What is your opinion of co-op galleries?

Several artists have asked recently about the validity of co-op galleries. Before I share my opinion in a future post. What is yours?

Edge Gallery co-op in Denver with the work of Heather Doyle-Maier in the foreground.

Deep Thought Thursday

What do you think of co-op galleries?
What has informed the opinion you have?

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92 thoughts on “What is your opinion of co-op galleries?”

  1. That’s a pretty good question. Co-op galleries as I understand them grout typically run by group of artists who work together to showcase their work, while at the same time promoting the gallery, and running it as a business.
    Though they don’t offer the prestige of vanity galleries (simply because of their newness on te scene in my opinion) I believe they are in fact more effective in selling and developing collectors. Usually people are more inclined to visit the corner gallery as oppose to a museum gallery, especially younger generations.
    I think if a group of artists are able to do it, it could be a really great venture but the difficulty comes in when you have to maintain that business relationship over an extended period of time despite how sales vary amongst each artist.
    Would definitely be interested in hearing others opinions in this as its something that is popping up a lot.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      There’s really nothing prestigious about vanity galleries, Vanessa. Especially in NYC.

    2. “Running it as a business” is something I have found co-op gallery artists do not understand. More on this later but I just wanted to address Vanessa’s point here. Ditto on “prestige of vanity galleries” —? There is no “prestige” in a vanity gallery. In fact it can hurt you to have one if your goal is that you are trying to get into high end galleries.

  2. I got my start by joining a co-op gallery. It was a great experience learning how to be a professional artist–talking about my art, selling, marketing, etc. It gave me an entry into the art world that may not have opened up as easily. I had a very positive experience.
    As I have gained experience as a professional artist, I would consider going back to a co-op gallery if I wanted to do some kind of radical installation. There is a freedom there where you can experiment. You can do anything you want and that is really exciting.

  3. I’ve only been involved thus far as a consumer and the best thing, in my opinion, about a co-op gallery is the variety of art offered. This is especially attractive to me if I’m in an area for a limited time and can’t spend hours or days searching out multiple venues. I’m eager to hear more from the artists who have been involved in a co-op, since there is one being organized in my town and I’m pretty interested. I’d love to know the right questions to ask re:staffing, investing, commissions…all the business end of things, because I think there are many very good artists who could fill many galleries with exceptional work. It’s the ‘organization’ that needs to be effective to make a good gallery.

  4. My only experience with a co-op turned out to be a negative one. Like any other business, if it is well run, taken seriously by its members, fosters camaraderie among members and pleases its visitors, it has a chance of being successful and a positive experience for everyone. If it doesn’t do these things then it’ll suck for pretty much everyone.

  5. I have never really liked Co-Op Galleries from the perspective of the artist showing her work. I have found that when the gallery gets monthly payments from artists that cover their overhead and operating expenses, there is little to no motivation to sell the artist’s work. My consignment galleries only get paid when they SELL the work, so there is a great deal more incentive.
    That said, I do participate in one temporary gallery that is a co op. It is run by my local Art Guild and the fees are minimal. As a condition of inclusion, one must work a few hours a month for the gallery. I enjoy the people and the art when I “do my time,” but will tell you that very few sales are made.

  6. I think that co-op galleries CAN be effective, but often they are not. The best ones have a clear focus and purpose and have greater criteria than “can you pay your share of the rent?” The worst are a replay of bad family dynamics.
    I think that they work well for work that sells for under $500, particularly in the area of fine crafts. I have to ask myself, does another artist who works in a different media (say, jewelry versus oil painting) know how to talk about and sell my work?
    The group dynamic and structure is also very important, and if the group is dysfunctional, so will be the gallery.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Seems like the onus is on the artist (always) to educate others involved on how to sell the work.

  7. I agree with Anne Belov: co-ops can be effective, it really depends on the dynamics of the people involved. The individuals have to play well with others, as they say, and someone needs to take the role of president or CEO to make decisions in between group meetings. There also needs to be some method of jurying in work, beyond just paying one’s dues, to ensure the quality of the work meets some standard. As for motivation for selling: those monthly dues or rent are motivation to sell work. What members may not have is any skill in selling. And, from an artist’s perspective, the need to produce new work every month or two doesn’t is different from building a body of work for a solo show.

  8. Why is it even a question? There are so many many ways to present work today. The question could just as easily been – What is your opinion of online art websites? I feel that today, the artist and collector have lots of great options. IMO it is old-school thinking that you put your work with a gallery and they will take care of you. They are a biz and they will promote whatever artist is the hottest at the moment. Today more than ever there is no reason to hand over control of your career to any group, gallery, website, etc.
    It is critically important to pay attention to the structure of any gallery, co-op, website. And of course, there is going to be trial and error.
    I work full-time. I paint. I do not have the time to put together the kind of consistent portfolio that a “pretigious gallery” would need. However, I have been in a local gallery where I pay a monthly fee. It gets great traffic. It has friendly and knowledgeable staff that assist the collectors. It has a nice website that features the artists. AND I have a certain space that is mine. The gallery owner curates what I put there – however that space is mine. I like that better than not knowing how much of my work is going to be on the walls or in a back room. And I’ve been selling! That is the point, right?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nan: It’s a question because I’ve been asked it by artists at least 3 times in the last two weeks. Their questions are valid, I believe. And I answered them.
      My response will be shared in a blog post, but I wanted to hear others responses.

