For many artists, the New York City art world is a complete mystery. Even for the artists that have been born and raised here, the frustrations are many when it comes to trying to promote their work. I have seen this frustration time and again with my many artist friends in the decade that I have been living here.
Through the years of interacting with many galleries here in New York City
and throughout the United States, through conversations with many marketing experts, and through my constant reading of marketing and sales techniques, I have devised a very simple 3-step approach to achieving success.
This article is the third in a series devoted to sharing with other artists all I have learned in my artistic career. I will summarize the other articles briefly, but I recommend that you read each one. My first article in the series Top 3 Ways to Meet NYC Art Dealers gives you an easy plan for getting your foot in the door and in front of the right people who can make your career happen. My next article Secrets to Understanding the NYC Art World gives you some very specific information about how the art gallery system is set up.
This article is going to use the information from the previous two articles and show you a clear strategy that will work for you. But before I get started, I must be honest with you and tell you that this information is for serious-minded artists only, for artists who are willing to put themselves on the line and who really want to grow a professional career in New York City. This is not for dabblers or Sunday painters. This plan requires a serious committment of your time and energy.
In my second article, Secrets to Understanding the NYC Art World, I talked about how the galleries were divided into 3 levels. There is also actually a 4th level of galleries, but I didn’t add this in that list because they are not true galleries, but are really alternative spaces. These are small showing areas in doctor’s offices, lawyer’s offices, churches, art school exhibition spaces, restaurants, wine shops and other retailers. They are usually very artist friendly and will let you show there if you ask. These alternative spaces are great places to start showing your work and start building a following. You can treat your exhibition there just like a real gallery exhibition, with invitations and an opening reception. You may even get some news coverage in local community papers.
So here is your 3-Step Plan:
1. As a beginning, but very serious and committed artist, you are going to climb the ladder of gallery levels starting with the alternative spaces.
You begin your professional career as an artist with the bottom levels of the gallery ladder. This is no different from any other career choice. You don’t start out as the head CEO of a company on the first week that you get hired. Even if you are a genius and your work is the level of a modern-day Rembrandt, you will still have to start with the beginning level galleries. You plan is to show in alternative spaces and begin building a following. Speak to your neighborhood doctor, dentist or lawyer and see if they will let you show in their waiting rooms. There are many spaces like this in Manhattan. Network around and they are easy to find. Start creating a mailing list from the names of people who come to your show. Let them know when you have a new show coming up. Once you have a few exhibitions behind you in alternative spaces, you will begin an effort to meet gallery owners and gallery directors in the Level 1 or Newly Established Galleries.
2. Begin meeting gallery directors and gallery owners who show your style of work.
Read my article Top 3 Ways to Meet NYC Art Dealers. Networking is a major way that business gets done in America. By networking, direct mail and/or telephone cold calling, you are going to meet gallery directors, gallery owners, and private art dealers who show your style of work. Through networking and research, you are going to spend your time trying to find out which galleries are new to the NYC art world, which have been in business less than 4 years, and whose gallery direction matches the style of your work. Approach these galleries first. Do not waste your time at this point on the older and more established galleries. Remember, you are climbing the ladder and you must start at the bottom since you are not established yourself.
Once you have had some openings and exhibitions in the less established galleries, you can concentrate on the mid-level galleries and then the more established galleries such as Gallery Henoch. You should be constantly networking and meeting gallery directors in the higher and higher levels as your career progresses.
3. Meet them, get to know them, keep in touch.
Your plan as you meet new people is to build new relationships. You must keep in touch with the art dealers that you meet. Plan on dropping them a letter, or making a brief phone call, or just dropping in, every one to two months. You must use your imagination and come up with different reasons to contact them each time. Find out about them and what they like. If they are sports fans, buy them tickets to a game. The whole purpose of this constant contact is so they will not forget who you are. Do not let more than 3 months go by without some kind of contact. After 3 months, they will not remember you.
A few last thoughts……
This process takes determination and committment. From the time that you start at the bottom levels to the time it takes to get to the upper levels may take 7 to 10 years. That is why I say it is for the serious artist only. There is a reason why it takes from 7 to 10 years and I will be explaining that in a future article. Art is a business, and it just part of the way business works in this country.
So don’t get discouraged if you don’t get immediate results. Just hang in there. Keep networking, keep showing, and keep climbing that ladder to the top.
I would love to hear your stories of how you are implementing your climb to the top. If I can be of any help, or offer any advice, just contact me and I will do all I can.
I wish you all much success.