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Author Topic: Fine art photography gallery co-ops?  (Read 1287 times)
Jan Morales
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« on: May 21, 2014, 07:40:36 PM »
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Some friends of mine and I have an opportunity to rent a space in a well trafficked location and run it as a fine art photography gallery. My idea is that we could get a small number of photographers who would be willing to make a one-year commitment to pay a certain monthly rent in exchange for a certain amount of wall space to display and sell their work. The gallery would take no commission--the monthly rent paid by the artists would pay the rent on the gallery, which in turn would cover the operating expenses of the location--utilities and such. There would also be a requirement to work a fixed number of hours per month at the gallery to have the place open to the public. Artists would have to be accepted by a jury to maintain the overall quality of art in the gallery. When a photographer decides not to renew for an additional one-year commitment, a new photographer would be sought to replace him/her.

I have no doubt that what I'm describing is already done in many places. I was hoping people could share their experiences with this kind of arrangement? How much are photographers willing to pay per month? Are these arrangements manageable or do they fall apart in rancor?

In addition, I am hoping to hear from photographers within reach of Takoma Park, Maryland, who might be interested in actually participating with us. That is where the space is located. We are at the very preliminary stage of this venture, so this is not a solicitation for people to actually sign up for this, but the landlord is very interested in having this kind of tenant in his location, so I'd love to get a feel for how viable this is.

While I appreciate all feedback, I'm less interested in speculation and more interested in hearing from people who have first-hand experience with this kind of thing.

Thanks!
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louoates
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« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2014, 10:00:11 PM »
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I think you'd get better response if you nailed down your business objectives first.

Have you ever started a business? Have you ever written a business plan? Who is going to sign the lease? Have you read the lease? Who will be the manager? Who will open the gallery when an artist doesn't, or won't, show up? Who hires and pays an employee, and how much? Who will do the tax filings? Who will pay for space renovation and insurance? How much money can you invest?

It's up to you to calculate your break-even point regarding space charges so you can calculate a fair return on your investment. Do you plan to make a profit? Do you have legally binding contracts for the artists? How will you promote the new venture?

Even though you say this is a preliminary stage, you are still asking folks here to speculate on your motives and objectives. We don't know the space you are looking at, how long its been vacant, s.f. rental, lease term, traffic counts, surrounding businesses, etc. Note: all landlords are "very interested" in having a tenant for his location.

I wish I could point you to a successful venture similar to what I think you have in mind. The only ones I've seen have ended "in rancor".

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PeterAit
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« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2014, 07:41:17 AM »
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My limited experience suggests that such arrangements can lead to a kind of "inbreeding." If the current members jury prospective new members, they will be hesitant to accept a new member whose work will compete with their own and reduce their sales.
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Peter
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framah
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« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2014, 09:24:11 AM »
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Based on how I have seen other Co-ops work... the glamour and excitement  soon wears off and you get members who begin to have "other" things to do and start trying to get someone else to cover for them or just plain old not showing up.. or coming in late.

There will end up being a core 3 or 4 people who end up doing all of the work and covering for those who slack off.  The slackers will STILL want to have their work in there.

Like another poster said... who's name will be on the lease?  THAT person will be the ONLY one responsible for paying the rent and all of the other bills.

Hippies in  the olden days tried this and it worked for a while but eventually morphed into a regular business with employees and bosses.

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PeterAit
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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2014, 09:32:34 AM »
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Like another poster said... who's name will be on the lease?  THAT person will be the ONLY one responsible for paying the rent and all of the other bills.


Not necessarily. You can set up a corporation or LLC and have the lease in that name.
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Peter
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framah
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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2014, 08:33:08 AM »
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Not necessarily. You can set up a corporation or LLC and have the lease in that name.

Good point.
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summit68
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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2014, 10:42:26 AM »
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I have experience with some of these. My experience is these are run by a local art group, non-profit (group), who has a board to make decisions, pay bills, jury, sign lease, elections, etc. There is no reason you can't setup something similar. Otherwise, I agree that it needs to be owned/operated by one.
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LesPalenik
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« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2014, 02:34:23 AM »
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Some years ago, I joined an artist co-op. The gallery that featured photographs, painting, ceramics, and hand-made jewelry was located on a main street in a small town. We got quite a few visitors dropping in, but most were other artists. The bestselling items were little jewelry pieces. Gave up on it after two months. Few months later, the gallery closed.

