Art galleries are the meeting point between the creative world and the business world. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an aesthete, or an artist yourself, it takes entrepreneurial flair and an eye for good art to make a gallery successful. If you’re thinking about starting your own gallery, but aren’t sure where to begin, here’s a step-by-step guide to help get you going:
Step 1: Craft your plan and purpose
Find your purpose
You’ll first need to identify your business’ purpose. Galleries are more than just showrooms, despite what most people believe. They can incubate rising talent and support their artists by promoting their works, or connecting them with appropriate patrons. Some even go as far as to provide financial and project management services, allowing artists to focus more on their work. While you can do all of that, you need to hone in on a single vision to prioritize, and then devise strategies to help you achieve this.
Identify the business model
Businesses need profit to continue operating, and even a gallery isn’t exempt from that. The most common source of income for galleries are sale commissions, giving you a cut for every piece you sell, but this method doesn’t secure a regular income. This is why exhibitions have become more popular in recent years. This way, your gallery earns an exhibition fee from the exhibiting artists upfront, regardless of whether you make sales or not—you still get additional sales commissions. Art columnist Kelly Heylen suggests setting a commission of around 20-30%, and even hosting events in your gallery for supplemental income.
Choose the appropriate location and business structure
New York and Los Angeles have always been the meccas of the art world in the U.S., as there’s already an existing creative community, as well as a solid client base in both places. While most people will likely want to get the gallery off the ground as quickly as possible through starting as sole proprietorship or partnership, you need to be aware that this gives you little wiggle room for error since you’ll be held personally liable for any mishap.
The art world is heavily insured and gallery owners need to protect themselves. This is why forming an LLC would be a safer bet. In fact, one reason the Big Apple is a good place for new gallery owners is because a New York LLC comes with several benefits. New York offers tax incentives, business incentives, and tax credits, which will make setting up the business side of the gallery much more affordable. However renting spaces in central New York and LA is very expensive, so you may want to look into more affordable yet lively areas like Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Silver Lake in East LA—especially since you’re just starting out.
Step 2: Register your business
Having a registered business helps you build your credibility, as well as establish trust within your client base. In order to register your business with the appropriate federal agencies, you should first acquire all the necessary permits and licenses to open an art gallery.
In most states, you’ll be required to obtain a seller’s permit, allowing the state to record and collect tax for income generated from sales and services. However, business owners in states like Oregon need a sales tax certificate which lets them buy and sell products, rent property, and operate businesses tax-free!
Market and boost your brand
The pandemic created a shift in the way galleries operate, with some upending their spaces and moving to less busy locations. One such example, featured in our previous article, is the Sélavy Gallery in Southampton. They rebranded their gallery by turning it into “part living room, part showroom, and part online store” on the seaside of the Hamptons. While they’re navigating an eclectic new brand and identity, they’re definitely taking ownership of it and are continuing to market their pieces.
What matters the most is that you develop a brand identity that best represents your business and your artists; and don’t miss out on opportunities to expand your reach. Use the power of technology and social media to promote your brand and goods online. Leverage on your network of peers within the community to get you off the ground.
More than just starting a business, opening a gallery puts you in a position where you can help move art forward in today’s world!