Guest Blogger: Kesha Bruce
Every artist I know, no matter what medium they work in, is always looking for good opportunities to exhibit their art and introduce it to broader audiences.
Over the years I had casually considered what it would be like to run my own gallery space, so when an opportunity to share a gallery space practically fell into my lap, I jumped on it. Three years ago I opened a gallery–a space where I could show and sell my work.
Although I could easily label this a list of ‘what went wrong’, it’s also a list of lessons I learned in the process of running a gallery space.
1. Know your true expenses
Having a gallery space doesn’t mean more sales, but it certainly means more overhead. Even though the rent on a space itself maybe completely affordable, other expenses quickly come into play. Never mind the heating bill, I soon found myself spending more than a handful of nickels and dimes on small minor expenditures such as light bulbs, extension cords, and cleaning supplies.
2. Know how to budget your time
As much as I enjoyed talking about my work with new people, chatting for hours on end with the people that strolled in off the street soon became exhausting. Within a few months I began to resent spending my weekend afternoons gallery-sitting. This problem might have been avoided had I done some real thinking in advance about how much time I realistically wanted to spend interacting with the public on a regular basis.
3. Know your collectors
Besides the once-in-awhile “love at first sight” buyer, most likely a collector will have seen your work and gotten to know you a bit before they decide to make a purchase. One-hundred percent of the sales I made while I was showing my work in my gallery came from collectors I had already formed relationships with long before I decided to set up shop outside my studio.
4. Know what you really want
In the end it all comes down to choosing opportunities that fit who you are as a person and the direction you want your career to move in. As exciting as it is to meet new people and sell work in a new venue, you probably don’t need to open a gallery space to meet new collectors or to engage with the fans that you already have.
Aside from having the opportunity to temporarily see the art market from a new perspective, the most important lesson I learned was that having a gallery is not a substitute for using your contact list and taking care of your biggest supporters.
Opening a gallery taught me a ton about the value of connecting with people and growing long-term relationships with collectors. It also made me appreciate the hard work of gallerists on behalf of artists.
In the end I closed the doors of my initial idea of running a traditional gallery space, but I took what I’d learned from the experience and used it to create a new model for promoting and selling my work. Stay tuned!
Kesha Bruce received her MFA from Hunter College and is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship recipient. She lives and works in the US and France.