Who would open a fine art gallery now -- in the middle of a recession?
No one is painting a pretty picture of today's economy. But that hasn't stopped several people from launching what would seem the riskiest of ventures: fine art galleries. At least six galleries opened in the Tri-Cities area this past year, and more are planning to open.
These entrepreneurs are facing the current economic slowdown with artistic flair. Many of them are contributing to turnarounds in historic downtown districts by purchasing, gutting and remodeling empty buildings -- -- and offering local artists the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work.
Art galleries and shops have one advantage over traditional businesses: artists supply most of the inventory, either on commission or by direct sales. The galleries offer solo or group art exhibitions, generally opened by a reception. These galleries retain a commission on works sold and/or charge a rental fee for displaying the artworks on a regular basis -- in return for showcasing the works, handling publicity, collecting payment and paying sales tax.
Vibrant, Sophisticated Art Community
Whether art is viewed as a luxury or a necessity, the new business ventures may be a testament to our region's growing affluence and the vibrancy of the local art community.
Perhaps one reason for the growth in galleries is the increased number of people who have lived in areas where art galleries are numerous and are choosing our region as an attractive place to retire. Or perhaps it's due to the efforts of arts organizations like the William King Museum that offer arts education programming, raising the knowledge base of the population.
"Certainly, there must be a level of sophistication to support the arts, not just the buyers but the artists as well," says Lemont Dobson, Ph.D., Executive Director of William King Museum, Abingdon, Va.
Dobson further states that "our area could support more galleries than we currently have, based on the level of talent and the number of artists who don't have representation because there is still not enough [exhibition] space. I really do believe that there is tremendous potential here."
Why so many talented artists in our area? Dobson explains, "Over the years, there has been a strong tradition of arts appreciation in our region. Starting with Barter Theatre in the 1930s, a diverse group of people came here -- and talent attracts more talent. There has been a serious burgeoning and nurturing of talent in the regional art scene. And now, we're starting to get more tourists coming to our area as art consumers. That makes it more viable for people who have been creating art as a hobby or out of necessity to begin considering art as a serious career. Hence the need for more commercial capacity and outlets for them."
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