    2. Hello Alyson. I’ve been a member of a successful cooperative gallery for about 7 years. The gallery has existed for 12 years. We’re located in the heart of our city (Ann Arbor, Michigan), in the middle of Main Street. We have 16 members and a visiting artist program. When a member leaves (seldom) we search for a new member and invite him or her to join us. When thinking about a new member we consider the work and the personality. Both have to be good. We have a healthy email list and keep up our epublicity. Our sales are good, were good even through the down times of 2008, 2009. People were staying home then and buying art for their walls.
      All of our members have jobs to do, we share the gallery sitting, we have a monthly business meeting and opening receptions for our 6 week exhibits. Personally, I love the fact that I can present anything I want in our gallery and I love the people I work with. It’s been a very good experience so far.

  9. Generally speaking, I do not find Co-Op galleries very effective. I am a maker and that is what I do best. Galleries are marketers and what they do best is educate the public so that it can appreciate what art and craft have to offer.
    Galleries are usually well placed, have regular clientel and extensive mailing lists. I spend time with the staff of my galleries to let them know how I make my pieces and what is new. I promote my galleries on my website and encourage my visitors to patronize them. If some one comes to my studio who has been to one of my galleries, I pay a finder’s fee to the gallery. Where appropriate, I do joint marketing with a gallery.
    I have found this to be an effective way to sell my work.
    I have participated in Co-Op galleries and studio tours in the past and found them to be good for communication between artists and crafts people but the sales are poor and the amount of work required – endless meetings, set up, investment, etc. – are way out of line compared to the return.

  10. I love the idea of artists supporting themselves! And each other. As Anne mentioned the term “family”, I experience that each one has its own personality- as a traditionally run gallery would as well. We have a terrific one in town with regular business hours. Although I have been asked many times, I have not participated because of balancing the substantial work commitment.
    I did however recently become a member of a co-op that works like this: There are studios and a central gallery that changes monthly with an exhibit of a member or non-member’s work. The co-op opens it’s doors officially only once a month, for the featured exhibit and open studios. The town and arts council sponsor a Last Friday event where shops stay open late, music on the court house lawn etc. The once a month opening proves to be financially rewarding and I drummed up workshop participants, and new subscribers to my mailing list.
    I love this Coop because I can independently open my studio any regular hours I like (Saturdays 10-4 this summer!), work on my work while the studio is open, have hours by appointment, be a presence in town (I live in the sticks) and have a community of artists to support and be supported by.

    1. That seems like the most ideal situation. I have been in one coop and another where I paid rent to the main artist. Both were attractive and were well run with nice folks but had issues of traffic flow. The latter seemed most visited by clients of the owner. Both had inconsistent art with limited jurying. By the time I paId the fees and spent time and gas driving and working there I lost money or barely broke even. I have been much more successful doing my own networking and find it more of an incentive to hold a one person show. That said, I do wonder about maxing out my current clientelle and show venue options.

  11. I live in Spokane Washington and am a member of Pottery Place Plus, which has been in business since 1978. It is a juried artisan gallery with a monthly guest artist program, also juried. For me, it provides a source of chronic income through out the year-enough that has allowed me to buy a “work only” vehicle I would not otherwise have been able to afford. It also is a way for me to be constantly available to my clients in the area even when I am out on the road with my work. My fellow artist/owners, for the most part, care just as much about selling each others work as their own.
    Is running the place a challenge? You bet. 25 artists in a room is not the board meeting at General Motors. We all come to the shop at different levels of experience. The rent these days is, even relatively speaking, is a lot more than in 1978. The biggest challenge is getting all the individuals to be successful at the same time. The shop has a marketing and advertising plan that is always growing and changing. Sometimes the component that is left is up to the individual, and the hurdle is getting that person to understand that they must try new things in order to sell their work.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nan: I love seeing that there is a marketing and advertising plan. AND that it’s growing and changing.

  12. I have been a member in three coop over the years. I have found that they run from very bad and poorly ran to very professional. So I think one should do their homework before committing to one. They can be great for the experience and fellowship if ran professionally. Saying all that I would not join one again.

    1. I agree. I belonged to a “Art Group” with a gallery. We paid membership, could hang 2 pieces a mo IF we gallery set. There was artist & want to be artist hanging work side by side. They cared more about membership (funds) then quality of art. I also found there was those who carried many. It wasn’t ran professionally ! Like Cathy I wouldn’t join another one. I’m now in a studio with a fellow artist/friend. I also have a home studio & a web site. This works much better for me.

    2. Alyson no the Art group wasn’t but shareing a studio w/fellow artist/friend & having web site is working great for me!

  13. About 20 years ago I started a coop gallery in a local shopping mall where space was available for only a small percent of sales as “rent”. That was a time when art sold well, and the gallery had about 20 members who paid in a nominal fee and each worked a day every cycle. There were monthly receptions and we had good attendance. We had great windows and one of the two was dedicated to a single artist each month. A 20% commission was taken from sales to cover the rent and other expenses. The commission provided a way for the selling artists to contribute more to the overhead than those who did not sell as well.
    This gallery has continued through the past 20 years, with ups and downs, but is still going strong. It is now located in the Historic Paseo Arts District of Oklahoma City. Rent and fees are now higher but the commission is still 20% and the gallery continues to grow. There are 17 member artists who run the gallery, and there are 8 consignment artists (all 3-d artists) who do not work or pay a fee but who’s work is sold for a much higher commission. They, of course, have no wall space. The work of all artists is first submitted to the members for approval before they are accepted. All artists sign a contract to continue with the gallery for a 1-year term to be sure all expenses are covered for the term of the gallery lease. The membership has turned over during the years but there are still 3 charter members in the group.
    Coops, in my opinion, can be successful and provide a wonderful opportunity to artists who are willing to be a part of the team.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Regina: It’s good to see you here! I agree that membership approval would be very important in a co-op.
      You’ve done a fantastic job supporting artists in Oklahoma City!

