How to Start an Art Gallery

Art galleries are a crucial part of the cultural landscape of any city or region. They promote the work of local artists as well as a wide range of art from around the world, offering the public an opportunity to see and appreciate pieces that they might not otherwise have the chance to experience. They also often go above and beyond to incubate the work of their artists, supporting them through exhibitions, promotional activities and financial management services.

The gallery is the link between the artist and the art market, walking them through the steps toward being a successful and established artist (read our article on this topic here). They take the risk of promoting an emerging artist, giving them visibility in the professional world, establishing the price for their artworks and balancing the correct value of their works within the professional market.

There are many different types of art galleries, some specialize in a particular genre or artistic movement such as modern or contemporary art, others focus on a certain historical period or even a single artist such as Van Gogh. They can be private, commercial or cooperative. Some are permanent while others offer a temporary exhibition. The most common way they make money is by taking a commission of any artwork sold during the show, but some are also involved in advisory services open to the public, art installation, and investment services within the secondary art market.

Besides generating revenue through commissions on sales, galleries can generate income through events such as openings and receptions, workshops or lectures. They can also collaborate with other art institutions and organizations such as museums or biennials to present their artists’ works. Additionally, they may offer their artists opportunities to participate in international fairs or salons.

The curator’s job is to display the work in a way that conveys the meaning and message of a particular piece, while enhancing the aesthetic experience for the visitors. This requires a careful balance of the artist’s intentions and desires and the gallery’s business needs, with an eye to creating a dialogue between the viewer and the artwork.

Gallery owners and directors are highly sought after positions in the art world, making it difficult to break into the field without extensive educational background and experience. Those who are interested in running their own art gallery should first consider the type of audience they intend to serve, their budget and whether or not they have the time, energy and motivation to start a new business.

Despite the perceived prestige and exclusivity of working for a gallery, it is actually quite easy to open your own. The cost to rent a space, get a desk, paint the walls and put in lights is minimal. The biggest expense is promoting yourself and selecting artists who give their work on consignment for a short exhibition. However, this does not guarantee that you will sell anything or make a profit.