Is Showing your Art in a Co-op Gallery Worthwhile?

is it worth showing your work in a co--op gallery?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the advisability of showing your work in a “vanity”gallery. This post has already received a lot of attention, comments and questions. I appreciate the input from the community and the willingness to share personal insight from past experiences.

In the comments, it became clear that there is some confusion, or at least a blurry understanding, of the difference between a pay-for-display (“vanity”) gallery and cooperative galleries. I feel it would be a good idea to continue the conversation by expanding it to cover this second type of gallery.

Let’s begin our conversation about co-op galleries with some definitions. As I said, there was some confusion about the difference between “vanity” galleries and co-op galleries. It’s easy to see how the confusion could arise, because both of these types of galleries charge some kind of fee or due in order for artists to display their work. A “vanity” gallery, however, is typically a private, for-profit operation that derives a significant portion of its total revenue from the ongoing fees paid by artists to display their works. In essence, the gallery charges a kind of rental fee for the space where an artist will display his or her work.

A co-op gallery also charges for participation and display of work, but typically this charge is a membership fee, rather than a rental fee. The co-op gallery is typically (and I say “typically”, because there are many different models for cooperative galleries) a group of artists who have come together to provide a venue where they can jointly display and sell artwork. Sometimes the group of artists will be part of a formally organized community art group or art guild. Other times the artists will have organized themselves around the gallery itself.

Because the co-op gallery is self-organized, members are often required not only to supply artwork to the gallery, but to work in the gallery on a regular basis. Member-artists will man the sales floor and handle the business operations of the gallery.

Depending on the location of the gallery and gallery overhead, the fees to participate in a co-op gallery are usually moderate, significantly lower than a fee-for-representation gallery.

Most major cities, and many smaller cities and towns will have a co-op gallery. In some areas that can’t sustain a commercial art gallery, a co-op gallery may be the only fine art venue available to the community.

So, is it worthwhile for an artist to show in a co-op gallery?

In many ways, the same considerations I mentioned in last week’s post on “vanity” galleries apply to this question. There are additional considerations as well. Let’s look at the advantages first.

Advantages of Showing in a Co-op Gallery

  • Co-op galleries can provide a great way for artists who are early in their careers to get exposure. Because a co-op gallery is based on membership and community rather than purely profit, it’s often the case that artists who may not have enough experience, or who are still developing style and quality, can show in a co-op gallery when they might not find representation in a commercial gallery.
  • The opportunity to work in the gallery and get sales experience is a great chance to learn the sales side of the business. I’ve always found it advantageous to work with an artist who understands this side of the business. Artists who have worked in co-op galleries understand not only the sales side of the gallery business, they often also have experience with the logistics of operating a gallery. This kind of experience will help you build a better business as an artist because you will better understand what buyers and galleries need.
  • A co-op gallery can provide a sense of community. You will get to know and work with other members of the co-op and will thus create a network of artists in your community. These artists can help you when you have questions for face challenges in your career.
  • Well-established co-op galleries can actually be quite good at selling work in the community. While I’ve never met an artist who built thier long-term success solely on their sales from co-op galleries, I’ve met many artists who supplement their income with steady sales from a co-op gallery.

Disadvantages of Showing your Art in a Co-op Gallery

  • Because co-op galleries give a venue to a wide range of artists, the consistency of work in a co-op gallery can be hit-and-miss. You may be showing your work with some of the top artists in your area, as well as with artists who are just beginning to create. This inconsistency can be a hamper to sales for the gallery.
  • A co-op gallery has incentive to show work by a large number of artists. The more members, the greater the dues that can be collected to offset costs. The gallery also then has motivation to show as much work as possible, by as many artists as possible, and this can dilute attention for any individual artist. This can also lead to a cluttered appearance in the gallery.
  • For many artists, the prospect of working in the gallery on a regular basis is a negative, rather than a positive. Volunteering in the gallery takes you away from your studio and from creating. Some artists don’t like the prospect of having to talk to buyers and haven’t yet developed sales skills.
  • Related to the last one,  because the sales staff is constantly rotating, buyers at a co-op gallery may not get the service and consistent follow-up necessary to generate strong sales.
  • I’ve heard of co-op galleries that have been destroyed by the politics of having a large group of artists come together to try to sell their art. Egos can get bruised, and feelings hurt. Artists are often left wondering why they have less work on display than other members. Some artists have . . . difficult personalities.

If you are considering showing in a co-op gallery, I would encourage you to do the same research prior to applying that I recommended for “vanity” galleries. Call several of the artists who are showing with the gallery and ask them if they feel it is worth the effort. Set definitive benchmarks to gauge the success of your relationship with the gallery, and don’t be afraid to leave the relationship if your needs are not being met.