  14. I am a member of a co-op in Lafayette, CO. I LOVE it. We started out in 2008 when the economy tanked and did well and still do. I love the people in the co-op….it is like a family. We all work hard and are successful. We do have a few struggles….what to do about the folks that don’t pull their weight…..are we a nice gift shop or a gallery……how do we sell more 2D art. All in all, it is a great experience.
    For those of you in CO, we are looking for new members. Go to http://www.pARTicularsart.com and click on the Get Involved page.

    1. In addition to my earlier comment, my experience with the coop was that the lower-priced crafts and jewelry seemed to compete with the 2D art, which is more expensive.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Good work, Molly! This is an interesting question: “are we a nice gift shop or a gallery?” Wonder how you deal with that!

  15. My only objection to coop styled business models is that the artists can get “stuck” by the price structures. I have seen entire oeuvres be developed that simply would not sell without the “help” of the often very small (by real world standards) percentage required – 20 percent seems common in those venues. An Artist can be caught in that pricing and not have the ability to market out of that venue. I know someone who creates amazing and unusually intensely detailed Sgraffito. But the hours in each object is beyond rational and she is truly stuck. She has also created a huge following, but at the coop prices, she can’t move to a true retail price or she risks having to find a whole new group of collectors – not easy after many years of being “spoiled” by low prices . She is considering an entirely different “line” so that she can find homes for her clay in consignment and wholesale venues and expand her income and number of venues. She really wants to see her resume grow beyond this one location. Complacency can over-ride ones sense of adventure if you feel stuck, but are comfortable with your income.
    I also have never felt that the majority of artists have the aptitude to really do a serious job of selling nor is it conducive to a selling environment when someone works so few hours a month. In a gallery with full-time commissioned consultants, there is a higher likelihood that real nurturing of long-term clients will naturally develop. When I was an art consultant, I had long lasting and on-going client relationships that meant lots of follow-up and one to one contact. If new work came in, it was natural for all of us to let our clients learn about it and try to sell them the newest and latest and greatest thing. If I was only working one shift a month and it was not my primary income generating activity, it would be hard to be a totally committed sales representative. And it would be hard to walk in to “do my time” as Pat said, and actually know all the ins and outs of the work surrounding me and be able to do a proper presentation or representation of the various artists.
    If you are depending on a coop styled business for any part of your income stream, I always advise that you try to price your work at full “retail” value (difficult when all around you are often way below true market value – kinda like etsy in that regard.) and have a GREAT hand-out that clearly states your process and gives credence to your value. The chances are the person who is there “doing their time” will be under-representing you in the same way you will be when it is your turn to do your hours. It not the right business model for professional selling.
    And truly beware if there is a system in place that allows for an artist to pay a little more percentage to get better wall positions or front window exposure or some other perk. The in-fighting can become unbearable.

    1. So true…Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to develop an affordable coop for those who are beyond the “emerging” status and that would include regular independent staffing. Then again, seeing all the professional galleries closing…that may no longer be a viable option.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      I am kind of thinking that the Boulder Co-op has independent staffing. Or so it seems when I’m in there. Must research this.

    3. Alyson Stanfield

      Mckenna: Yes! Always build your pricing structure based on full retail (50%) so that you can grown your venues. Wise advice.
      So, I never heard of better wall positions. That’s interesting!

    4. I think McKenna is right on. Most artists who join a coop seem to lack the necessary business acumen to run it as a business. On the plus side, you can pretty much hang what you want and change it when you want; commissions tend to be much lower than commercial galleries; customers are usually a joy to deal with. On the negative side, the time/work commitment, politics (think egos), lack of sales and business experience and fees involved can run the gamut of frustrating to overwhelming.

  16. Kate Klingensmith

    Co-op galleries can be very good or very bad. Co-op galleries that take in every artist run the risk of having excellent work crammed in with very amateur work. To me that can devalue the better work. A co-op gallery I know had work from floor to ceiling, of every level of skill. I had no interest in being part of that. A co-op gallery that juries in artists stands a much better chance of enhancing and showcasing the artists work, so that everyone can benefit. Also I’ve turned down co-op gallery situations when I felt the monthly fee was way more than the space/quality of work warranted. Decision making can be very difficult at times in meetings. At the joint venture gallery I belonged to it took us the whole summer to decide to get a website. I think they are a great place to start out.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Kate: That floor-to-ceiling art sounds horrid. I think that’s one of the biggest risks with co-ops.