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DeanChriss
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« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2014, 07:06:06 AM »
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I think it takes a lot of effort and a lot of diversity in the art, often in addition to a related business like an in-house framing shop, to make a gallery profitable. It also takes people skills and an in-depth knowledge of the various art forms being sold. The most successful gallery owners I've known have M.F.A degrees, and while their galleries sell photography it's not their main source of income. They sell everything from ceramic, bronze, glass, metal, and wood sculpture, to oils and watercolors, and things like hand made jewelry and framing. Framing is always a big part of the income. I also know a couple of former gallery owners who went out of business. All sold only "wall art"; no sculpture, jewelry, framing, etc., and I think there's a strong connection. I also think that to some extent all of this depends on exactly where you are and what you are selling. A gallery on main street in a tourist location selling items related to that location will do a lot better than the same gallery selling the same things anywhere else. In most places people are decorating their homes and galleries have to sell a broad range of art. We also have a very successful art co-op nearby, and while they don't sell framing they do have a huge range of different art forms that changes every month or two. Just my 2 cents...
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darlingm
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« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2014, 02:10:21 PM »
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Having "exhibitors" put in time really keeps costs down, avoiding paid employees.  (Or at least reducing them.)  But, putting in the time becomes hated by most and leads to a high turnover rate.  You could offer two rates -- one if they put in the time, one if they want paid employees to cover their time.

Regarding commission, many malls take a percentage of all sales which would require you to at least take that amount as a commission --- unless you wind up somewhere that doesn't do this, of course.

Regarding a corporation or LLC, make SURE to do this.  Strongly recommend it to be a new company, not using any existing one you have, so it can be a "walk away" situation if it goes belly-up.  ALSO READ THE LEASE.  Even though I'm a DIY'er, I have to recommend hiring an attorney to form the company and read the lease.  Many company leases will have a PERSONAL GUARANTEE which means all your work of setting up a separate legal entity mean SQUAT, as it pertains to the lease, and you'd be on the hook personally if the company defaults.  Not all leases have these, so shop around.  You may have to balance the personal risk against which location is best, which is tricky because location is key.
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bill t.
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« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2014, 07:00:58 PM »
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Neither a coop member nor an organizer be, for a coop oft loses both itself and several friends, and coops dull the edge creativity.

You will receive a much better return on your resources if you sell your work in a gallery that is owned, operated, paid for, and stressed over by somebody else, while you are out taking pictures.  Making a full 50% of the selling price will seem like a miracle to those who have done time in a coop slammer.  For the time and resources of those few artists who truly keep up their end of the coop agreement, they could probably run their own gallery.  A coop member told me she preferred coops because her work wasn't good enough for a gallery.  The problems is, if her work wont sell in a gallery, it also won't sell in a coop.  So shoot for galleries, or forget about it.

"Admissions by jury" is guaranteed to cause a Fail, because it will stack the mix too much toward fine art and too little toward cash flow, assuming the jury is composed of artists.  Admission by sales volume is smarter.  "Successful" coops often keep the doors open courtesy of a small percentage of the members who account for most of the sales.  Coops without such members are short lived.  And let's not talk about the psychodrama that accompanies sales-by-artist summaries.  You gotta like psychodrama to like coops.
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LesPalenik
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« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2014, 10:27:02 PM »
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The best thing about participating in a gallery coop, staffed by the exhibiting artists, is that you can see first hand how tough is to sell the pictures.

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louoates
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« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2014, 12:14:47 PM »
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About a lease: In my fifty+ years of experience in retail businesses I have never seen a lease to a new endeavor without a personal guarantee -- with one exception...a location so poor as to be nearly impossible to get a tenant in any other way. In those leases expect a hefty deposit, plus the first and last month's rent up front so that when the business fails the landlord will have the money to pay to advertise for the next sucker tenant.
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bill t.
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« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2014, 11:47:22 PM »
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You can learn a lot about a potential lease property by walking around the vicinity and talking to owners and employees in the surrounding shops.  Employees will be the most forthcoming in their opinions since they need not kowtow to the landlord.  You'll soon get an earful about both the lessor and the history of the property.  Within a given area some locations have much more potential than others, and statistically speaking one must suspect the worst of vacant properties.

Another good option is arts & crafts fairs.  For artists who truly have their act together, impressive incomes are possible from a few relatively modest "rental payments" per year.  No utility bills, phones, inspectors, whatever.  That's also a good way for new artists to reality-check their sales potential, and to meet gallery owners etc.
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