Finally, take the opportunity to engage with the other artists who are members of the gallery. When I speak to artists who are happily engaged in cooperative representation, I hear repeatedly how valuable they find the sense of community in the gallery. For some artists, this is as valuable as the sales and exposure. If there are calls for volunteers, volunteer. Attend receptions for as many of your fellow artists as possible. Encourage your collectors to visit the gallery and participate in events.

What Have you Learned by Showing Your Art in Co-op Galleries?

Now you’ve heard what I think of co-op galleries, but I’ve never shown my art in one. If you have (or are currently) showing your work in a co-op gallery, I would love to hear your opinion of the experience. Is it worth the effort? Do co-op galleries sell art? What are the challenges you found?

Please Share this Post!

If you find the posts and discussions on reddotblog.com helpful, would you please share them with your social media contacts or post a link on your blog? The wider the audience the posts reach, the better the discussion. Thank you!

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

62 Comments

  1. You’ll also hear the term ‘Artist-owned and Operated’, and that’s what we’re using at Archway Gallery in Houston.

    One other advantage to add, depending on the gallery: The opportunity to have a solo exhibition in a featured area of the gallery. Depending on the number of artists and the space, you may have this opportunity every couple of years. The other times you’ll have space in the remainder of the gallery, again depending on its space and policies.

    1. Though I no longer live in Houston, that’s my hometown and I still visit frequently. Archway Gallery has enjoyed an excellent reputation over many years. I attribute that excellence to the artists who originally designed the business model. Not only were they talented artists, they took the time to create a gallery experience that inspired both sales and growth of participating artists.
      Before turning my own graphic design experience to creating visual art, I often purchased pieces from Archway that were clearly from early in the artist’s career. Not only do I feel I contributed to the success of those artists, I still enjoy and display the artworks I’ve collected.
      Now, as an artist myself, I wish I could find a gallery as well organized and as successful in my area of Texas.

  2. I would say you perfectly summed up the advantages and disadvantages. I’m going to give my commitment to my local co-op gallery for a year and then re-evaluate. I have appreciated the friendships I’ve made but I would say the inconsistencies in levels
    of artwork has been my biggest beef.

    1. I am having the same experience, Penny. I find that artists are cramming too much into their space ( myself included) and it feels cluttered.

    2. Yes, our local coop gallery has work of widely varying levels, which i see as disadvantageous for my work. I wish the work was juried in. But then that would probably get “sticky” — who would be responsible for making the selections? So i’ve pulled out of it, tho i continue to support the membership with my dues.

  3. There is also the mentoring aspect of the coops that can be really helpful for artists. Usually, if something comes up, someone will have experience, ideas or at least an opinion. This can be very helpful if you’re trying to learn about galleries and how to sell art.

  4. You didn’t mention that co-op galleries normally have a jury process to become a member. I agree with most of the pros and cons you’ve mentioned, but am lucky to be in a co-op that has survived for over 30 years and avoided many of the pitfalls. With over 65 members we work one day a month and help once a year with 1st Friday events. Our gallery has been a part of a downtown revitalization which is really fun.

    1. This sounds like what we would like. Our three artist operator gallery shop to evolve to. The 3 present owner operators work with little $ return. We make membership to pay the rent and utilities and enough on sales commission to pay on store manager a. Minimal a,oust? Do you have any advic for us to transition into a co-op like yours?

  5. After the traditional gallery I showed (and sold) unexpectedly shut down, I entered both a local “vanity” gallery and a well respected co-op. Three months later, the vanity gallery has sold 4 pieces, the coop none. Yet I appreciate the coop for the connection with other artists, and it gives me an opportunity to show work that has been neglected by galleries (figurative rather than landscape, and larger works). Which is probably why I haven’t sold, but the exposure of previously these unseen works has attracted a lot of attention. So for now, I’m happy with both!

  6. The community aspect of a co-op is worth its weight in gold! Artists critique each other, support each other, push each other to grow. I recommend always looking for a co-op that juries the members so that the quality of the artwork is consistent and

    Our cooperative (TheArtistsGallery.org) in Virginia Beach is a big art family with the (informal) motto, “What’s good for one is good for all.” That means that each person’s success, whether it’s a sale, an award, a commission or a great exhibition opportunity, elevates the entire group. We are lucky to be free of negative politics. All the people involved are amazing–no bad apples.

    Artists pay rent for their space, but the gallery commission for sales is very low. All artists must be juried–that’s a key to keeping the experience level and quality up.

  7. In the past I’ve shown at a gallery that was in a gray area between private and coop galleries. This gallery was privately owned by two local artists, who selected artists on the basis of studio visits (to ensure quality). Artists paid a modest monthly fee to cover rent and operating expenses, and the gallery did not take a commission on work sold. The two owners were just trying to break even while trying to create a community for artists in a small city. Eventually, I moved on, but it worked well for me for a couple of years.

