Small Business as Art Gallery

So you want the interior of your small business to look and feel good but you don’t want to spend a ton to do it?  Running your small business as a “gallery” is a great way to add flavor to your space, bring in a wider range of clientele, keep things new and fresh, help out local artists, and build community.   But, it can come with some serious headaches if you don’t go about it right. 

As a lifelong artist, I’ve seen the situation from both sides – the artist and the gallery.  I have run a few different “galleries” out of small businesses that I’ve been connected with, and I’ve seen what works and where the hiccups can come from.  The common perception is that artists are flaky… and we can be.  But, if things are clear, scheduled and organized, it can make the flow of everything work smoothly and everyone will be happy.

Here are some of the steps to setting yourself up for success.

Number 1 – Define Your Concept

Who are you as a company?  What’s the essence of your brand?  How do you want the art you display on your walls to interact with your business and your clientele?  You can even go as far as creating a mission statement for the gallery portion of your business plan.  With these things defined for yourself, it will be easy to see if artists and their work fit with what you have going.  If an artist or their art doesn’t fit your program, it doesn’t mean that you don’t like their art or that you think they aren’t good.  It just means it’s not a perfect fit for your space.  Don’t feel bad for not taking them on.  There are plenty of places for artists to display their work.  It’s not on you to get their art on walls.  Your job is to make sure you find artwork that suits your place of business.

Number 2 – Schedule

Creating a long term schedule is critical.  This will keep things flowing and keep you ahead of the game.  Without this, you will be experiencing headaches around something that is supposed to be fun and energizing, not depleting.  So come up with a game plan.  How often do you want to rotate artists?  When do you want to have opening receptions?  When will the artwork get taken down and hung up?  Coordination is key.

I would recommend switching out artists every 3 or 4 months.  More than that can feel like a lot, unless you really want to go big with it.  I would also try to keep the opening reception nights consistent, “First Fridays,” or “Third Thursdays,” whatever works for you and your business.  Definitely coordinate the dates and times for art to be dropped off and picked up, and make it concrete.  Artists can be flaky, but if you make it clear, we too can be on time. 

The last thing about this would be to schedule in an email or phone check-in with the artist a few weeks prior to the art drop off.  This ensures that you’re (and they’re) dialed in, and that they are not going to forget about it or have their art tied up in another showing.  (Not that I’ve ever been guilty of this before..  he, he.. oops)

Number 3 – Nuts and Bolts

How are you going to hang the art?  Are your walls drywall, brick or concrete?  Who’s going to hang the art?  Will it be you or the artist?  If it’s you, then you have creative control, if it’s the artist then it’s up to them how to dress up your space.  Both have their advantages.  Do you need a ladder?  Do you have hanging tools?  How are you going to display the information tags?  These are all things to figure out.

Number 4 – Art Show Necessities

These are things that you need from your artists.  Their art needs to be ready to hang, wire backed, finished and looking good.  It’s not on you to fix up a painting, or help it hang on the wall.  You need info on each piece – Title, materials, dimensions and price.  Also, the grouping of art needs an artist statement.  It can be simple, poetic, whatever they want really.  The statement is a way for people to interpret what they are looking at.  Another things is photos of their work… these can be used as content for your social media to build excitement, and build a social media community around your artists.  All of these things should be ready prior to the show, ideally when you do your artist check-in.

Number 5 – Contract

Draft up a contract.  This makes everything super clear so no funny business goes down.  Some highlights include – The percentage that the artist and the gallery take, that the gallery isn’t responsible for any damages to the artwork, duration and dates of the show, the drop off and pickup dates….  I have a few old contracts I’ve used, contact me if you need and I can send you one as an example.

Number 6 – Sales

Sometimes artwork will sell!  And when that happens, everyone wins.  You’re not necessarily trying to make a lot of money from the artists selling art off your walls but I’ve found it actually works best when a sales commission is involved.  For one, it’s your wall space and your clientele.  Without you displaying it, it wouldn’t sell in that instance.  For two, from my perspective as an artist, I want the gallery to take a cut, that way they have an incentive to sell it.  Without that, it doesn’t matter to them if it sells or not.  And for three, you’re completing the transaction, using your employees, your time, and possibly your credit card reader to do so.

Cafes and restaurants take anywhere from 10% to 30%.  Art galleries are anywhere from 30% to 60%.  It sounds crazy, but as artists we have to take this into account and we set our prices accordingly.  As long as it’s in the contract and it’s upfront, it should be all good.  I feel that for most casual gallery setups (unless you’re doing a lot of promoting and helping sell), 20% is a nice fair balance.  Another way to go would be to include a small bonus for employees for selling a piece.  (20% to the business and 5% to the employee)

Number 7 – Find Artists

With all that in place, now you need some talent.  This is known as a call for artists.  Take your concept and put together a statement outlining what you’re looking for.  This includes what styles you’re interested in, themes, concepts, sizes, number of pieces, whatever you want.  With this you can make a flyer, you can post it around town, email it to everyone you know, put it on Facebook, Instagram, Craigslist, etc.  There’s a ton of artists everywhere and most of them want to display their work.  Get the word out and start scheduling your shows.

Number 8 - Opening Reception

Opening receptions are great.  They are a way to get your community together, they’re fun, they showcase local talent, they are a chance for people to get to know the artist behind the art, often times they sell art, and they give you a way to host and interact with your clientele in different way than usual.  All you really need is the art show in place (complete with art info, an artist statement and ideally have the artist present), some snacks and refreshments, and the willingness to have a good time.  Everything else after that is gravy.

To wrap it all up, I feel like showcasing local art is a great thing for the business, the artists and the clientele.  Your world stays fresh, people enjoy new art and concepts, and artists get to display their art.   As long as it’s a clear, well defined agreement and setup that works for all parties it will be a win-win for everyone involved. 

If you ever have any questions or opinions on the topic, please reach out!  I’d love to hear what works for other people as well!