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Three Conversations

[BLOG POST: 4/22/24] In my last blog post I wrote about my experience at the National Museum of Women in the Arts 2024 Conference and Opening of their "Women to Watch" exhibition. Today I want to share three enlightening conversations I had with three other attendees.

FIRST I spoke with a member from a midwest committee who identified herself as an art collector. As an artist it can be really hard to meet collectors so I had a lot of questions for her, not least of which was where does she find the art to collect? Her answer? Exclusively at galleries. When I asked follow up questions she said she often starts looking at art in museums and then finds out which galleries represent artists she likes and approaches them to acquire artwork. That indicated to me that she was interested in art as an investment but she disagreed saying "I simply buy art that I like".

We didn't have time to discuss it in depth but I wanted to tell her that there is a lot of great artwork out there which are not in museums or galleries. And in fact, artist who are not represented by galleries work hard to find other ways to get their artwork seen – everything from social media posts, local shows, online shows, hanging artwork in libraries or restaurants, pop up shows, studio visits, etc. I wish there would have been time to encourage her to explore other avenues to find art.

NEXT was a conversation I had with a west coast committee member who also identified herself as an art collector. When I asked about what kind of art she collected she thought for a moment and said, "Well I know I need to buy more artwork from women."

She said it as if she just realized it.

And maybe it had just occurred to hear. Maybe this was her first convention and she had never considered WHO was making the art she purchased.

Then she told me that she also purchased exclusively through galleries.

When I shared with her how difficult it is to find gallery representation as an emerging female artists she seemed genuinely surprised. I don't think she had ever considered HOW an artist ends up in a gallery. I can't blame her though. Before trying to get into galleries I had no idea how it worked. Now when I walk into a gallery I make note of how many male vs. female artists are represented and walk out if there isn't a balance between the two.

The THIRD conversation was with a different midwest committee member who was excited about a committee's program that awarded $4,000 to an artist for any expense. And I agree, it does sound impressive. But when I thought out it a little more I shared that it really doesn't help artists with what they need most – a sustainable art career with steady art sales. She was taken aback and asked if I meant online options with sales that go directly from artist to buyer and I said "Yes among other things". I intended to mention that artists need help with website design, business plans, social media, and setting prices for their artwork but was interrupted by her saying, "But what about the galleries? How would they survive?"

That comment totally took me off guard.

The NMWA is all about promoting and supporting women artists. And whereas galleries sell artwork, it is for proportionally for a very small number of artists – most of whom are men.

So I said to her that I thought that the galleries would be fine and offered as an example record companies. After music started to be available via streaming services they restructured, survived, and eventually thrived. I said that I felt confident galleries could do the same.

So dear reader what did I take away from all this?

Personally it seems to me that despite the rise in technology and social media, galleries are still the preferred way for art collectors to find art. And that makes sense. The art world can be confusing and I see the value of a gallery doing the leg work to narrow the field or find specific art to match a collector's taste.

But there is sooooo much more out there!

And not all galleries are well run businesses. I've heard stories from artists about galleries never paying the artist after their artwork sells. And of galleries who expect the artist to paint the same image over and over stifling their creativity. And yet other galleries who mistreat the artwork even damaging it and refuse to pay for repairs.

So I encourage you to think outside the galleries!

Certainly visit galleries – they provide a great service. But also look around your local community for art being made and displayed in different locations. If you see something you like let the artist know. Artists love hearing that their work has been seen and appreciated.

And no matter where you find it, buy art if you can! 😊

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Kim Reed-Deemer
Kim Reed-Deemer
Apr 26

When you think about it, galleries are now expecting artists to come in to their representation with a substantial collector database, with a large social media following, essentially taking on more and more of what galleries used to do themselves. Not that they aren't working at promotion of their artists, and some do put a lot of time and effort into that, but if artists become better and better at the skills needed to promote and sell their work themselves, then galleries will have to figure out a way to offer more to artists, convincing them that they will get something out of the arrangement that only the galleries can offer them.

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