Perspectives on working with a Gallery

Arts Alive! Recently presented a panel discussion about working with galleries. The panel included:

Why would an artist choose to work with or in a gallery?

In a market with online option s a gallery can show your work in person, have someone talk about your work, have someone (not you) market and manage an online presence for your work. It takes some of the commercial burden off of an artist’s shoulders - Greg

My gallery is not concerned with selling work. Our success is measured in how we educate people about how to connect with art and through art. But we do offer opportunities for artist to earn money, including offering residencies and commissioning pieces for our permanent collection. - Brian

The art world is a social group where we all meet to look at something in person. Selling isn’t why I became an artist, and making a profit hasn’t been a driving force in my work. The social idea of galleries - it’s about social relationships. I want to know an artist as a person before I bring them into the gallery. As a venue, you want  to support someone you believe in. - Rosi

Vermont Center for Photography is a place for artists to meet, discuss and share work. Our commitment is to being a communal space, a hub, a community resource. And I find artists from around the country and around the world from formal portfolio reviews in my office to going to conferences to our open juried calls for work. - Josh

Working with a commercial gallery is worth the fee they take to sell your work because they provide a space that is clean, professional, and the staff are skilled at making sales. It’s really best if the owner likes my work. Another thing that you can get out of it, and I hate the word, is EXPOSURE. - Mary

What’s the deal with exposure?

Knowing an artist and knowing their work is important in our process. Ultimately, the decision to include an artist’s work is not up to me as the owner. Its up to my jury. And the jury actually lives with the work in their space for six weeks. They continue to look at it, to have feelings and thoughts about it. They build a relationship with the art. They learn more about the artist. Then they make a decision. It definitely takes more than walking in with something fantastic. - Greg

I’m an introvert. Teaching has been a great place and my eyes have definitely been sharpened by looking at, talking about, and being around art all the time. I want to see more art in my community. My goal is to give artists more opportunity for exposure through public art. It’s a great way to interact with and build your community because its about the work. - Rosi

Even galleries are beginning to think outside the box when it comes to the white wall gallery model.  Pop up galleries and events are a great way to go to just get buzz happening about your work and to get your community mobilized around what you do. - Josh

Working with a gallery, you have to be comfortable with your work being seen and shown on the gallery’s terms. It’s a partnership. So you should understand how and why they’ve chosen your work and how it’s going to play into what they want to accomplish. - Brian

How do you kick off relationship-building with the artists you work with?

People come into my gallery, they appreciate the work, they have ideas of who else should be in there - sometimes they are artists and they recommend themselves. That’s ok! We have a formal jury process that looks at the quality of the work but also at an artist’s production timeframe, business acumen, if they get out into the community.  It’s not necessarily a “money thing.” We have expenses and need to make sales, but we also are very customer oriented and are building a community around collecting works of people we believe in. - Greg

When an owner comes to me because they like my work, or they want to work with me, those are the best relationships. So these arts events, shows, things around the region and around the state, they’re good for selling, but also they’re good for being seen. - Mary

If they’ve done their homework and found a gallery they think will fit, can an Artist just walk in with a small portfolio and introduce themselves with a brief pitch?

Once someone has something in their hand, they look. Online and cold submissions do make it hard to stand out. - Rosi

If you do that, be direct, be specific, and most importantly be brief. I also like to listen to what artists say about each other - who they know, who they respect, whose work they own. - Brian

In my experience, you will stand out if you are good at following directions. When we take submissions, it is astounding how many artists are not able to provide what we ask for. That is a big part of what we’re looking for. Show up, be prepared, and set things up in advance. Making an appointment is so much better than just showing up out of the blue. Follow up, Thanks, and Kindness go a long way. - Josh

Please don’t walk in with work, please don’t send me postcards, please know I appreciate you and your work, but I’m too busy to handle cold pitches regularly. I get emailed submissions and e-news from artists all the time. That’s how I would like to hear from  you. I have even connected an artist with an opportunity based on what I knew about her from her emails. Her work fit what the collector was looking for and it was easy. Gallery directors juggle a lot of responsibilities, and it’s important to respect our time and be as efficient as possible. - Kristin

Sometimes when you ask for a moment of my time, it’s going to have to be, “Later, I don’t have time right now.” Don’t give up - it doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk to you, I just, what Kristin said, time is limited and some days I do have other priorities. - Brian

You will get 100% of my attention if you are respectful of my time and schedule. - Josh

What are the best ways of opening a door for a relationship to a gallery that you’ve researched, one you think your work would fit in, without actually walking through the physical door? Maybe a gallery on the other side of the country?

Invest in a good photographer, have a brief cover letter, have a good website, and have a good digital pitch that you can personalize and send via email.  - Kristin

Persist with “gentle knocking” - stay in touch, put me on your email list, follow and interact on social media. My best advice is to keep it personal and just be a human being. Don’t send mass emails with generic greetings and subjects.  - Josh

There is certainly an opportunity for a phone conversation because that is an important and beautiful part of all of this. Art & Conversation. You don’t need to walk in the door, but a human conversation to follow up on your email or to direct someone to your site could be a wonderful way. - Rosi

I love receiving postcards from artists about their upcoming shows. It helps me put a visual to a name, and I collect them on a wall behind my desk. It helps me get familiar with their work. - Josh