Advantages & Disadvantages of Artist Co-ops

Brenda Marks Painting

©Brenda Marks, Transitions 5. Used with permission.

On this blog tour stop for I’d Rather Be in the Studio! Brenda Marks asks me this:

What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of belonging to an art cooperative?

Wow! I’ve never been asked this before. I think I came up with a pretty good list of things to consider, although I realize it’s a starting point.

Brenda’s blog is no longer available, so I have reposted my response here.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Artist Co-Ops

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages together and I’ll try to be as brief as possible.


Brenda, you’ve been a subscriber of mine for a while now. You have certainly heard me say at one point how important I think it is to be engaged with other artists. Great things happen when artists get together and share ideas. A well-run artist co-op can provide that.

On the flip side, it can be disastrous if there is even a single person who is out of step with the group. And when I say “out of step,” I mean way out of step. The personalities have to work well together and each member must be aware of his or her responsibilities to the group.

Artists are, by lot, individualists. You have to have some diplomatic skills to be part of a group. Members need to be aware that what is good for one artist is good for the group. The reverse is true as well.

Sharing expenses.

This is a no-brainer advantage. The more artists, the lower the operation costs. It could turn into a disadvantage if certain members are late paying their bills.

Dividing up the work.

Again, it has to be equal. Allowances can be made for members who don’t want to sit in the gallery. (They pay a higher membership fee or have a smaller space.)

There can also be perks for the person in charge of everything. (She doesn’t pay a fee or gets a larger space or doesn’t have to sit in the gallery.)

Which reminds me. Someone needs to be in charge. When everything is ruled by group vote, things get messy.

One person needs to be in charge of books–with another person verifying the books. One person needs to be in charge of curating the space. One person needs to be in charge of openings. And so forth. These tasks can and should be rotated from year to year or exhibit to exhibit, but someone has to be in charge.


When working in a group, clear communication channels are essential. There should be guidelines for how communication works. I suggest setting up a Yahoo or Google Facebook Group and, yes, putting one person in charge of making sure that all members’ names and email addresses are up to date. With these email groups, members only have to send to one address to ensure that everyone gets the message.


I think that people in groups “behave” better when there are rules and when they know what the rules are. There should be rules for finances and operations. There should also be guidelines for exhibits, openings, and letting in new members.

The rules don’t have to fill up a 50-page manual, but they need to be some kind of order. Again, this goes against the grain of most artists. You’ll have to trust me on this. Also, trust that it’s easier to recruit new members when the rules are clearly outlined for them.

Expanded mailing list.

It’s easy to see that each artist will bring his or her mailing list to the co-op. Rather than relying on your own mailing list for your opening reception, you’ll have access to those of other group members. Or at least you should.

The art.

It’s all about the art, isn’t it? The more art there is, the more diverse an audience the space will attract. However, if the art isn’t up to your standards, this may not be a good thing. If your art doesn’t look good next to someone else’s in the cooperative, this could be a disadvantage.


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4 comments to Advantages & Disadvantages of Artist Co-ops

  • Alyson, I read this interview and it made think about the different guilds I have belonged to. I realize that guilds are more of a craft thing, but what’s your take on them? I’m not talking about the larger, nationwide or international guilds, but the regional, medium specific kind. I’ve belonged to a couple and they differ drastically in some ways and are similar in others. My biggest beef is the unprofessionalism I’ve seen in one, which unfortunately has become a trend lately in dealing with people who stick themselves into the classic stereotype of “I’m an artist, I can’t think linearly, or do math, or keep deadlines.” I’d love to hear your comments on this.

  • Thank you for such an insightful commentary on coop galleries. You gave me plenty to think about.

  • Wendy: Boy! Every organization varies so greatly that it’s hard to lump them together. It depends so much on the personalities involved and the defined mission. I think you can often attend a single meeting and know if it’s for you or not.

  • This is an interesting question, and I’m surprised there are so few responses. “Art Cooperative” may be defined differently in major cities than it is in distant suburbs or semi-rural areas. It is the local art association with which I am familiar. Even the poorest art association will give newbies to marketing some training in presenting themselves and their art to the public. If you are fortunate to have a really good art association nearby, you may find it a reliable venue for expanding your collector base throughout your career. It is a terrific venue for increasing your visibility locally. Coops and artists benefit according to the contributions in time and money by the members. I once visited an urban artists coop (10 artists). The art was great, but the atmosphere was tense because a couple artists weren’t meeting their responsibilities, and the remaining artists had to pick up the slack, cutting into their productive time. I suspect that is a common theme. Some guilds/coops will contribute more to your resume than to sales. Others will be good sources for sales and workshops (teaching them.) You have to decide what you want from the affiliation.