Monday, January 7, 2008

Annapolis and the Trouble With Resort Galleries

If you've been around art for any length of time, you know that the commercial availability of art can become regionalized. Meaning, what sells in Paducah may not sell in Santa Monica and that artists who like working locally usually sell locally. Art regionalism also means that people in St. Thomas are buying works featuring marine life, sunny skies, and bright and happy colors (for the most part) while people in Vail are buying snowscapes, tree lines, and other cold weather art. There's a whole theory and science to how people live geographically and how vacation homes (second and third homes) in resort communities have a very different art purchasing base.

So it is very important to get out to these resort areas and rural areas and look around to see what's new in different parts of the country - and this is why some of the larger art shows are so popular. One can see what's hot in New York, Florida, and London all in one venue without having to travel. In large metropolitan areas, inventory tends to change fairly rapidly, but in smaller, rural towns, art inventory can have a longer wall life - and this is one way that an arts advisory can learn which artists have staying power in which communities and why.

Today we chose to visit Annapolis, and although Annapolis, Maryland is not very far from our desks (over 25 miles - less than 50), Annapolis has the benefit of being both a resort community and a seaside community with a big boom in summer and a big focus on marine art. Now, as many of you may know, I originate from Rhode Island and spent a great deal of time in Newport, Rhode Island - arguably a comparable community. The trouble with resort galleries, particularly right after Christmas on a very slow Monday, is they're closed. Or they're closing. Or they relocated,or they're only open on a Tuesday when the moon is blue, or the gallery attendant is a bored college student on winter break.

It's frustrating to hear gallery owners lament about the difficulties of managing gallery overhead (and all the associated costs of insurance, shipping, contracts, etc.) when they have store hours of 10 - 2 or when they're only open on the weekends. As an arts advisory service firm, Shauna Lee Lange and company work far more than we should - developing leads, answering questions, helping people connect, exploring calls for submissions, researching art purchases - the list goes on. This is not a good thing, always to be pushing and working, but it is difficult from our perspective to understand how an art gallery can close its doors to the public it serves or the artists it represents.

And frustrating too, is that some of these spaces and curators and owners are very high quality. Certainly, January is a far cry from June, but when did it happen that art buyers only bought in June? Today was a glorious sunshiny, warm, spring-like day and Main Street Annapolis seemed dismal in comparison. Many spaces were for lease or rent - alarming so - even shops that have been in business for some time. Is this a condition of the economy? Is it normal turn-around for post-season stores? Or does the unavailability of art galleries speak to a larger causality, the growth of Internet galleries, the reduction of pedestrian traffic due to technology, or the cavalier approach some long-term gallery owners may have adopted?

Most of the gallery owners we know do it because they love it and they're good at it. They live, eat, and breathe art. And we have to wonder in Annapolis, where is everyone?? It'll take a few months to see how Annapolis fares through changes it is facing with Main Street development along with many other communities in similar situations. We wanted to share some first hand impressions, a few photos of sights we saw along the way today, and a heart-felt plea to open your doors.