Escapist Artists are involved in all stages of the planning process to learn how to throw future events on their own terms. They are responsible for hanging their works as well as negotiating prices and selling their works once the art collectors arrive. Since 2017, the graduation weekend has been divided into a Saturday evening black-tie gala and a Sunday afternoon casual brunch. The weekend serves as the sole annual fundraiser for Art Launch, and money is raised through table sponsorships, art acquisitions, an art auction, and independent donations.
Palmer has been highly influential in launching the careers of the Escapist Artists on the international stage. He has showcased their artwork at major global art fairs, including Art Chicago and the Los Angeles Art Show.