Prohibitions on public gatherings. Travel bans. Self-quarantines. Press-conferences. Stock market plunges.
As the Coronavirus has spread across the globe over the last several weeks, the rhythms of daily life have been upset, and concern and confusion are dominant.
Only time will tell the full extent of the pandemic and its impact in terms of lives lost, and economies shaken. While our focus should certainly be on our health and well-being, and the well-being of our family, friends and neighbors, it is only natural that in uncertain times we will also think about the impact these events will have on our livelihood.
For those of us in the art business, the near-term outlook is uncertain, at best. During times of confusion and economic turmoil, art-lovers and collectors are, understandably, focused elsewhere.
It is reasonable to assume that a dramatic slowdown in art sales is coming (and has, perhaps, already begun). The question is, how severe will the slowdown be, and how long will it last?
The other question we should all be asking is, how can we ride out these disruptions?
Lessons From the Past
I’ve worked in the art industry for almost thirty years now, having gotten my first job in a gallery in 1992. Those of us who have been in the business for a while are no strangers to sudden shocks to the art market.
My wife and I opened Xanadu Gallery on September 11th, 2001, right as the world was being thrown into pandemonium by shocking acts of terror.
Concurrent to 9-11, the dot-com bubble was in the midst of bursting. The Nasdaq Composite stock index had risen 400% between 1995 and its peak in 2000, and would fall 78% from that peak by the fall of 2002.
Talk about a baptism by fire!
We were fortunate to be able to build our business during those difficult times, especially considering how naive we were and how many mistakes we made along the way.
It seemed as if the art market had finally stabilized and was on track for stable growth when the recession of 2008 began.
The history of the economy is one of repeated cycles of boom and bust, but it seems as if we’ve seen more than our fair share of economic downturns.
What We’ve Learned
Things are Never Quite as Dire as One Imagines
During times of economic uncertainty and panic, it’s easy to get caught up in the “sky is falling” mentality. Each news cycle instills new worries, and the panic feeds on itself. It’s easy to imagine worst-case scenarios and to believe that an apocalypse is near.
We’ve learned through repeated experience that, while things may become dire, they almost never become as dire as one imagines they might, and that eventually things turn around.
Art Lovers Will Continue to Buy Art
Even in the depths of the recession that began in 2008, we continued to sell art, albeit at greatly reduced numbers. Art is such a fundamental, important part of people’s lives, that no matter what is going on in the world, art lovers will continue to seek out beautiful works of art to add to their collections.
Art can offer solace and comfort during difficult times.
Slowdowns are Times to Work Hard and Become Creative
As the art market slows, it’s natural to feel a sense of paralysis. What’s the point of continuing hard work when it seems unlikely to result in sales?
I distinctly remember asking this question in the middle of rearranging the art in the gallery during the spring of 2009, a time that should have been our high-season, but had been very slow. It felt a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Very few people had seen the gallery in the preceding weeks, and very few likely would in the following weeks.
What I learned during this period, however, is that the harder we worked, the more likely we were to see sales. The sales that did come were absolutely critical, and worth ever effort we put into them.
We also used the extra time we had to work on projects that would benefit us when the market returned. It was during this period that we rebuilt our website and instituted a more robust email marketing system. While these efforts didn’t result in immediate, dramatic increases in sales, they did lay the groundwork for the growth we’ve seen in the years since.
Artists should use slower times to build inventory and organize their businesses. It has also been my experience that there are opportunities for artists to establish and develop new representation and relationships during downturns (more on this in future posts).
Because of the nature of the current situation, where our collectors are unlikely to be able to travel to visit us, we are developing marketing efforts that will allow us to more extensively share art with our buyers even if they can’t physically visit the gallery. You will see those efforts begin rolling out next week.
Do What it Takes to Make it Through
The length and severity of the crisis will determine how difficult it will be to survive the challenges that are likely to come our way. During the Great Recession, we learned that by keeping communication open with our artists, with our landlord and our other creditors we were able to work together to maintain the viability of our business.
We’re All in This Together
Finally, I want to make sure to express that if you are feeling stressed and nervous about the situation, it’s okay and natural. It’s safe to say that everyone is feeling concerned to some level. It’s hard not to compulsively check the news to see the latest updates and to feel a growing sense of concern. If there’s one thing that history has shown, it’s that if we all work together, we can overcome any challenge that we face.
This situation is developing, and we’re hoping that everything turns out for the very best for all who are effected. Let’s all stay connected.
Have You Begun to See the Effects of the Current Crisis?
Have you begun to see the effects of the spread of the Coronavirus and the downturn in the stock market on your sales? Have you seen shows and festivals you were planning on attending cancelled? What are you doing to cope? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.