  17. I have read all the commentary and found them to hit most issues, benefits and difficulties with co-ops galleries.
    As a curator and consultant I chose not to work with them because I found them to luck professional approach and business practice.
    As an artist I found the biggest problem with co-ops to be the fact that your run a business by committee and are risking having your artwork mixed with inconsistency in quality of other work, even when it gets reviewed before being excepted.
    It is like being on a neighborhood HOA board. What do you do with people that do not pay or pull their share or their work is no longer up to par and meets the co-op standard. You run into bad and hurt feelings and of course internal politics.
    In today internet world things have changes tremendously and we need to find a way to get support on one hand, but do the business on our own.
    This is why after so many years in the art world, in different rolls and capacity I have joined the Conspiracy to learn new ways to get the work out there and sale if possible!
    Traditional galleries had become a pain and on line galleries do not sale!

  18. As others have said, it can be good or bad depending on so many factors. If you’re considering joining a co-op, be sure to ‘mystery shop’ several. When you reveal that you’re an artist interested in joining, are they transparent about sales figures? Is the director motivated to sell? How often do you have to gallery sit, if at all? How often do you get a solo show? If the co-op is thriving because they have a ton of members, you may not get a show for a long while. Are there regular all member shows to get your art seen? What’s their website like? Social media presence? How many people walk through the door during the week? Weekends? At openings? Are their shows getting reviews in the local news? How much publicity will the director do for your show? I’ve been pretty happy at the co-op where I got my start: http://studiogallerydc.com/ We are encouraged to update our online portfolio regularly. The majority of visitors to my website come via the co-op website.

  19. Firstly, despite my observations below, I’m sure there are exceptions that exist which completely contradict what I’m saying, if that applies to you, great.
    I’ve looked into co-ops over the years, and the pattern I’ve seen (in the big city environment at least) after informal questioning of a random sampling of members is that the 80/20 rule generally applies. 80% of the dollars goes to 20% of the participants. This means that in general, if the pattern is accurate, most of the artist’s are simply paying for the privilege of subsidizing the sales of their peers rather than their own.
    The gallery model is risky and expensive, and I think it better to let the gallery take the overhead risk, and only pay commissions when something sells…shipping is bad enough.
    If you are part of the 20% in that you have marketable art that actually sells, a co-op might be an efficient use of capital as a component of a range of sales outlets, since the commission structure is usually pretty low and the overhead costs are distributed across members.
    As an initial outlet, it is probably more expensive and risky than a consignment only outlet. Before committing to a co-op gallery, I think it prudent to be fairly confident the work is commercially viable by actually selling in other venues that don’t require ongoing overhead expenses.

  20. We run a very successful co-op in Mobile, Al. but a ton of research was done before hand to ensure the business model was sound and benefited not on the artists but the gallery as well. Because the membership required a buy in and that we are a corporation with equal partners, we each view the co-op as our business rather than a place to hang our work and work one day a month. This focus on investment has paid off huge for us because we market and network our gallery within the community well, which one must do to be successful. I have been in a co-op before that although it made money, it didn’t fit my needs and my heart wasn’t in it. I pretty much believe that will make or break a co-op if the members don’t love being a part of it. We also approached our product line from two perspectives. One, we offer low cost, bread and butter items that tourist pick up and two, we offer high end fine art in an eclectic setting which serves us all well. As an artist, I can think of no better business model or gallery to be a part of. With that said, we each know that our careers as artists don’t stop at our door, but it is up to us to market our work to an ever increasing online audience.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Ardith: This is brilliant: “we each view the co-op as our business rather than a place to hang our work and work one day a month” !!!
      I love the buy-in here. And this: “we each know that our careers as artists don’t stop at our door, but it is up to us to market our work to an ever increasing online audience.”
      I think some of the problem with these venues is that artists expect the work or the person working there to sell the art. Relinquished responsibility.

    2. I think that putting ones work in a setting without a professional sales staff is in and of itself – Relinquishing Responsibility. When I send my work out to consignment or direct sales, there is an implied partnership: they want my work for income generation and I want them to generate income so they will need more (and more) going forward. That is what I would expect when I put my work into a RETAIL location. I expect it to be seen by the public in a venue that has a credible “storefront” appearance with lights and a cash register. And above all, I want a retail location where the staff is connected to the job of selling first, dusting second, and texting friends is not even on the list.
      If I have my art on display and I have done my best to leave a bio and make sure my very best is there with full prices (that are still competitive) and even leave a sales tips sheet for staff to read and so on, it matters not if there is not a dedicated professional (even if they are a full time employee). There needs to be someone willing to learn about my art form and what it’s benefits and joys are to a viewing public. This is a double down funky situation if the seller is A. not a career salesperson and B. not even a salesperson at heart and C. only there for a few days a month or even one day a week. The dedication to follow-up is deeply hampered. People who are in the process of purchasing fine art (especially expensive pieces) often require a few additional contacts for one reason or another – shipping costs, framing changes, or just need to measure their space and if they are going to spend any significant money. AND…they want a connection to the person they are buying from, too. THAT is close to impossible with a place run with “sitters”. If the seller can’t even follow up and be the person who will call the framer, or just bring the piece to the client’s home and see if it will fit, or check with the shipper about the crating costs or whatever – voila: lost credibility, lost momentum, and lost revenue. A professional will do that and more, including getting a deposit right then and there and offer a refund if the rest of the conditions can’t be met. They will come to work on Monday morning and follow-up in whatever way needed and get the rest of the money before the doors are even open! At least that is what I used to do when I was a 6 figure art sales professional.
      Service sells. My favorite quotation from A.F. Sheldon, is the engine behind all commerce: “He profits most who serves best.”