  8. I showed my work last fall in a co-op gallery and there has been a waterfall effect. From that show I received an invitation from a small, less-known gallery to do a 3-month solo show. From the solo show, I have now received an invitation from a well-known gallery to be part of a show in the fall. I think of this as “referrals,” and though I’m not selling as much yet as I’d like, I know people love the work and that sales will come. I’m patient. The feedback and new connections keep me going. So, yes, the co-op gallery experience was great for me. And gave me confidence to go forward with my own lowkey marketing. It also told me, via feedback, that my direction with the art was the right one for me.

  9. I’ve belonged in 2 galleries. The first did not succeed because we tried to mix art sales with coffee and sandwich sales. The food was doing better than the art. Artists didn’t want to do food prep or wash dishes and their was some bickering among members along with other problems you mentioned about space for artists etc. I moved out of state shortly after the gallery closed. Moved to Tennessee and joined the Work of Art Gallery and Gift located in Bristol TN and Virginia. Much better experience. Artwork has to be juried in. Your space is determined by how much rent you want to pay. One other thing I believe contributes to this gallery being successful (I have had several sales since joining) is having a strong leader and members willing to take on specific responsibilities be they marketing, community involvement, banking etc.

      1. Phyllis, it was such a pleasure to meet you yesterday. You are such a a dynamic lady and very supportive to this blossoming artist. I am excited about working with you.

  10. I’m a nine-year member of The Artists Gallery in Flagstaff. The points you’ve made, Jason, both pros and cons, are indeed true to varying degrees in our gallery. Our model has worked for 26 years, but not without some ups and downs. To assure quality and consistent work, we have a jury committee with some good stringent guidelines, assessing both the quality of work and to some extent the personality of the artist applying. I am the quality control member and make sure that everything from labeling of artwork to consistent quality is upheld. So far, so good.
    Members must work three to four five hour shifts/month. New members train with experienced members. We model good interactions with the public for new members. Indeed, there are some members who seem to be uncomfortable dealing with visitors. That is a downside and one of the more bedeviling problems of a gallery such as ours. On the other hand, customers are usually charmed to meet artists and I must say one’s work is more likely to sell when the customer can meet the artist. We have monthly member meetings for all to stay abreast of gallery issues. I schedule one artist/month to do a short presentation on their work, their motivation, inspiration, methods of production, etc., that should help other members sell that person’s work more effectively.
    Along with the obligation to work comes the expectation that each member, 37 of us right now, serve on a committee whether it’s washing the windows, scheduling, or serving the public during first Friday Artwalk. There are plenty of responsibilities to go around! We each pay rent for our display space. My rent is $120.00/month for 12 feet of wall space. However, when something sells, members take home 80% of the sale. Now, there’s a motivation to interact with the public! My oil landscapes sell quite well and I find being present on First Friday Artwalk often results in “time-released” sales.

    I think I can speak for the Gallery and say that we are one big happy, slightly dysfunctional family…bound to be with 35+ members. I think we all feel it is of utmost importance to respect one another. It’s the monthly meetings and the twice/year potluck party that helps us stay connected with one another.

  11. The coop gallery I was a member of has been established for over 35 years. They vetted and showed their artists in a gallery like setting with strict guidelines. I was very fortunate to be part of such a well established and professional cooperative.

    The opportunity was priceless. The best part about a cooperative is the lessons learned from other experienced artists and friendships one can build. Several things one should ask before entering the cooperative is average dollar amount of sales, type of works that commonly sell, type of customer that normally visits and the rules of sales.

    The hardest part (and this could apply to any gallery) is that my type of art and price point were not a good fit for this particular cooperative.

    Most often, artists in a cooperative are not sales people, but to fulfill her/his scheduled time to work and to socialize with other artists.

  12. I just quit a coop gallery where I was a member for about 5 years. It is only for those artists who are retired or are not really full time artists. The quality of art is poor and the prices at which you can sell your art are low. My income per year from this gallery was not bad, but it was only one tenth of my total sales every year…besides I paid a monthly fee and had to work two shifts every month, which was kind of a burden for me, because my time is my money.. I don’t recommend emerging artists to be a member of coop galleries if they really need money.. though it is a good opportunity to become a locally known artist.. it is better than nothing.. besides usually members of these galleries are very amiable and nice

  13. There is a presumption that the Visitor knows the difference between a Co-op gallery or Vanity gallery , which is rare. I have never witnessed a visitor to one of these establishments who’s first question was; Is this a co-op or vanity gallery?. What attracts a person to enter any type of art gallery is (1) a attractive display or one piece in the window, (2) a need for a piece of art, (3) to kill time. Because many formal art galleries have closed because of the cost of operation, these “pay to play” exhibition options exist . Location-location-location is one of the most important choices when deciding to go into a pay-t0-play gallery and along with finding out if the artists are selected by a jury, and that the artists are paid when work is sold. The next key is Marketing. Of course, a spectacular location needs less marketing, but a plan must be made. What I have found is that the “Gallery” has its coral of artists and it is difficult to break in.

