Find an audience; sell art

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Things are changing in the art world–the very art world that shot itself in the foot when it decided to be so esoteric that only art professionals could make any sense of what they were looking at.

Locally, that’s reflected in who is buying art these days. First of all, lots of young people are buying low-priced emerging artists. And secondly, broader national and international audiences have gotten in touch with what’s here through the internet and the art fairs. Ask most local gallery owners, and get this confirmed–their big sales are mostly out of town.

Cerulean Gallery has decided to do something about the lack of local gallery traffic–by bringing art education to people’s work places.

The whole thing began in a business support class Tina Rocha took at Wharton. Here’s what she wrote:

The questions asked by those not familiar with the gallery scene surprised me. Some don’t go to galleries because they think they would be pressured to buy something and others felt they didn’t know enough about art to look at it or discuss it properly. Education has always been a part of our mission – “Cultivating an appreciation for art by holding exhibitions, offering unique decorative and fine art for sale and providing art instruction for personal fulfillment”. Until recently though, we’ve been focusing strictly on studio classes and our “Meet the Artist” talks in conjunction with our exhibitions.

Then this past spring Mike [Kowbuz] was asked to jury an art show at a Philadelphia accounting firm, of all places. This national firm held a conference at their Center City headquarters and employees and family members were asked to participate in an art show to be displayed in the office. The participation was fantastic and proved what we already knew, that no matter what their profession, people have an interest in art. It’s simply getting them to feel comfortable enough to try something new – going to a gallery!

So we’ve come up with a series of art appreciation classes to help working professionals become more familiar with the art world. We’re really excited because we’re not only fulfilling our mission to educate but we feel we’re creating potential future art buyers. And by offering classes right in their offices, we’re making it easy for them.

We’re also envisioning having additional series of classes such as “Meet the ___” fill in the blank with Gallery Owner, Curator, Collector… I think it would be hugely beneficial for other galleries to be involved.

Cerulean’s first art appreciation class is Jan. 31, and here’s the schedule for all the spring classes, including studio classes. The schedule also includes prices for workplace classes. Tina and Mike are open to other ideas for classes, presenters, and potential participants, too. They can be reached at 267.514.8647.

Cerulean’s effort is really part of a larger picture. We have an art world that has finally decided to connect to a wider audience–whether it be through more accessible imagery that incorporates the popular culture into art, or whether it be through selling art via the art fairs or the internet. After talking to the gallery owners who went to Miami, I came away with two different impressions. The international crowd was buying because of the crumbling dollar; or the international crowd wasn’t even there. In either case, the Philadelphia galleries who invested in the trip found business there that they couldn’t find here in the city.

There’s an item in the Inquirer today about rising art sales on the secondary market. The article attributes the rise to the weak dollar, but also to a new, vibrant international art market–yesss, buying art is trendy. Like all things trendy, it’s part economics, partly a social phenomenon. Peer pressure is a mighty stimulant.

Because all the deep-pocket congnoscenti collectors and patrons are not numerous enough to support all the young, talented artists out there, artists themselves have taken an important step by wading into the popular culture and turning out art that can connect to an wider audience. That too may have turned the tide and increased art’s audience.

Unfortunately, the high-brow taint of the last century still intimidates lots of potential collectors. Maybe the folks who go to McDonald’s or Starbucks–because they know exactly what they’ll get before they get there–will never be collectors. But there are lots of other folks out there with a sense of adventure and a little money to spend. Thanks to Cerulean for deciding to reach out to them.

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