  21. Have you ever seen a serious collection built from co-op sources that landed in a museum’s permanent collection? I haven’t. The stigma of the co-op is well-deserved. At a high level, collectors want the imprimatur of a credible dealer going to bat for certain artists for the long-term, to sustain prices and reputations. Co-ops cannot do that. Of course, most artists do not harbor the goal of reaching the blue-chip league. But co-ops – on the whole – promise poor marketing, low prices, no prestige, and few interested critics, collectors or curators who can elevate careers. Creative freedom can be had in more professional venues that do offer all the above, so why spin one’s wheels at a co-op? That said, obscure artists of a certain middling talent need some place to show, and the co-op may be their only available fallback option when traditional galleries reject them. Co-ops are the “out to pasture” option when artists tire of the rejection and accept they’ll never get representation by a credible gallery. I find them full of art that serious commercial galleries wouldn’t touch. But if an artist has very low aspirations, the co-op may be a good place to feel as if they have achieved something, when they tell less-than-knowledgeable friends that their work is showing in a gallery, as if there is any prestige in a pay-to-play situation. I say artists should avoid them if they ever hope to have a respectable career.

    1. Aaron, as much as I respect your opinion I do disagree with some of it. Yes, the blue chip galleries will be out of touch for ‘middling talent’ but to be honest, when an artist can throw paint on a canvas and simply because of their name, or status, or station in life have value attached to it by a pretentious group of collectors then so be it. I would much rather connect with the larger masses that value my art not for my name or what gallery I hang in but because they simply love my art, it moves them, and they relate to it. I didn’t choose a co-op because I was rejected. I created the co-op with the sole intent of reaching an audience much larger than the blue chip galleries will ever be able to touch. This choice of being ‘out to pasture’ as you say, has offered me the opportunity to be quite successful. In an economy where the purchase of fine art is a luxury, our gallery among many, have intentionally set out to keep the collection of original art accessible to the masses. It does not imply that one artwork is of more value than the other, because in a world where an elephant can step in paint and place it on a page, then have that piece sell for thousands, artistic talent is completely thrown out the window. The value of art is in the eye of whoever is willing to place value on it…wherever that might be.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Aaron: I think you touched on something when you wrote (in essence) that not all artists have the same goals.
      I also know there are sophisticated co-ops out there that could refute your opinions of them.

    3. Pirate: Contemporary Art has a handful of artists in the permanent collection of the Denver Art Museum and regularly breaks new up and coming artists and receives critical acclaim. Same to be said for Ice Cube Gallery. The intent of the the these two coops are similar to contemporary art spaces and unlike most coop galleries listed above we do not focus on sales. Much of the work supported is almost impossible to sell and thus does not have good representation in the commericial galleries which are interested in “product”.
      Do your homework, check out the gallery. Any gallery whether commercial, art space or cooperative should be being written about to be worth your time to exhibit there.

  22. This is a topic I’ve always wondered about and would like to hear others experiences….. Glad you posted this!

  23. I just have a little to say about online marketing, since Regina (Hi Regina) has already told you about one of our very successful co-ops and our beautiful and successful Paseo Arts District.
    Technology, I believe is always going to be growing by leaps and bounds. I also believe that artists that take the time to research the new developments, to consider the pros and cons for their own business model, could possibly find new inspiration, something new to incorporate, or a whole new avenue.
    [Think mobile websites in addition to a regular website] The desktop computer will be obsolete sooner than you may think.
    That being said, as to online marketing, it is a very big pond and you have to work and learn about marketing yourself. How else will someone across the globe find you? It can be done and be fun in the process. Take baby steps, so as to not get overwhelmed.
    What avenues are available to me the artist online? Galleries, co-op galleries (think blog/website rolls) stand alone self marketing
    websites, mobile websites, e-commerce (some artists on ArtFire are doing well selling prints of their originals). These are just a few of the possibilities available to expand your exposure and to increase your sales.

  24. Coops have not been of interest to me as an artist though I visit coops as well as other types of galleries as a customer. The thought of artists who would rather be in their studio and have no idea how to talk with people, doing their time in the gallery doesn’t seem professional to me. From my experience, I’d rather have an outgoing, knowledgeable person talking with potential customers. Also, there is usually some politic going on in a group – sometimes it works and sometimes not. It’s best to decide this on a case by case basis.

  25. Having been a member of a co-op for twelve years, I would say that you get what you put into it. If you change out work, keep brochures handy, have regular shows, and jury in the artists, then it can be good for artists just beginning to market their work or artists who simply aren’t interested in contracts with galleries. Rarely does high end work sell, but occasionally it does.
    That said, I left the co-op as most other emerging artists did for representation in other galleries and venues. In theory, you should not be paying for someone to sell your work, but if you don’t have a lot of options, why not be a part of a co-op?

  26. The information you share is very helpful and inspiring – thank you for sharing. I have nominated your blog for a Versatile Blogger Award. Have a look at my recent blog post for the details and how to get your Versatile Blogger Award Badge.
    Have a blessed day Janet

  27. Mary Mulvihill

    Ask to see a co-op’s sales figures – what percentage of income is from wall fees and what percentage is from consignment work. It is very possible for a co-op gallery to exist for decades supported by wall fees and consignment fees, yet sell very little member art. Ask how long the average member remains a member. Are they supported by a revolving door of hopeful artists who leave when sales don’t pan out. Ask about their promotion, advertising and events. Ask if they have an advertising budget. Ask if they require artists to be self-promoting as well as talented. Are members required to have websites, belong to professional organizations in their medium and maintain a professional resume? Be realistic about the location. It’s important. Ask how members are juried in as well as juried out. Ask who makes decisions – the members, a board, or an elected or paid director. Ask if they train their members how to be effective salespeople. It is possible to have a gallery full of talent, with very few able to close the deal.

