New resilient art gallery business models tested by coronavirus | Visual Arts | Hudson Valley

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  • Gallery Art JuXtapose
  • Part of the interior of the Art JuXtapose gallery in Rosendale, New York.

When Sylvia Diaz organized the 2017 New Paltz Open Studio Tour, she met many talented artists with large bodies but nowhere to show them. “I met all these great artists whose work was gathering dust and they didn’t know how to market it,” Diaz says of the event, when artists from the Hudson Valley town invite the public in their studios. “I started representing several of them and finding places for them to exhibit, but I thought that if I could present their work locally, I could lower the price and they would have a place to exhibit.”

In June 2019, Diaz, who has a background in marketing, opened the Gallery Art JuXtapose in Rosendale, a small town a few miles north of New Paltz. Determined not to “leave here in two months if things didn’t sell out,” she came up with an untraditional business plan: renting out her wall space to artists.

Diaz is not alone. Other gallerists in the Hudson Valley have created business models that allow them to survive whether or not they sell art, and the many artists in the area pay to play. Many have fled New York in search of more affordable living and studio space and are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. New business models capitalize on their eagerness to exhibit in limited exhibition space.

As art sales increasingly shift to online venues and high-priced art fairs while the number of physical galleries dwindles, it makes sense to have an alternative business model, experts say , especially in a small market like the Hudson Valley, where many traditional retail galleries have closed. “The democratization of access to the art space is a consequence of seeing a demand”, explains Joanna Frang, executive director of the Barrett Center for the Arts in Poughkeepsie. “It’s a smart decision.”

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The exterior of the Queen City 15 gallery.

  • The exterior of the Queen City 15 gallery.

Although all the new galleries have temporarily closed in accordance with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order for non-essential businesses, they expect to be able to withstand the recession because the payments they collect from artists cover their rent. “I’m going to be able to weather the storm because of my role model,” Diaz says.

The change worked for a longtime local artist Matt Maley, who found a predictable source of income by joining a new arts co-op. “Most of the local galleries I was involved with had unfortunately closed,” Maley says. “I was selling sculptures in four retail gallery spaces in New Paltz, Woodstock and Saugerties that are now gone.”

New galleries often require artists to sit down one or two days a month to cut costs that would otherwise be spent on hiring staff. Their monthly vernissages and arts programming, such as artist talks and drawing classes, brought buzz and foot traffic to quiet main streets that needed more of both.

Diaz thought she might struggle to fill her wall space, but it has been fully rented since the gallery opened. Artists, whom she recruits through social media and word of mouth, agree to pay a monthly fee of between $85 and $135 for six months. They also agree to sit at the gallery for six hours a month or teach a class at the gallery. In return, Diaz markets his work, hosts a monthly opening, and waives a commission on art sales.

Several works of art cost more than $1,000 and a bronze torso of Alfredo Cardenas costs $10,000, but most works are priced affordably between $25 for a postcard size painting and $500.

Sales increased each month, Diaz says, and about 10 artists made a profit. The model exceeded her expectations to the point that she purchased additional gallery space in Poughkeepsie and Saugerties before the coronavirus hit and expects to continue after it was contained.

“Places like this are always great to find something reasonably priced,” says Christoph Hitz, an editorial illustrator who lives near Art JuXtapose and was browsing a pre-coronavirus art opening. “When I go to the wine shop, my goal is to get the best wine at the cheapest price, and it’s the same here.”

Founded by six artists, Queen Town 15 in Poughkeepsie opened in late 2018 and now has 12 paying members. “We wanted to be in downtown Poughkeepsie because we think we can be part of the beautification process the town is going through,” the co-founder said. Paola Bari, ceramist. “But where we are, we knew we couldn’t rely on gallery sales to keep the business going.”

The co-founders opted for a cooperative model with monthly dues ranging from $40 to $200, a 10 to 30 percent commission on sales, and a gallery requirement that allows Queen City to be made up entirely of its members. “We’re keeping membership numbers as low as possible to allow more artists to join us,” Bari says. “Our goal is to promote the artist and to be able to give back to the artist as much as possible.”

The gallery promotes artists through monthly openings that have attracted up to 150 attendees as well as moderated talks in which artists describe their creative journey and process. Works range from $100 to $10,000 and the gallery sold approximately $20,000 worth of artwork in the six-month period ending December. Members of the public can make an appointment to view the current exhibition. “Art is a point of comfort in these trying times,” says Bari.

A new signing from Queen City says he was disappointed with sales but is still happy to have joined. “Sometimes it felt like most artists were going to each other’s shows, and no one was buying or selling,” says Tom Elman, a professor of computer science at Vassar College and a computer artist who joined the cooperative last September. “But for someone like me, who has no background, it’s really the only way to show my work in a public space. I can talk to people about my work, which is very helpful, and I have to come up with something every month, which keeps me focused.

Although the Hastings-on-Hudson artist Victoria Bugbee didn’t sell works in her $135 a month space on the walls of Art JuXtapose, she also says it was a worthwhile investment in her career that provided her with a community of supportive artists. “The response has been great, and it’s helped me build a following on social media,” Bugbee says.

The association Roost Studios and Art Gallery at New Paltz opened in 2016 with “a mission to build community through the arts,” says co-founder Marcy Bernstein, a former high school art teacher. Roost combines the art co-op model with a gift shop and online store, and rents out the entire gallery to local art groups for $25-$35 per hour. The groups had held classes ranging from life drawing to girls’ theater and tai chi almost every night before the gallery’s recent closure. The two-week closure was announced on the gallery’s Facebook page, along with a link to its online store and an invitation to make an appointment to view its current exhibition.

Bernstein says she’s not too worried. “We will be fine. Our main source of income is membership dues, and dues are paid in advance.

They range from $25 for student memberships to $1,500 plus a $200 initiation fee for full memberships. The 16 full members of the gallery enjoy a one-month solo exhibition every two years and free use of the gallery for events and courses. The gallery also has a dozen lesser memberships, receives donations, and takes a 20% commission on sales from members and a 40% commission on sales from non-members. With gallery members working two three-hour shifts a month, Roost only had to hire two part-time workers.

“Although New Paltz has a reputation for being an artsy village, we felt that a traditional commercial gallery was unlikely to flourish here if it relied solely on art sales,” Bernstein says.

Roost’s artwork ranges from $50 to $2,000, and the gallery also rents out artwork with an option to buy, Bernstein says, so community members can “try out an artwork.” home before committing to live with it and breaking down payments into manageable monthly increments. .”

Maley has sold around 30 sculptures ranging from $50 to $1,200 since joining Roost in 2018, largely thanks to a solo exhibition last year. Today, almost all of his art sales are through the gallery. “I felt Roost could be the space to experiment and grow as an artist,” Maley says. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but like anything that takes a lot of self-motivation, I came away knowing that you get what you put into it. And I was pleasantly surprised. »

As for the coronavirus, he says, “Who knows when a point of no return would occur with spaces that depend on social and community ties to exist. Can an average artist afford to relaunch after this madness starts to pass? But it’s also the perfect time to build up an inventory. This nightmare must eventually end.

Mildred D. Field