    1. I have found from visiting galleries and from gallery sitting and other membership-type activities that you are absolutely right about why people visit galleries. You left out openings, though, which are usually social occasions where drink is to be had and where work is sold. When the gallery owner/manager is a good sales person and networker, work is sold without needing the stimulus of the opening party. I don’t think location has a lot to do with it. I sometimes go to see work at some very high end galleries in New York and there is never anybody there but me and the bored desk person, no matter how swanky the place or neighborhood. The work sells, though!

  14. I have been a member of a co-op gallery for 20 years. Jason’s summary of advantages and disadvantages is spot on. I am sure results for individual artists vary from co-op to co-op. The experience gained can be worth joining one for awhile. The problems I have found most troubling are: sluggish sales (some artists are not good sales persons and apparently not motivated to learn), inconsistent quality of work despite work being juried and artists who are sloppy about hanging /displaying work and members who don’t have the professionalism to open and close according to schedule.
    I would not still be in the gallery if I had not developed relationships with fellow artists that I value.

  15. I have been a member of a co-op gallery for 22 years. We have 26 members. I like having a bricks and mortar venue, learning about the business of art and being part of a community. Yes, we jury in perspective new artists and aim to keep the work of a higher calibre. The fee per month is very low and the gallery takes 20% to cover overhead. I work 9 hours a month. Each month we have a feature artist and do a lot of promotion to draw people into the gallery. We have recently started having guest artists to enlarge our name in the community. We hold workshops and demo on site. We have a website, Facebook page and email list. Some artists have their own websites, blogs and social media pages and we link up. If an artist has a show elsewhere we promote it. To do all this work individually would be time consuming but together we make it work. Win -win!

  16. Years ago, I was part of a co-op gallery, working a weekend a month, paying a low fee, and selling well. While I sold very well, it created sniping me by some of the other artists, causing some very uncomfortable situations. The last straw was when one of the other artists assumed a controlling position and declared they were “in charge”. It resulted in not being paid for sales, and I left immediately. It was a shame to sacrifice that opportunity, but it was the right, professional thing to do. I joined a traditional gallery out of state that sold a ton of work for me, but when it closed, a co-op gallery took its place. I joined, knowing that many in the area would be able to find my work still there. I paid a “sitter” to work my days, as I was over 300 miles away. I got the worst spot, sold one piece to a friend, and spent a lot of money traveling there and back for required events. I finally realized it was a great place for local artists to work together, but it wasn’t for me. I would love to find a local co-op with good potential, as I believe in the value of community and helping each other professionally, but pickings in my own area are few to non-existent. So, I am in limbo in that area, but open to possibilities.

  17. I moved from a big city to a small town 3 years ago and joined one of 2 local co-op galleries as a way to introduce myself to the local community that has a lot of visitors due to the local wineries. I have had consistent monthly sales and am able to teach classes because of my exposure through the co-op. Most of our artists bring something to work on while they are there so the visitors also get a demonstration of various mediums. Because I work in encaustic, which is unusual, it has started many a conversation that has ended up in a sale. The points made are all true and valid to varying degrees and it is not something for everyone but can be good exposure and a way to make wonderful contacts with other artists.

  18. I belonged to a co-op gallery for a year. The expenses were a wash with the income. It became cluttered, the quality of work was 50/50 good/amateurish, and there was a serious lack of professionalism.

    In hindsight we needed: 1. a larger pool of talent from which to gather members. 2. more discernment to choose members who could show a record of dependability in fulfilling responsibilities and creating consistent work. 3. a more businesslike approach in following our own guidelines instead of worrying about whose feelings might get hurt. 4. to choose professionals who were serious about earning a living instead of hobbyists who were hoping to “get lucky” or “get discovered”.

    It was the longest year of my career, and I don’t expect I’ll ever do that again.

  19. I just left my Co-op gallery after a little over a year for a few reasons: I am selling my home and moving out of state.2. I barely sold anything.
    The members are awesome, we needed at least 13 to make things work financially and there was some new artists in and long tenured artists moving out. The gallery juried in artists but that still was hit or miss. Too nice to say no, too needy for $$ to wait for better artists. Working in the gallery and attending member meetings taught me a lot about how a gallery works or should work. But I ran into members who simply could not see their way to change to accommodate social media and newer ways of marketing. Marketing or lack of was the biggest problem. They had gotten complacent about press releases and joining in the local gallery strolls. It was a great location but there was a reluctance to do necessary signage. The gallery itself was nice. Took 30 % of sales, and you could sign up to be featured artist for a month where no one else had. Sometimes sharing the featured artist space with another artist. I think a problem was keeping members on track to see the outcome of marketing $$. They simply did not want to pay to play so to speak. The worrisome thing was that sitting on their hands created a situation where the current movers and shakers in the art scene in town did not even know we were open! It began to change with some of us newer members pulling the others along. But on the whole it had been a storage place for their art for so long that they did not sell much. I still like the idea. I would like to actually start one where I am going. But it would have to have a plan! I think the not selling anything for almost a year was ok for them. But not for me.