  28. I didn’t like being in bed with so many other people…So to speak…
    2)Name artists got their name by hard work…There is a reason they get higher prices…
    3)Same goes for elephants…

  29. Lynnda Tenpenny

    I’ve been involved with a co-op for several years. Our co-op has had the advantage of helping the growth and renewal of our downtown area. It is a juried process to get in, and since I’ve been a member, the quality has consistently gone up. It is more difficult to sell 2D art, although this is becoming less and less of an issue.
    One advantage that I don’t think has been listed is that it has given me the opportunity to get to know a lot of the other artists in our area. There are built in issues with different people working every day and governance by committee (the Board), as well as the fact that we can’t affort yet to upgrade our technology. But for a lot of us, it has been a good experience. We are well respected in this area of Knoxville, Tn. While we’re not in a hot-bed of art activity, we are certainly coming along and the co-op for now is a part of that scene.

  30. I belong to a Co-Op Gallery, Timberline Gallery in Oakhurst Ca,has been in existence for over 25 years. We change the gallery around every other month, have a room for solo shows, and a gift section. Guests rarely know that it is a co op gallery. We have a theme show 6 times a year. We send out cards, have a web site, and connect with the other art galleries on our Gallery Row. Most of us participate in the Sierra Art Trails Home Studio tour in Oct. Some of us have participated in Your classes and help promote with your suggestions. We have flyers, card racks, business cards etc.
    When we have a change out on the gallery, all of us have businesses in town that we distribute colorful 4 X 6 cards to, motels, hotels, Real Estate Offices etc.
    We are a small tourist town near Yosemite.. It takes the joint effort of everyone in the gallery to make it work… also rules to follow. We are always trying to improve.
    Yes, purchases have been slow, but we are not hitting ourselves over the head, just keep on following with new ideas.. We know it is not us, it is what is beyond our control. That is not slowing us down,, We keep on planning, and we have a great board that works hard to show with quality, and yes we do jury in…

  31. My recent experience with a co-op was pretty negative. The goals of the other artists (to hang/store work) didn’t match mine (to sell work) and the time commitment was far too great (one day per week). The experience gave me real respect for the work commercial galleries do. I will never begrudge them their commission!

  32. I can relate to that! I have so much respect for a well run gallery. It is a lot of work and they deserve their commission. I’ve been in two co-ops and I value the experience. I learned a lot and met some people who remain good friends. I would do it again with the right artists who understand the business side as well as the creative. The mission statement has to be to sell. A good co-op can fill a niche that galleries don’t cover. I would like to try a hybrid gallery – a co-op with a small number of artist as co-owners, not members, with a second tier of guest artists who could pay a fee to hang or a commission. Try different ideas and curate shows with a flexible stable of artists. I found having 25 members with equal say made it very difficult to make decisions. Too many cooks in the kitchen! But, I loved going into the gallery in the morning and opening it for the day.

  33. Pricing is a problem in co-ops. It can make no sense to the customer. I don’t know how a co-op can dictate prices to members. Members who have worked their way to a higher price get upset when someone without a track record prices higher than they do. Or when someone prices way lower. If there is a wide variety of prices, I have had customers ask why this painting cost more or less than that when they are the same size.
    Has anyone worked in a co-op where there were rules about pricing or a set range of prices?

    1. Sorry. I don’t know why my comments aren’t attaching to the post I’m replying to. I must be doing something wrong.

  34. Pricing & Reasons: 1)It doesn’t matter what other artists price at…It matters what the work actually sells for…Those two numbers are different…Don’t believe everything you read…It is all artifice, art, including the numbers game…
    Reasons2) I put my work in a gallery in the first hope that the gallery owner will buy it…If they do, that proves they truly like the work…From there they can either keep the work for a long time, then sell it at a profit to a museum or pass it on to their estate…

  35. I currently belong to an Artist’s Co-op Gallery within walking distance of my home studio. It has had it’s ups and downs over the past 4 years. Our situation was one where a number of artist’s were thrown together with minimal guidance. I am the only person with retail background and we have settled here and there in our jobs at the gallery, but it is difficult to run as a cooperative group, especcially when we all have our own thoughts about what the gallery should “be.” All in all, I love the people that I have met through being a part of it, have a place that is always available to the public to see my work, and because I’m there working the gallery every week I can refresh my work with ease, see what is selling, and meet with customers there instead of at my home or a coffee shop. I think it’s great because you can use it as a business tool, even though organizing a group of artists can be like herding feral cats. Thankfully, we have a great manager who stepped up too attempt to keep us organized! All in all, it has helped me get to know my community and who’s buying local art.

  36. I am a resident artist at the arts center in my city. I have a studio there with a gallery and classroom space. The space is run like a co-op. it is challenging to bring independently thinking, creative adults with full lives to come together for meetings, much more a marketing strategy.
    The benefits of a co-op is that one can use the space as they see fit. I can teach, hold workshops and invite friends to openings at the same location, as can the other artists.
    There is so much to be done. The appreciation for gallerists and PR people is garnered.

