If you are an artist, or collective, who wants to exhibit your work and collaborate with other artists, you might have considered starting or joining an artist-run gallery. An artist-run gallery is a gallery facility operated by creators, thus circumventing the structures of public and private galleries. They offer an essential counterpoint to the commercial sector, where experimentation sometimes takes a backseat to producing sellable work. They also provide artists with opportunities to curate, network, and learn from each other.
However, running an artist-run gallery is not without its challenges. It requires a lot of time, energy, money, and skills that may not be directly related to your artistic practice. It also involves dealing with various issues such as finding a suitable space, managing finances, promoting exhibitions, handling sales, and maintaining good relationships with members and visitors.
In this blog post, we will explore some of the pros and cons of starting and sustaining an artist-run gallery, based on the experiences of some successful examples from around the world.
Pros of an Artist-run Gallery:
- You have more control over your exhibition space and schedule. You can decide what kind of work to show, how to display it, when to open and close, and who to invite. You can also experiment with different formats and themes that may not fit into more conventional galleries.
- You can build a community of like-minded artists who share your vision and values. You can support each other’s work, exchange feedback, collaborate on projects, and learn new skills. You can also expand your network by inviting guest artists, curators, critics, collectors, and other art professionals to your gallery.
- You can gain exposure and recognition for your work and your gallery. By showing your work regularly and consistently, you can establish a reputation and a following for yourself and your gallery. You can also attract media attention, reviews, awards, grants, and other opportunities that can boost your profile and credibility.
- You can generate income from your work and your gallery. By selling your work directly to buyers, you can avoid paying commissions to intermediaries such as dealers or agents. You can also generate revenue from other sources such as membership fees, donations, sponsorships, grants, merchandise sales, or renting out your space.
Cons of an Artist-run Gallery:
- You have to invest a lot of resources into your gallery. You have to find a suitable space that meets your needs and budget, and that complies with legal and safety regulations. You have to pay for rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, equipment, supplies, and other expenses. You have to spend time and effort on planning, organising, installing, promoting, hosting, and dismantling exhibitions.
- You have to balance your gallery duties with your artistic practice. Running a gallery can be demanding and time-consuming, leaving you less time and energy for creating your own work. You may also face conflicts of interest or competition between your gallery role and your artist role. For example, you may have to choose between showing your own work or someone else’s work; or between selling your work or keeping it for future exhibitions.
- You have to deal with various challenges and risks that come with running a gallery. You have to cope with fluctuating demand, market trends, customer preferences, economic conditions, and other factors that affect your sales and revenue. You have to manage conflicts or disagreements among members or with external parties. You have to protect your work and your gallery from theft, damage, vandalism, or legal disputes.
- You have to sustain your gallery over time. Running a gallery is not a one-time project but a long-term commitment that requires constant attention and adaptation. You have to keep up with changing needs and expectations of your members and visitors. You have to maintain the quality and relevance of your exhibitions and programs. You have to renew your lease or find a new space if necessary.
Starting and sustaining an artist-run gallery can be a rewarding but challenging endeavor that requires passion, dedication, creativity, collaboration, business acumen, and resilience. It can offer you many benefits as an artist but also many responsibilities as a gallery owner. Before you embark on this journey, you should weigh the pros and cons carefully and realistically. You should also seek advice and support from other artists who have done it before or are doing it now.
Local Artist-run Art Galleries
Shoreham Art Gallery
Shoreham Art Gallery is run solely by artists, several with national or international reputations. They are passionate about supporting local art and crafts, working together to run a warm and friendly gallery in Brunswick Road without compromising their professionalism and the high quality of their work, both contemporary and classic.
Montague Gallery Worthing
Montague Gallery is run by artists, and you will always find a warm welcome and a friendly chat from several of the artists themselves who are always there to help.