  20. I’ve had experience in showing in a membership co-op gallery and also in running one. It was all more fun than problems. One problem about who gets how much space was solved by mapping out areas of walls and assigning a small fee to hang in that area for a month. Smaller areas cost a bit less, the most prominent space or larger spaces cost more. $25 was the average fee for one month. The problems with someone putting in their time to mind or “sit” the gallery can be lessened with a simple write-up of what to do made available to them. Anyone can read what to do, how to run the register or credit card reader, how to collect the name and other info, and even some info on how to talk about the art and help the potential buyer make up his/her mind. In the membership situation we had, we had everything from excellent artists to beginners and everything in between. We involved the pros in helping the beginners, and the volunteer staff would show newbies how to put the hardware on their art and how to hang it, among other things. We tried to invite more camaraderie in this way and increase the standards all around. My only reason for leaving in the end was that I felt I had achieved some good things, and it was time to cut back on the volunteer work and take care of Numero Uno for a while.

  21. I have been involved in two co op galleries. The first was generated by the art group in which I was a member. The structure of the gallery is important. We had the same person opening and closing and another who took all the sales. The artists came in and schmoozed with clients, and tried to generate clients, hung paintings, cleaned things. This worked well. Experienced people did the complicated work. I loved every minute of my experience here. I also sold some paintings.

    The second co op I was in was started by a woman whose jewelry business had not succeeded so she rented the space to artists who formed the coop. The coop itself was beautiful. But the experience was not. The site owner was unpleasant, opening was extremely complicated and required by all, checking out sales was equally complicated and required by all. Training was done by a woman in pain on pills or by a crabby woman who didn’t want to train and got through it as quickly as possible. When we made mistakes we were chastized. Our work days meant sitting out in the sun selling the trainers’ work. I joined because the original contact person was so pleasant and I had to be juried in. I thought I was going to the next baby step of my art career. I spent hundreds of dollars and never sold anything except maybe a few cards. I was thankful when my contract ended! I would not participate in a coop gallery with strangers again. If you know the people, you know what you are getting into.

    Recently I was invited to hang several paintings at a small gallery. I feel I am taking baby steps in my art career. I do agree that being a member of a co op gallery helps you learn what is involved in the business.

  22. These are really helpful comments – I wish I’d read them 10 years ago when I joined my first co-op. It was a newly-formed one, with no by-laws nor experience base and was a difficult experience. We couldn’t even agree on hours. I finally left after about three years when no one wanted to write by-laws. (I think by-laws are essential if there isn’t a long history for a co-op like some of you have mentioned.)

    Eventually I joined another co-op with a long history. No by-laws either, but one man who (one of the founders) dominated. Members were given one show about every year. There were two gallery spaces, one for the newcomers, and then, if you got voted in, another for senior members. You had to apply for the senior space. I applied three times and never got into the senior space. The last time, several members who supported my application were absent, and their votes did not count! I left shortly after that.

    I will say that I learned a lot, and that it was a good way for me to meet other artists given how new I was to that city. Now that I have my own gallery (and still maintain my art practice) I do often draw on what I learned.

  23. I believe the strength of a co-op gallery relies heavily on its board members to develop solid guidelines for the artists, and then follow through by enforcing contract boundaries.

    I was a member of a co-op for a few years. Each artist was required to work two days and pay $90 a month. My sales were fewer than those at traditional galleries, but since I also sold artwork from my personal website, I figured the co-op was a perfect place to exhibit for exposure to possible new clients. At the very least, it was inexpensive advertising.

    When I left it was only because we moved an hour away, which made snowy winter driving dicy on the days I needed to fulfill my monthly committment.

  24. It seems to me that often co-op galleries are more likely to emerge in small towns outside of metropolitan areas because these towns are unable to sustain a commercial gallery. This is true where I am located, in the finger lakes region of upstate New York. In the last 20 years two commercial galleries tried to get established in town but folded after a very short time. The one surviving gallery here is a local co-op which I joined 18 years ago. I can say that if I didn’t have this gallery then there would be no where to show and sell my art in this area.

    My co-op is a 30 member gallery of local artists that will be celebrating it’s 30th year next year. We have many excellent artists who are juried in each year. We have also created a very clear organization structure and even took the step of incorporating as a non-profit which meant creating a set of by-laws as well as an additional set of rules and procedures. We have yearly election of a board of directors as well as officers (all gallery members) and I can say this has really helped the gallery to be sustained and successful.