  37. I’ve been in 2 co-op galleries. The first was run on emotion, and any business decisions were arbitrary. There was no method to hold people to the guidelines, and it was a very long year commitment. With the hours and expenses measured against the sales, I “bought” myself a less-than-minimum wage job that did provide a few good contacts with new commission customers.
    The second co-op was formed for the months of November and December only. It was well run and well publicized. I sold enough to pay the expenses, and decided it wouldn’t be prudent to continue in the slower retail months.
    My conclusion is that without strong leadership by someone(s) with experience, a co-op gallery is an exercise in frustration. Those who are making a living don’t need to start a new business from scratch; those who are not tend to pull down the quality.

  38. I have been in a printmaking Co-op for 9 years. It could be better at the PR, advance planning for shows, it could have a blog, and lot more stuff. However, having said all that it has still been a wonderful experience, I’ve learned a lot doing my own PR. I have been able to exhibit, GET TIME ON THE PRESS!, get feedback, talk to other artists, get out of my own head and learn! I do sell art through it, many contacts have come from it. We do a annual New Haven city wide open studio during which we sell some work. I love being in a co-op, it’s not perfect. (If the people running it were awful- it wouldn’t be worth it though, I have to say. Family dynamics!)

  39. Our co-op will be 10 years old next year, and it has had it’s trials. The 4 of us who started this wanted a location to show our art, and we select one month each year for our own solo exhibit. The other 8 months we rent out to other artists who contact us to have their own exhibit. Each has to handle all the aspects of the marketing, hanging, and sitting in the gallery while our paintings hang. That is the part that frightens most artists…having to deal with the marketing end of the creative process. But I must say, that, for me, one month a year is a doable sacrifice to be able to connect directly with the public. We don’t pay anyone else a commission, just the flat set rate that covers the rent, utilities and insurance. Knowing that I have a set date every year for an exhibit and that I can make it into my own private stage for my work is a great incentive. The drawbacks….having to convince artists that they can be in charge of their own exhibit. It actually can be a tremendous learning experience in communicating directly with a buyer/browser and the feedback is invaluable. I know that when I connect with art, I have questions galore, and the best person to answer those are the artist her/himself. Another drawback is sometimes having to say yes to an exhibitor whose work isn’t up to quality standards just because we have to fulfill our rental obligation to the building owner. We are also limited as to how much we can charge each month, as we all know that making art is an ‘up front’ expense to begin with. As we are all independent, our marketing strategy is weak, only marketing the fact that we have a venue for artists to exhibit their own work. There is definitely room for improvement here, and this year we will work on developing this area. Now that we are an established entity on the gallery scene, in the central part of the city, people include us in their gallery visit route, keeping an open mind about what they will find there. I think it’s a great concept, which demands some participation from the artist beyond studio time. That’s where your book has helped me so much, and I thank you.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Connie: I’m glad the book has helped.
      The lack of control over quality would drive me bonkers!

    2. I guess that it’s our major complaint. I have tried to encourage the others in our group to adopt many of your practices for marketing, and wish that your book was translated into at least one of the scandinavian languages. I’m forever getting requests to translate whole chapters, and trying to make them see the light regarding self promotion….a hard sell in this culture.

  40. I’ve been in a lot of co-op galleries, some well hung, some too full. Never had I had the person sitting the gallery walk me through and talk about the individual artists’ work.

  41. I believe that co-op galleries, such as Edge Denver, are instrumental to the ever evolving art world… This is because co-op are run by the artists not a pencil pusher whose only interest is profit. Co-op’s give the artist creative liberty approaching the process of showing work. A perfect example of this is a show that ended last month at Edge Gallery in Denver called Reside Denver. A month long performance art show! Talk about a revolution in art, well then the word co-op will be in the sentence.

  42. I think cooperatives can be quite good if you have a director,who is focused on getting the word out and having quality work. …and of course a good group or alliance. I have been part of 3 cooperatives,Amos Eno,NYC,Gallery One,Prov RI
    and now Bozarts in Water Valley MS.
    Benefits: meeting other artists with different perspectives, having the freedom to show what you want, getting your work and your name out through the gallery.
    Things not so great: Some co-ops can be very expensive to belong to due to location
    (something you need to ponder) so you have to consider “Is it worth it to belong if your monthly fees are high or the amount of shows your involved in is sporadic?”
    Set realistic goals . I aso try to make some work that is affordable for certain buyers.
    Luckily we have a gallery that has a front room for limited member thematic shows, and a back gallery for a variety of work.
    Hope this helps

  43. Having belonged to Backstreet Gallery Co-op in Florence Or. for about 6 years, I have received a wonderful start is marketing my art, have been inspired by the creative atmosphere and grown as an artist. While trying to accommodate the desires of 20 some artists there can be some strife, however, we are fortunate to have assembled some very talented people that resolve these problems with aplomb, consideration
    and fairness. We have been extremely successful in growing our business from a small art cottage to the center of a thriving Bay St. business.

