The Ultimate Guide to Opening an Art Gallery

Make no mistake, art galleries are a business. Of course, both a love of art and a creative interest in artists are meaningful to becoming an art gallery owner. Art gallery owners strike a balance between the creative world and the business world. After all, the purpose of an art gallery is to sell art and stay in business. If you’re thinking about opening an art gallery, but not sure where to start these tips from art gallery owners will set you on the right path.

1. Get to know the market

The first step of starting an art gallery is researching the local market. Take a survey of what’s already available in your city. Don’t be afraid to meet with artists or other members of the art community for assistance evaluating the market. This research will help you determine the size, scope, and vision of your art gallery. As you familiarize yourself with local galleries, think about the purpose of what your art gallery will bring to the area. Gauge whether the type of art you’re interested in featuring is already sufficiently represented and will it attract clientele. You have a stronger chance of success by creating a niche in your local market—something that truly identifies your art gallery.

2. Become an expert

Soak in all information about the type of art you will have in your gallery. You want to become an expert. Seek similar galleries outside your city and visit them online or in person. Get a deeper knowledge of the artists creating this specific type of art, both prominent fixtures and emerging talent. Being able to explain each piece of art, its meaning and relevance in the genre will make your gallery stand out as one buyers can trust. “I started out knowing a lot of people in the art world. I worked with several galleries before launching my own space in 2004,” said Michael Foley, of this Spacious Arts Gallery in New York City. “I had a head start and that really helped.”

3. Find your mode of business

Before you open an art gallery, you need to decide on how your art gallery will conduct business. Create a business plan that formulates how your gallery will operate, market it self and your overall growth plan. Decide how you’ll get funding and the overall management structure. How does your art gallery make money? If you plan on profiting from sales commission, determine what your commission percentage will be. Like any business, art galleries adhere to tax laws. Now is the time to agree to an organizational structure whether it’s corporation or a sole proprietorship.

Explore this spacious art gallery

4. Rent out your space

After you’ve opened your gallery doors, you should think about others ways to make money beyond selling art. One way to do this is by renting your gallery for events, meetings, and even photo or film shoots. You can list your space on Peerspace which allows you to set your own schedule and fill your space’s downtime with bookings. Not only is this a great way to maximize your space, but it’s another way to bring in potential art-buyers. Peerspace Host, Ben Seidl says, “One of our aha moments was when people bought pieces of art while they were at a Peerspace event.” By exposing his gallery and art to new guests, he’s seen an increase in artists sales which allows him to give 100% of commissions back to the artists.

5. Design your space

Now it’s time to consider your art gallery location. The venue should be easy to access. When Michael first opened his gallery, he chose a “gallery building” in Chelsea so people visiting other galleries would also come to his. His current gallery resides on a business street in the Lower East side which naturally receives a good amount of foot traffic. An accommodating layout is key. Art galleries need to have enough space to hold several collections of art for show as well as in storage if possible. Don’t forget you need to be able to host receptions. That means a space large enough that allows people to socialize and move around. Keep the interior décor of your art gallery to a minimal. You want to avoid distracting your potential buyers away from the art on display. However be sure to incorporate decor elements that tie to your overall vision, as it further cements your galley’s branding.

6. Create an online presence 

After you build your art gallery space, you need to get online. Not only is it important to promote your gallery, online services can help you manage the space as well. When gallery owner Michael first started his gallery, the most technology he used was faxing and photocopying. Times have changed and so has the technology. “We use an advanced cloud based inventory system called Gallery Manager which also connects directly to our website,” said Foley. “It’s super easy and efficient.” If you’re not web savvy, you can keep it simple with contact information and information on receptions and artists featured. There are various website-creating tools available from expert level to those with little HTML experience.

“Our website is dynamic and allows clients to buy select works directly on the website,” says Michael. Don’t limit yourself to a website only, share your gallery’s vision and art on social media. You can aslo list your space on Peerspace as another way to spread the word about your gallery. Creating a dedicated community of followers will make promoting openings and new artists easier. Consider starting a monthly newsletter where you share updates on artists in your gallery and upcoming events.  

7. Create network opportunities

Connecting with people both in and out of the art world will aid your efforts in marketing an art gallery. Network with other art galleries in your neighborhood to promote each other. Organize an art walk night where neighbors can stop by each gallery and peruse the art while enjoying a drink. Another good way to draw people into your art gallery is to list the venue on Peerspace. Hosting events in your gallery brings new clientele in that might never have seen your art as well as provides another source of revenue. Invite community organizations to hold parties in your space. Again this introduces your gallery to potential buyers and builds relationships with local leaders that can increase the success of opening nights at your gallery.

8. Finesse your opening night

This leads us to opening nights, an integral part of running a successful art gallery. Opening night receptions at an art gallery sets the momentum for how the community receives your artist’s work. You want to develop a strong compelling message with the art on exhibit. Share the artist’s story and celebrate what makes their art special. “It’s important to take care of the artist that night and to welcome each and every visitor that comes in,” says Michael. “You just never know who might make the decision to buy that night or who might come back to see the show again. We give everyone a warm greeting.” Having cocktails and simple foods available for your guests will encourage them to stay and take in the art. He advises new gallery owners to be the perfect host, show people a fun time and don’t forget to let visitors know that, yes, the artwork is for sale.

The artist’s journey can be difficult one. As an art gallery owner, you have the opportunity to showcase their work and advance their success. Remind yourself that an artist’s success translates to sales which translates to the success of an art gallery. Keeping the momentum going between sales can be challenging for most art gallery owners so get creative with new ways to bring people into your gallery.

After your art gallery is up and running, help spread the word by listing your space on Peerspace