    One difficult thing about a co-op is the ongoing turnover of members. A commercial gallery will have an owner who is the continuing leader and sets the vision for the gallery. A co-op has no single person as owner and all the members collectively set the directions which creates vigorous discussions at times. Also leadership falls to whomever is willing to do it and as we all know some artists have more interest and leadership skills, some don’t.

    However from reading responses above one could quickly come to the conclusion that “not all co-op’s are created equal”. In fact most are significantly different. The best advice to someone wanting to join a co-op is carefully check it out, ask lots of questions, talk to as many members as possible, ask about sales, what seems to sell best, what kind of marketing and promotion is done, in addition to fees and commissions and member responsibilities. And maybe most important try to get a clear picture of how the co-op is organized and operates.

  25. I am one of 5 women who own a gallery in a small mountain town in North Carolina, Flow Gallery in Marshall, NC. Though not legally set up as a co-op, that is essentially what we are. The gallery was started 8 years ago by 8 artists, whose goal was not just to sell their work but to create a well-respected venue for high quality, local-ish art and craft. The membership has fluctuated over the years, up to 12, down to 3 (for a few months), but every year the gallery does better and better. Last year it leapt forward.

    I’ve been one of the owning members for 2+ years now. The 5 owner members run the gallery, selling our work, plus the work of about 55 other artists, all on consignment. About 75% of those artists are drawn from surrounding counties in our mountain area, although we are not absolutely tied to that premise. We have a jurying process, which allows us to carry a lot work from emerging or inexperienced (in gallery sales) artists, but the work has to meet the visual and skill requirements that satisfy the 5 owners. We believe part of our job is to help artists move forward and learn some of the ropes, as we’re also learning as we go and grow! Most of the owners were new at this when they started. One original owner/member remains and we do some serious drawing on her expertise.

    It’s a lot of work and my own studio time suffers but at this point, the benefits seriously outweigh the drawbacks. This co-operative provides the community to share successes and challenges, as well as back up and support to help propel us forward. Each of us has something different to bring to the table. And we’re really lucky, because we all like and respect one another. I know those strong and not easily worked with personalities can be a real problem. I think they may have weeded themselves out before I got there.

    My work was carried by the gallery for almost two years before I joined as a member and my sales increased tenfold that first owner/member year. Each year gets better but that’s not the case for everyone, so I know it’s all relative. Having the right work in the right venue with the right clientele makes all the difference. And that seems like a constantly moving target.

    Beyond increased sales and community I have a connection with customers, and I track what sells well and what doesn’t. I still make pieces simply because it’s what I want to do and what I love but I pay attention and respond to what is moving because I’m in this to feed my pocketbook, not just my creative needs.

    All in all, this is a win/win for me and my comrades.

  26. I’m in a new coop gallery in a small town. It’s a beautiful gallery with lots of talent but some artists are much more advanced than others. Right now our major issue is getting traffic. We are in a good location but one of the board members who was highly instrumental in starting it is such a perfectionist he is a bottle neck and wants to control many aspects of it including publicity. Therefore, things like additional publicity are at his command and we desperately need to get the online views and social media aspect ramped up if we are going to do well. I’ve tried twice to meet with him to discuss additional publicity ideas but he keeps making excuses. Frustrating. If it doesn’t improve, I, and several other members may walk out once our yearly contract agreement is up for renewal.

  27. Wow, a lot of comments and a whole lot of feelings both pro and con. I no longer show in either because I find myself busy enough with other venues but I think the thing about being an artist is that we constantly re-invent ourselves. I need my time to paint not volunteer and I some times find that a private gallery has a much better grasp of how to sell my work than I do!

  28. I am presently a part of a co-op gallery. Artists are juried in, but to my mind, some is a bit hit and miss. One of the things I love about the gallery is the variety. Potters, quilters, jewelers, as well as painters and photographers display in the gallery. We are located in a popular area of town, near the cruise ship dock. I find that I am not the world’s greatest salesperson, though I am improving. I also find a couple of my colleagues abrasive and rather directive. I understand; they have been there since the beginning. But. . . I have also had zero sales of my work since arriving. Need to brush up on my confidence.

  29. The idea and basic structure of a co-op gallery can work well but is dependent on the people involved. I’m impressed by the longevity of these galleries some have noted. You’re obviously doing it right. In the process of jurying in artwork, artists might need an interview as well because they are your sales staff … integral if the gallery is going to prosper. Congratulations to those who make co-op galleries successful and provide a community presence, especially in areas where there might not be any otherwise.

  30. These are timely responses for me. I’ve been invited to submit through jury to a Guild. I don’t have to work in the venue (it is 150 miles away). But, I have misgivings regarding their 50% commission. My work is custom metal art (blacksmithing). Heavy to transport or ship. It is labor intensive and time consuming. I could just as easily sell it from a local venue or online. The Guild is a membership fee plus the commission. I am on the fence about this…

    1. Negotiate with them.

      Tell them that their commission percentage would not match with your sale point with comparable commissions. It has to be fair to everyone and you need to have a price point that keeps in line with other galleries and outlets that you sell in. You can not under cut them. I have had this conversation before.. and it worked.