    1. Hey Karen.. small world! We’re members of Backstreet Gallery together and yes.. .we do have much fun and we are very successful. The only thing I don’t like about it is our 2-3 hour meetings every month. I think they’ve gotten out of hand. I don’t like meetings and to have to sit for 2-3 hours is misery, especially when it’s every month. Ugh. I do like the opportunity we have as a ‘whole’ to sell so much art. Since I’ve been a member of Backstreet Gallery, I have sold well over a hundred paintings and at least a thousand of my Gull’s First Impression cards. What are those you might ask? I’ve always gotten a kick out of watching sea gulls and it’s fun to have these sassy and sociable creatures come ashore and give us a bird’s eye view of human’s nature. One thing about being in a co-op and selling constantly – it motivates and encourages us to hustle our bustle and keep producing… it makes us stretch that’s for sure and course there’s stress if you allow that to seep in.

    2. Jennifer: Long meetings are awful to endure. You need someone to take charge with an agenda and another person with a timer. There has to be a time limit on meeting length. You can lose good members if the meetings continue to drag on.

  44. I was invited to join a co-op on the opposite side of the country from me and have been considering it. the comments here have been soo helpful. Thanks to all. I dont follow blogs but I signed up for this one!

  45. I was a member of an art co-op about 12 years ago. It was a great idea but I believe it relied to much on the rent it received for the studio space.

  46. Pingback: Most Active Posts on the Art Biz Blog in 2012 — Art Biz Blog

  47. What kinds of committees should a co-op have for it’s members?
    What do you do if members are not pulling their weight in the co-op?
    Should there be at least one member in charge of business decisions?
    Any other helpful advice?

  48. I helped start Gallery 49 Artist Co-op and my experience is that on the good side, it creates an artist community that helps keep you focused on being creative. We have some artist studios that are used regularly which helps to create the community and friendship. On the down side not many of the artists have business or retail experience and when you have a lot of members running the business it takes longer to make and implement decisions.

  49. I started an artist co-op in our small coastal/river town of Florence, Oregon, almost 8 years ago.. .and we just keep growing and prospering all the time. We started off in 2005 in an old 5-room house off the beaten path, thus the name Backstreet Gallery. In 2009 we needed more elbow room and wanted a better location and were able to move to Bay Street in Old Town Florence.. the most visited street in town. The Siuslaw River runs right through our town and we have a beautiful view of the river, fishing boats, crab pots, and sea gulls everywhere. Since we’ve moved to our current location we haven’t had to market as much because people from all over the world walk right by our storefront and they’re always looking for LOCAL ART. We have 24 member artists, all living in Florence. This month, we’ve closed down and are moving next door to a place that is double in size.. room for classrooms, room for more member artists, room for monthly receptions with food, wine & live music – all complimentary. Our co-op runs like a well-oiled machine now – a big part of it is our board members (selected each year) and everyone is required to serve on 1-2 committees which keeps our co-op running in harmony. There’s nothing better than a co-op. So many galleries have closed down, not being able to meet the economic crunch – we just keep thriving. All kinds of media, artists inspire, motivate one another. We are consistently open every day of the week – consistency is key. We expect that our co-op will be around for many many years to come. It’s been fun for me to watch our co-op grow through the growing pains, evolve and become well-known up and down the Oregon coast, throughout Oregon and country-wide. Hope you all will visit Backstreet Gallery the next time you’re visiting the Oregon coast… you won’t be sorry. Full of light, color, joy, and excellent art!!

    1. Congratulations on the success of Backstreet Gallery, Jennifer! Sounds like you all wrote the book on a successful co-op.

  50. If it’s between $50 to $150 a month and you can go month-to-month, it’s worth a try, especially if you are like most of us and cannot get a gallery to show your work for free. They are usually flexible because one of the founding members may be willing to sit out a few months to save the money if they can’t sell their own work so easily lately. It took me months to sell anything where I was. I finally realized I needed to do smaller paintings with lower prices. Most of the other paintings I saw there were still there a year later. Another artist rented out a whole wall for his enormous paintings of flowers and after just one month he pulled out. At the time I thought that was impatient but there’s nothing wrong with testing things out if you can. Try whatever you can with minimal commitment and cost. You never know. Someone with a booth at a very popular local salvage yard/antique complex has had four of my paintings there for several months and not one has sold. Meanwhile, my barber has sold two of the four or five paintings he’s shown in his shop for me. Of course, neither are charging me anything, so there’s nothing to lose. If I’d been paying the woman with the booth $50 a month, I probably would have pulled out by now.

    1. I should add that what I have noticed over the years is that if you want to get something done right, then do it yourself…What I mean by that is if you want to sell your works of art, say in a co-op gallery, then it is imperative that you stand there for a shift or more, & that is when you will sell YOUR art…If you show in a co-op, then whoever is manning the gallery that day is not necessarily going to push your work…Often, they will be pushing their own, which is fair…The times that I sold in a co-op were the times that I was there…If you’re not there, it sits…Which is why I think even in regular galleries, your work can sit…People really like to talk to the artist & there are details that only an artist will know…One of the best times for me was way at the beginning when I had my own studio & did my own shows & sold directly…When you are in control of everything, there is nobody to blame or credit but yourself…The gallery illusion puts that into the hands of others…Others who do not care as much about you as you do…

  51. Very true. Currently I am with a co op gallery as an associate artist and to be honest though I have had some positive outcome with my art sales it could be ran and managed to be so much more successful for all the artists both owners and associates.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      I hope the running of the gallery is ironed out soon for you, Dolly. Unfortunately, I think it’s difficult to “fix” a broken co-op gallery. Hard to change hearts and minds.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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