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wanted advice from [or former] gallery owners

updated sat 16 apr 05


Janet Kaiser @ The Chapel of Art on fri 15 apr 05

Hi Milla

I will do my best to answer a couple of your questions and give you some=
advice, which is pertinent no matter where in the world you are (and I=
am). Each situation demands different approaches and there are a couple=
basic questions to ask yourselves before you start thinking out the=
specifics you mention:
1) What range of work are you aiming to exhibit? (I mean genr=E9, not=
2) Do you foresee a ever changing audience (say passing trade and/or=
tourists) or fixed indigenous. If a fixed captive local audience, some=
extra questions will be the predominant age group, income and social=
3) Have you a totally dependable and 100% professional stable of=
artists/craftspeople backing the project to the hilt and ready to jump in=
to help at times of trouble?
4) How many staff do you have and what are their qualifications?

>Do artists and craftspersons still desire and do well being featured like
>this for say a month's spotlight?

In our experience (estimated 90% clients non-resident, of whom maybe 50%=
return two or three times per year) we needed over 50 craftspeople and 20=
fine artists to keep exhibitions fresh and interesting. A change of=
exhibition every six-weeks was very ambitious indeed and we soon changed=
it to "only" replacing the art on the walls. That was more than enough for=
just the two of us.

The galling part was that this appeared to be the only work that the public=
(and many artists) appreciated we had done! "A NEW EXHBITION" seemed to=
say we could sit back and vegetate for the next X weeks and then a new=
exhibition would miraculously appear out of thin air... because that is=
also another thing: take only one day to change around, otherwise it is=
presumed the gallery has closed for good or is totally inefficient!

In fact, an exhibition is only the fruit of a huge amount of work and 1-2=
years planning! This "mental" work from initial research, invitations to=
artists/submissions through to the final layout of the venue is imperative=
for a successful exhibition. I cannot tell you how stressful it is,=
because you are planning and organising several exhibitions at once. Maybe=
speaking to the main artist of a one-man show scheduled for the summer of=
2007 who has decided they are having a mental breakdown, whilst proof=
reading invitations for the next exhibition next month!

Then there are those moments when a gallery needs its "stable" to come to=
its rescue. Our worst experience (which I still have nightmares about) was=
when all three artists decided to withdraw ONE WEEK before the exhibition=
was due to open! They had apparently fallen out some weeks/months before=
and no one had thought to inform us! We already had all the professionally=
printed posters, catalogues, invitations, etc. and press releases sent=
out! What a mess!

It was the last time we offered an exhibition to artists "setting out" and=
it was also the last time we paid for offset printing. What was not done=
or do-able on this PC (using laser printer only, not ink jet which will=
fade and smudge when wet) did not get published. End of story. We took a=
couple of years to recover from that disaster, financially as well as=

>What costs should each party be expected to shoulder?

Yes, well... Find out what everything costs and then decide what you are=
prepared to finance. You can state exactly what you will or are prepared=
to provide and what the artist can add if they wish. Make certain that is=
totally clear to each party. You do not want artists sending out 1000=
invitations if your gallery will only hold half a dozen plus the gallery=
cat! You pay for mailing everyone on your own invitation list plus a max.=
given number of the artists' own contacts/clients/groupies.

The minimum will be a generic standard gallery invitation (maybe a postcard=
which can be printed with exhibition and address in-house) which can be=
changed every year or two, along with posters (ditto) and a glass of=
"beverage" for everyone appearing at the opening/preview. Catalogues...=
Anything from an expensive glossy booklet to a printed A4 sheet of paper,=
but I advise starting off with the latter until you find who is "worth"=
the extra expense. Also who will come up with reasonable photos to use for=
all necessary publicity, including press releases and web site exposure.=
It always amazed us what people seem to think was=
"book/illustration/publishing quality"!!

>Any advice on how to recruit the ones who would benefit [mutual
>benefit] from this approach or are there better ways to get them launched
>and make the gallery a success?

You sound as altruistic as we were when we started out. Unfortunately we=
forgot to take human nature into account as much as we should have done.=
Many artists ended up as very good personal friends (imagine being left=
free use of a beautiful home for over three months by anything less!) but=
there were a significant number who were not interested in the broader=
aims of the gallery. I will not put it any stronger than that here, but it=
was a constant disappointment to us that artists and makers were only=
interested in their own part and not the whole. These rotten eggs were=
also totally unprofessional in others ways, such as denying the gallery=
commission on sales to clients referred to them by the gallery,=
under-cutting price structures, wheeler dealing behind the gallerist`s=
back... All the mean-spirited little tricks which undermines the gallery=
in so many different ways.

My advice is first get your gallery established, expand the number of=
artists in your stable, get them100% committed i.e. convinced you are here=
to stay (no talk about moving venue!) and only then move on to worrying=
about extras like web sites and classes to increase community involvement.=
We made a BIG MISTAKE when we *started out* doing classes, concerts,=
exhibitions, etc. etc. on top of all the work involved getting exhibitions=
up and down and interacting with the general public 8 hours per day=
minimum, seven days per week. The 18-20 hour working days burned me out=
over 10 years... No one can tell me that my condition is not stress=
related!! You are well advised to get advice on the business aspects of=
running a gallery, but nothing they will be able to tell you will prepare=
you for this role. Believe me, it is a cross between a accountant and a=
zoo keeper!

Which reminds me... I suggest you start out making your gallery's=
name/reputation by holding "themed" mixed, exhibitions. These will=
interest the maximum number of people at any one time and because there is=
diverse work on exhibition, a greater number will find something they=
like when they look around for the first time... They are then more likely=
to return, which is a major battle won!

So often a new gallery will start out cold, expecting the public to fall in=
love with whatever they show... It does not work that way! You first need=
to nurture the vague interest we all inherently have in "art" in several=
hundred people, get them calling in regularly, bringing friends and=
family... Only when this established client base has acclimatised to the=
gallery and its chosen genre, may you start to take liberties! "Softly,=
softly, catch the monkey..."


Janet Kaiser - hoping I will not dream about these issues tonight... I was=
beginning to move on, but it does not take much to open such deep and=
painful wounds.
8 Marine Crescent : Criccieth : GB-Wales LL52 0EA

Plan visiting The International Potters Path?
Contact: Janet Kaiser
Tel: ++44 (01766) 523122

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