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Gallery or Art Fairs? Where should we exhibit?

Marcia and I opened the LebenArt Gallery in downtown Douglas, Michigan in May. We picked this area because we live close, and the area has become known at the Art Coast of Michigan. The small resort town of Douglas, where our gallery is, also has six other fine art galleries. We thought that would make Douglas an "art destination." This last weekend was the annual "Gallery Stroll," Saturday and Sunday, in which dozens of area art galleries (including Saugatuck) celebrate art openings. It's also nearing the end of the gallery season here in Western Michigan. How did our season go? Was our gallery a success? Can gallery sales replace art fair sales?

The answers? Good! yes! and no! (at least not yet...).

When we opened the gallery in May our goals were modest... to break even this year. We knew that a new gallery would take a while to catch on, so we maintained a robust art fair schedule to make sure we could pay the bills. The gallery did better than break even, but art fair revenues far out-paced gallery revenues. This may change over time (we only have a few months of experience under out belts). We were fortunate to get into some of the best art fairs this year (Belleville, DesMoines, Old Town, St. Louis and Plaza), and each of these shows generated more income in a weekend than a whole month in the gallery. So... why continue the gallery?

We will continue the gallery, and there are a lot of reasons why.

1. Age
We are getting older, and the physical requirements of setting up and breaking down that tent seems to be getting harder every year. And the stress of dealing with the weather doesn't help. 

2. Advocate
I'm a digital artist and I've been advocating for digital art for years. I've been seeing great strides in the acceptance of digital art as a legitimate art medium for the last ten years. Our gallery specializes in digital art and this venue gives us the opportunity to promote the medium and feature the best digital  artists in the country.

3. Symbiosis
We are seeing a definite symbiotic relationship between the gallery and the art fairs. Each one sends patrons to the other. The gallery sells more because of our presence at art fairs. And visitors to the art fairs buy more from an artist with a gallery (our art fair sales this year are higher than last year, even though we did less art fairs). 

4. We like it
We continue to enjoy having a continuous venue to display art that is not in a tent. Its still fun to open the gallery every day and be surrounded by the creative work of some of our favorite artists.


Traffic here in Douglas, Michigan will slow down dramatically over the winter months (Douglas and Saugatuck are "summer" resort towns on Lake Michigan). But, we are looking forward to next season as we continue to promote digital art in all of its forms. The gallery is currently showing the work of eight digital artists.  We met most of them at art fairs. Their gallery sales don't match their art fair sales, but they provide a nice commission check once in a while.

As we plan for next season, we are on the lookout for more digital artists to exhibit at the gallery. We feel the gallery can supply our artists with a little supplemental income not dependent on art fairs, and, the gallery can help promote and celebrate the myriad possibilities of digital art. 

Views: 494

Comment by Loc Tran on October 8, 2017 at 6:14pm

As a fan and frequent reader of AFI, I've been following your posts and hoping you would post on your 'brick-and-mortar' progress. I'm so happy to hear it is going well! The gallery looks great and wish you continued success. Please keep us updated every so-often. I think your experiences will help others who are considering the same.

Comment by Christina L. Towell on October 9, 2017 at 9:18am

The gallery is really lovely, John, thanks for sharing the photo and the update.  I've also been wondering how you were doing in Douglas, great to know that you exceeded your expectations!

Comment by Dennis Shattuck on October 11, 2017 at 6:06pm

My gallery sales tripled the second year but I was in an indoor mall. That was twenty years ago. Hurricane Andrews closed it down. Custom framing made a big difference during our off season.


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