      Not saying it will. but worth a try. Your work is the eye candy for places like this. They need you to get the people in the door, big paintings on the wall or sculpture pieces. Hopefully they sell them some art and not just a refrigerator magnet
      ..LOL

  31. Now I know the term of the gallery in which I participated–“vanity” gallery. It was a privately owned arts shop where the owner charged a monthly fee for space plus a commission. Each artist worked a half-day shift each week and was urged to attend special events. Each had a period during the year advertised as the featured artist. An artist recommended my work when there was an opening. I gave it a two-year trial and terminated because of the time commitment and barely breaking even in terms of sales and space rental.

  32. I just joined a coop gallery in Poulsbo Washington, a small Norwegian tourist town with a growing number of tourists each year. I opened my studio showroom recently and this coop gallery seemed like a place to ‘advertise’ and meet locals who love my work. I see it as a marketing opportunity as well as an opportunity to learn sales. I feel like the artists put one another under pressure to lower prices, especially because some artists are new. In my gallery there are a lot of retired people and people working other full time jobs. I would prefer to surround myself with people making their living from art – one of the reasons I read this blog. It’s surprisingly well organized. I’m giving them a 6 month probation – as they are me.

  33. I recently joined a local co-op gallery in Denver Metro. I found it to be haphazardly run and, frankly, highly unprofessional and clique driven on multiple fronts. I’ve asked for a refund of my membership. This will not be the case in all venues, of course. Do thorough check before engaging with any facility is the best answer.

  34. Wow! you hit a nerve with this blog for sure.
    I joined a new co-op a year ago- The over all quality was not bad but not great either. The location was not for walk ins but near a popular library.

    I did the web site as my contribution to time spent and that was OK.
    Yes there was community but that did not help sales. Soaps, spices and jewelry always sell. Art, more slowly.

    My rent was $75/month + 20% commission.
    I was selling only prints- popular ones too.
    After a year of sales minus expenses, I lost $25.

    I left and now don’t have those expenses. I don’t need exposure, I need sales.

    Jeff Leedy
    Fine Art Humorist

  35. Yes, absolutely, co-ops can be extremely successful …. IF … each artist is given an exact amount of hanging space (we had 8 feet) … rotate spaces quarterly so everyone gets a chance to display in the choice spots … train all artists in sales, role play, practice … and have a monthly or quarterly pot-luck social. Beyond the basics, the gallery can have openings, sales, paint-outs, peoples choice awards. Build relationships between the artists so every artist is dedicated to making sales … not only for their own work but all work in the gallery. For the good of the whole, get rid of the selfish, non-participating, negative whiners.

  36. The best co-op gallery is one that juries in artists. I belonged to one in Montana that had only about 10 members and it was referred to as a joint venture gallery. It definitely gave me an appreciation for what goes into running a gallery and after a while I realized I would rather be in a gallery that represented me. The camaraderie with other artists was wonderful. But generally I’ve avoided co-op galleries because they took in just about everything and I felt the quality of beginning work affected the perception of professional artists, and often these galleries have their walls plastered with art so it almost confuses people. But co-op galleries are a great place to start.

  37. This is a really challenging art sales venue for me. Our co-op Gallery is located in a small town and there is also, in this town, a traditional Gallery. This is the only co-op gallery I have worked with and I have had my oil paintings displayed for sale for the past 5 years. Today, I have not sold one painting. Because of my painting schedule and the long drive I do not handle their sales rep duties, so I am not privy to how sales are encouraged. Too I am not a local artist in this co-op gallery so my name and my work is not probably as familiar with their community as other local artists who do live there. Being a co-op gallery, yes you get a sense there is 5 LB in a 3 LB bag and with many levels of art quality, this might create a view of lower quality overall. Because I do not work in the co-op, so if I have a sale I am charged a higher % commission and that is ok with me. I continue to work with them because in our small communities we need this exposure and as I do more work with them as I have just done this past Memorial Day weekend, I painted a live “Demo” and in the near term may lead to teaching oil painting workshops. This is my path in this gallery and community, so I am very excited too. Sales are really nice too, I work with people and try to help make the very best paintings to be shown. You have generated an excellent discusiion, many thanks too. Jim Springett wildlife painter

  38. I am all about showing work, anywhere and everywhere you can.

    With that said, the work you show with is important. Most work in co-ops and guilds is pretty much leisure painters/artists made up of retires, x-art educators and a handful of novices. The quality of work is at best sporadic and uneven. Sales is just not as important to them as memberships. Someone to pay a fee and sit the gallery. Pretty much if you have a heartbeat and will write them a check you’re in the gallery.

