art directorship - making it up as you go along
September 1, 2006 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Tips on resources related to running an art gallery and studio space.

Anyone have any resources related to running an warehouse full of studios with a gallery space? I find myself suddenly in charge of an entire warehouse of art studios with amazing gallery space - probably 50,000-75,000 square feet overall with 10,000 gallery square footage. The owners have given me carte blanche to make it an awesome space, have performances, shows, installations, etc.

I'm a painter and I'm doing pretty well so far with art and this space, but I'm mostly making things up as I go along by working my contacts. Any pointers to books or online resources are appreciated. Even personal anecdotes. I'm looking for tips on doing it right, advertising, funding performances, jusying shows, pitfalls, ideas for funding, etc. anything will help.
posted by pissfactory to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hmmm, a friend of mine, now a very well known independent curator, overspent big-time on projects in his earlier years. I don't think the fall-out (including gallery bankruptcy) helped him; ok, maybe just maybe his shows had an extra edge and that's what it cost to achieve it, but the message i got was, whatever else you do, don't lose control of the finances. Advertising: he's a great believer in word of mouth, so he mails out to many artists as well as to the press, collectors etc. Funding: an auction of donations by grateful artists from time to time.
posted by londongeezer at 12:50 PM on September 1, 2006

Damn, I was hoping that the time I spent helping to run an art gallery would be useful to this post, but yours sounds like a much bigger deal. (Mine focused more on selling LE art and framing, yours sounds like a showcase for original artworks.)

The one thing I may be able to contribute is from a construction standpoint. We used modular walls which allowed us to fairly regularly change the interior of the gallery space. This helped with the dynamics; people visiting us found the overall layout of the gallery different several times a year. Sorta helped us shake things up every couple of months.

Also, how well known are the artists you are going to be displaying? If there exposure is limited, it might be a good idea to have some nice looking documentation printed up on each artist. Something people can take with them to learn more about the people behind the art that they are looking at.

I hope it works out for you!
posted by quin at 1:20 PM on September 1, 2006

"The owners have given me carte blanche to make it an awesome space, have performances, shows, installations, etc. advertising, funding performances, jusying shows, pitfalls, ideas for funding, etc. "

So you are giving up painting to become a manager-producer-landlord?
posted by leafwoman at 4:15 PM on September 1, 2006

No idea about the practical stuff, but here's a suggestion: gallerists I know have spent a lot of time forging links with other galleries around Europe, and setting up exchanges - eg. an artist from Glasgow exhibits in Berlin at the same time as a Berliner is exhibiting in Glasgow.

Good for the artists, who get exposure overseas, good for the gallery-goer, who gets to see work they wouldn't otherwise. Also, funding is easier as you can get government cash that's set aside for promoting arts overseas from both countries (assuming the US have an equivalent to the British Council?).
posted by jack_mo at 5:17 PM on September 1, 2006

"...advertising, funding performances, jusying shows, pitfalls, ideas for funding, etc. anything will help."

I ran two spaces in New York (first one then the other, both in the East Village, late 80's) and can pass along a few ideas about what we did.
  • Advertising - Have one of your artists make up a show flyer that will fit on one quarter of an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper; xerox onto card stock, and each sheet will yield four. Artists, performers, everyone associated must distribute.
  • Funding - I never paid anyone, but would splash out for simple food - cheap seasonal fruit mostly, some herbal teas, BYOB for booze on the flyers but I'd almost always have a bottle or two of spirits for the performers. You shouldn't have any problem getting people to perform free in exchange for publicity, etc
  • Justifying shows - I ran both my spaces on the monthly schedule, with a show up three weeks, and one week for tear down / setup of the new show. In terms of topics, we'd find any excuse - one show was called 'Graffiti Slice of Pizza Pie to go', and all the artists contributed art made on pizza boxes. The idea was to get people to make art on different mediums, not just (boring!) stretched canvas
  • Impromptu performances - let people just do things if they want and when they want; in my spaces sometimes artists show up and just start making crap while peope who had dropped by to see the hanging show watch - both spaces got a buzz going that way, a rep for a space where things happened
  • Collaborative works - many times we'd have a poet reciting stuff while a sax player did his thing, a gals would dance in a corner (we'd project her shadow onto a screen) and someone would be making art or someone would be giving 'tats; magic happens that way
  • Don't take ownership - I tried to disappear, I didn't want my name to be associated with the spaces; not that I was ashamed (anything but! I miss those times) but nothing will kill an art scene faster than a proprietor
  • Linkages - I agree with the points made upthread about forging relationships with other galleries; try to do things at the same time, or at least let them market at your space and vice versa - everyone is on the same team here
  • And now a mistake I made - Money - be very careful about putting your own money into this; I ran both my spaces as labours of love but if you're not diligent and disciplined you'll run out of cash before you run out of cool ideas for shows
Best of luck with your space!
posted by Mutant at 1:46 AM on September 2, 2006

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