Art Galleries and Attitudes

I found this interesting post on Betsy Lewis’s blog titled The Art of Selling Art. In it she documents a trip to several art galleries in Portland’s trendy Pearl District and the poor reception she receives at many of them. The comments on this post are interesting as well… be sure to include them in your read.

I don’t go to galleries that often, and I rarely attend openings. I’m rather shy, by nature, and I stumble over small talk. I usually have a five and eight year old tagging along with me, causing a couple more short hurdles. I brought the kids to the recent Love Show Opening, and they managed pretty well but it was crowded and past their bedtime and it was difficult to get a good look at the show (though they were quite excited a couple of days later when we drove home from OMSI and they could see my painting through the window).

A few years ago for our anniversary my husband and I walked around the Pearl District and went to several galleries. I don’t remember anyone being out and out rude, but I certainly didn’t walk away with any galleries burned into my brain as being someplace I wanted to visit again. Between my uncomfortableness and their disinterest in my presence I often felt like I was intruding in a space where I didn’t belong.

I’ll concede that I’m carrying around some self-esteem issues with me, but a simple, genuine smile coupled with “welcome, enjoy, take your time browsing, let me know if you have any questions about a piece or an artist” would make me feel a lot more comfortable. I may not be there to make a purchase, I may be there in worn out Chuck Taylors or have rain-soaked kids in tow, but I may also be a future customer, and the way you treat me now makes a huge impact on my future patronage.

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I used to be a part of the Spiral Gallery Co-op in Estacada, Oregon. As part of our co-op duties we had to work two to four shifts a month. That meant being a face of the gallery, and that meant good customer service. It was a challenge because not every member was comfortable or even willing to sit in the gallery space. We often covered how to greet the public and interact with customers in our meetings. Rather than memorize information about all twenty plus artists in the gallery, each artist made a bio sheet that went into a notebook that guests could peruse.

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The Spiral Gallery’s First Friday openings were always a fun event and well attended, a surprise in such a small community (Estacada’s population is roughly 2500, and lies about 30 minutes up the Clackamas River from the outskirts of Portland). Estacada has a certain reputation in the Portland area (full of hicks, loggers, one lovely nickname is “incesticada”), and I think people are often surprised at the thriving art community in the area.

I’m sure that the public has certain prejudices and expectations about visiting an art gallery in Estacada, much as I’d be worried that I’d get snooty treatment in the Pearl District, or not be hip enough on NE Alberta. Maybe both sides need to let go of preconceptions and open up to each other. We all love art, and want artists to succeed.

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