Thursday, July 15, 2010

The how to Open an Art Gallery

the how to Open an Art Gallery

The north end
 of the Working Artists Gallery, an emerging arts gallery located in the
 industrial NW of Portland Oregon
The north end of the Working Artists Gallery, an emerging arts gallery located in the industrial NW of Portland Oregon
Photograph by Richard L. Young [ ]
Three years ago I started what is one of a handful of arts incubators in the United States, and quite possibly the only one that is a for-profit entity (I believe in walking the talk) in a warehouse in Portland Oregon. The gallery emerged about 16 months into the business, and is just about 650 square feet. The Working Artists Gallery (WAG) is now in its second year, with gallery attendance, and sales, soaring for the emerging artists we exhibit there!

In this article I hit the highlights of the lessons I learned that may lead you to success in establishing your own gallery. If this is your passion, use what is offered to help you fulfill on your dream!
Difficulty: Moderate

Things You'll Need:

  • Volunteers who are adept at construction and remodel
  • An old warehouse or other abandoned retail space in good condition
  • Access to scavenger sources for lights, molding, and more (example:
  • Graphic design student to design your logo, business cards, postcards, maybe web pages
  • Laptop or desktop computer with design programs, office productivity suite, internet connection
  • Patience
  • Perseverence
  • A source of cash to get and keep the gallery going
  1. Step 1
    BLUE: Spirit, copyright 
2005 Adrienne Fritze
    BLUE: Spirit, copyright 2005 Adrienne Fritze
    ART U LOVE, ART OTHERS LOVE. Decide what kind of art you want to exhibit, then brainstorm who will be likely to attend exhibits of that type of artwork, and purchase the work. Write out a statement about the art you will show in your gallery, the kinds of artists your space will represent, who will attend the openings, and who will buy the work. If you are a visual person, go through arts magazines you enjoy and cutout images that help you describe the above. When you've come close to a final decision about the art and artists you wish to represent in your gallery, and the people you believe will be interested in and purchase their work, make a list of all the people you know, or can find through research, who fit both these descriptions.

    Then get in touch with a number of them and ask (for artists) about their work, what inspires their art, learn about the materials they use and why. And for collectors learn about their collecting habits, ask what kind of art they collect and why, find out how long they've been collecting and what started them.

    Also see who else has a gallery similar to what you're proposing, find out where they are, who they represent and more.
  2. Step 2
    Man with Red Cape, 
copyright 2005 Lee Day Robbins
    Man with Red Cape, copyright 2005 Lee Day Robbins
    GALLERY BIZ BASICS. Purchase, read and use the following books that I used to guide me in my own successful gallery work:
    1) Art Office Second Edition by Constance Smith and Sue Viders - 80+ Business Forms, Charts, Sample Letters, Legal Documents & Business Plans for Fine Artists;
    2) Fine Art Publicity by Susan Abbott;
    3) Corporate Art Consulting by Susan Abbott;
    4) The Artist-Gallery Partnership: a Practical Guide to Consigning Art by Zella Jackson. Every basic thing you need to know about opening gallery, working with artists and collectors, etc. is contained in these books.

    Take notes, mark in the margins of the books, practice with the forms, do any of the exercises suggested. And use the books in a way that works for you.
  3. Step 3
    Suckle, copyright 2007 Joroko
    Suckle, copyright 2007 Joroko
    WRITE A PLAN OF ACTION. Now, taking all that you've learned in Steps 1 and 2, you are ready to write down a simple and brief plan for getting from today to the day your artists are THE artists whose work represents the ideals and aspirations of your gallery's mission, and sell like hotcakes in your market!

    Write a statement about what kind of gallery you intend to open; the type of art and artists it will serve and why; the people who will be interested in seeing and buying this work and why. Remember to refer to your interviews and research materials to back up your thinking. Then write out all the actions you know you will need to take for the following "chunks" of the business:

    1) location and building information. Include lease and purchase information, business and building requirements by your city, including insurance and ADA requirements, cost of operations, personnel (if any);

    2) recruiting the artists whose work you want to exhibit and represent including the steps in the process of recruitment. Some things to think about are who will be curating the exhibits, are they juried or open calls, how often will the exhibits rotate, what will you provide at the openings, what percentage do you take, etc.;

    3) marketing strategy and plan for getting the news to the right people about your business and the art you sell.

    Once you have as many to-dos as you can think of in your lists, transfer the To-Dos to small Post-Its, organize them along a time line (draw a long line on a sheet of butcher paper, or some other paper on a roll), PLANNING BACKWARDS from the day you sell out a show to today.

    "How the heck do you plan backwards?" Good question.

    Think of a successful outcome (ART SHOW SELLS OUT!)and then answer one question - "What had to happen in order for this outcome to be achieved?". So, if your successful outcome is an 18 piece exhibit selling out, the outcome could be written as EXHIBIT CLOSES, SHOW SOLD OUT. Then ask, "What had to happen in order for this outcome to be achieved?" Answer with another outcome such as 8 PEOPLE CAME TO THE OPENING AND BOUGHT 12 PIECES, 4 PEOPLE CAME DURING THE MONTH AND PURCHASED THE REST. Ask the question again, and answer it with an outcome. INVITATIONS WERE FOLLOWED UP BY ME ONE WEEK PRIOR TO THE OPENING. And keep going until you get to today.

    Remember to attach a budget to each of the actions/items that need money spent in order for the step to be achieved.
  4. Step 4
    Urban Texture postcard. This was a popular exhibit and the work 
sold well.
    Urban Texture postcard. This was a popular exhibit and the work sold well.
    DO THE TO-DOs. Follow the steps on your plan. Go shopping for the perfect gallery space. Begin recruiting artists. Book them. Talk to a banker or other money lender (for micro-loans visit MercyCorps, or recruit family and friends). Begin writing your press releases and developing personal relationships with the press folks. Hire a graphic design student to design your logo, business cards, website. Recruit friends and people in the arts community to pitch in with the remodel work. Get quotes for remodel work that must be done by a licensed and bonded professional, insurance, electrical work from at least 3 sources for each part of the project. Sign the lease. Hire the contractors. Transform the space into your gallery. Promote the first exhibit. Install the show. Throw a fabulous opening. Sell lots of artwork. Deposit the money. Pay the artist. Pay your Curator (if you have that kind of an arrangement). Promote the next exhibit and do the process all over again.
  5. Step 5
    LOVE THE LIFE YOU CREATE. If you are like me, opening a gallery, and being involved in the arts, is a lifelong dream. I worked in a plethora of other industries over a 30 year period, and I can tell you that this work I do, and the resultant life I lead, IS THE BEST THING I'VE EVER DONE FOR MYSELF HANDS DOWN! So come on - take the risk to follow your passion - and LOVE YOUR LIFE. To Art, and all the wealth it brings in so many different ways!