It happened to me last year.
My rent was going up and that was the last straw. Newfound and shady next door neighbors plus rising rent mean only one thing … time to take action and move. Needless to say, I did just that.
Now I live in a place that's more affordable, has more space and the neighborhood is quiet and friendly, plus it's closer to downtown. Perfect.
Rising rent is old hat for artists. Many of the artists I know who rent are either scraping to come up with the rent, trying to renegotiate their rent, looking at new places to rent, preparing to move, in the process of moving or they just moved.
It comes with the gig of being an artist ... especially an emerging artist who still has a lot to prove and a lot of living to do. Given that, I wasn't the least bit surprised when I saw a story that someone had posted on social media. The headline said something about how New York City art galleries can no longer afford to represent unproven, emerging artists. Why? Because of exorbitant monthly rents that continue to rise. Most galleries (like many small, retail establishments and restaurants) rent their spaces, they don't own them.
Clearly, some readers thought this was breaking news.
Emerging artists always get screwed. That's just part of the game. But it doesn't have to be that way. I feel like I'm always telling artists to TAKE ACTION ... and MAKE A MOVE ... DO SOMETHING about the situation. One of the things I've learned over the years is that artists are unquestionably - BY FAR - the most powerful entities in the contemporary art world. Artists are to contemporary art what oil sheiks are to the Middle East. Nobody wants artists to know this ... certainly not those publications that compile their “Power 100” lists and sadly, many artists are ridiculously asleep on this particular topic. It’s totally a joke. Trust me. I've done the interviews.
Okay, let me just tackle this head on. What can or should artists DO about galleries that can't represent them due to rising rents and financial struggles in general? Well, let's take the common sense approach:
1. GET CREATIVE: Artists are obviously the most creative people walking the planet. Yet it remains a mystery to me why more artists don't use that creativity to come up with business solutions. I know, I know. We're talking left and right side brain functioning here, but guess what? The right and left sides of our brains don't work independently of one another, they COMPLEMENT one another. Good artists aren't merely artists. They're also small business people. The sooner they face up to this, the better for ALL concerned. Necessity isn't only the mother of invention, it's the mother of learning new things. Creativity + Business = Successful Artist.
2. STOP RELYING ON GALLERIES: I adore art galleries and will continue to visit them for as long as I can breathe and walk. We should all continue to support them because they play a big role in making contemporary art accessible in terms of exposure if nothing else. However, the art model has been changing for years and it continues to change. I certainly hope that art galleries don't go away, but I DO believe that artists have other options that haven't been fully exploited yet. To this very day, I still hear from artists who are upset that they can't get gallery representation. Gallery representation can be great, but it's certainly not the end all. Plus, let's just use our brains here; all of the galleries in the entire world remain ridiculously outnumbered by artists in the world. There's just no way to accommodate all of the talented artists out there through gallery representation. That's simply reality. The traffic jam, bottleneck approach to gallery success for artists simply isn't working for all … artists or consumers.
3. JOIN FORCES: There's this military proverb that goes: "One is none, but two is won." This also applies to artists. I just don't understand why more artists don't join forces, forge cooperatives, find useable spaces and just launch more "pop up galleries." Chip in the money, find properly zoned spaces that you can rent for a month or two a few times each year, ask a public relations friend to lend a little help and just DO IT. Artists have FAR MORE power than they think. More artists simply need to work together. I cannot stress this enough. I have indeed seen some quite successful artist cooperatives out there. The trick is to keep everyone on the same page and keep them going, but that's the way everything works. Care, attention and learning from mistakes are what we ALL have to do to keep going in any endeavor. The BIG guys usually win because they know how to stick together. The little guys usually lose because they allow petty disagreements or disorganization to tear them apart.
4. USE SOCIAL MEDIA: I'm on the internet every single day and I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to see that MOST artists still aren't using social media properly. I've written about this to no avail. Guys, you have GOT to remove the flying cat photos and the videos of tap dancing bears and the wacky statements about nonsensical things. These things are NOT SERVING YOU. They are huge distractions that are overshadowing your work, diluting your artistic brand and worse, they're making you look like bratty children who insist on pulling down their pants and showing their asses ... in some cases quite literally. It's embarrassing and when you behave this way, you are HURTING contemporary art. You are not a child. If you want to be seen as a professional, you must conduct and present yourself as one. I've interviewed a couple of artists who now post putrid nonsense on their profile pages. Fine. You can post whatever you wish. However, I won't be dealing with you again. I work too hard to promote artists.
5. PRICE YOUR WORK: Artists are among the only business people on the planet who refuse to PRICE THEIR PRODUCT. It makes absolutely no sense. They don't want to put price tags on the works they've posted on their websites. I know, I know. It's ART. It's precious and priceless. It's mysterious, ethereal and above reproach. Also, you don't want to "price yourself" into a box. Well, not pricing yourself into a box? How's THAT working for you? Not putting your works "on sale"? How's THAT working for you? Not even letting your visitors KNOW what's for sale on your website? How are they supposed to know otherwise? Come on guys. This is common sense and has absolutely nothing to do with art. No price tag means no sale ... especially online. It would be extremely rare for someone to actually take the time to contact you and ask if your work is for sale. No one is asking you to be a master marketer. However, enticing people to buy is still ... YOUR job.
6. BUSINESS AND MARKETING STRATEGY: Christmas shopping season comes around every year immediately after Halloween. Artists should have their online business and marketing strategies in place EVERY SINGLE YEAR by MID OCTOBER ... the absolute latest. You should really kick them off right after Labor Day. Doing this puts contemporary art in the minds of shoppers before their heads are filled with all of the holiday media hooplah. Once that holiday media blitz hits, artists don't have even a fighting chance of selling art. Artists, If you wait to launch your plan after the new iPhone comes out (usually October), FORGET IT. You've lost.
I could go on, but I really think that changing those small things alone WOULD make a HUGE difference for most talented, emerging artists who are trying to cope without gallery representation. Keep in mind, being in a gallery STILL doesn't guarantee success. Art dealers are simply swamped and if they find that another artist's work is selling better than yours (regardless of talent), guess who they're going to focus on?
Gallery rents are only going up. If they remain stable, great. If they drop, better. However, we all live in the real world. The bubble can (and will) burst at any time. With galleries dealing with rising rents among other modern day challenges, artists DO still have some options ...
Artists, take action. Make your move. Now.