    With that said, if they have a good location with some good traffic. Someone said it earlier, location-location-location, matters! Why not? Just keep in mind that this is not where great sales happens but will get your work in front of people. That’s a plus.

    These groups tend to be very clique and narrow in their vision. New ideas don’t float. They remind me of the quote by the great artist and educator, William Morris Hunt. “Art, is not a group activity.”

  39. I have exhibited in BOTH types of Galleries. The “vanity” type is costly and of course there are NO guarantee’s that the art will sell. A lot depends on the LOCATION of the gallery. I found I really didn’t like having to “fork over” as much as 50% of the sale price to the vanity gallery when the art sold.
    The “co-op” gallery is actually more to my liking!!.. I found I really enjoyed “sitting” the gallery and talking to all those who came in, whether it was an interest in MY art or others. Because those involved in the Co-op gallery were known to me, I had no trouble giving an insight on their art as well as mine. I was just as happy “selling” someone else’s art as selling mine. The”vanity” gallery unfortunately had many artists I did NOT know and I didn’t feel that comfortable answering questions regarding some of the other art. BOTH galleries had “BIO-Books” filled with information about each of the artist’s showing in the Galleries….but, still, I felt more comfortable putting a “more saleable” price on my art (because I didn’t have to fork over such a high % of the sale price) in the “co-op”.

  40. One gallery I am in, where we vacation in the spring and fall, my wall is small and I keep a “look” with small works that can be put in a suitcase. Its a large gallery and artists must be juried in, so the work is high quality. What I pay could be thrown away easily on one good dinner! I sell work here, so I”m happy and when in town Ill help out .
    The other Gallery is in a small town that draws tourists. I like the owners of the gallery and l like their direction and focus. Artists can work one day a month or two, depending on commissions. Both Galleries charge a commission, but reasonable. I also sell well in this gallery. If I didn’t sell I wouldn’t stay. Again , I keep my wall looking professional. Some walls are cluttered, But that’s their choice. Its nice to chat with the people who drift in to see where they are from or if they are local to make a connection and hope they will return and become admirers or patrons in the future.

    1. We have a hanging committee and do not assign a specific space. Our gallery always looks professionally hung and we get many comments on it. Gallery Nine, Lincoln NE.

  41. I like the idea of co-ops. But it takes a very mature group of artists that can work together to make it happen. As artist we need to be gracious and try to sell the work of art that the perspective client is looking at and not to divert their attention to one of their works of art unless the client does the leading. For many artist in areas of the country that are less culturally inclined a co-op can be an outlet to let the community see the talent in their area. Sales in this situation be low and the public maybe informed about the importance of art in our society. Selling anything is a skill that most of the time needs to be developed. I was looking at a co-op and the people who were greeting me started talking about the quality the works of one of the artist in the group in a negative manner. This was a deal buster for me and not conducive to making sales. Also it depends on the disposable income of the artist. Can they afford the expense and the time needed to give the group so it can be successful. A big question mark?

  42. I’m in a co-op gallery, and it’s both good and bad. The good is that we artists keep 100% of the sale price. I like that.
    The bad is that the art quality is so uneven. There are top-tier artists hanging next to hobbyists, and the prices are on such a broad spectrum as a result that the more advanced artists are priced out of competition with the inexpensive work. You’d think the quality of the art would sell itself, but that is not the case in a co-op. Visitors are happy to buy a $200 abstract that matches the sofa, or a so-called “hand-embellished giclee” for $300, which in their mind is a better value than the refined original oil for $1000.

  43. There is an amazing collection of artist coop gallery and gallery experiences here. Between them, they contain my experience. I have stayed faithful to our small coop gallery in our mountain/forest resort village for 10 years. Our local Art Society that runs this coop gallery is a 501.c3 and our very affordable dues fund community service projects in the arts and buys supplies for the local school after-school art program. We are a little crowded in our gallery, but there are not that many of us showing, it is just not a very large room (but it’s what we can get). We pay utilities on our portion of our use of this interesting 1916 schoolhouse building in this village. We are a pretty well-organized group, have month-long member shows around the mountain and the valley, have monthly meetings that include a demo or hands-on, part of our education mission; some of us meet weekly (or almost weekly) to create our art together, work on a current project, or do plein air painting around the area. It is a seasonal coop gallery, open (due to so many members being part-time residents in this resort town) from June through December. But if I match my sales over these months to the “vanity” gallery that represents me in this village, I sell consistently more in the coop gallery and I sell consistently month-to-month. We also work hard together on publicity. I know many of my sales are due to the fact that I am there working and can create interest (as unobtrusively as possible) in my work — but I make a concerted effort to interest visitors in ALL of my fellow artists’ works (not everyone is as good at this). But it helps to be the one in the gallery selling sometimes (once a month) when you are not at all involved in selling your art in the ‘vanity’ gallery.

  44. I have work in a high end gallery in a primary city in my region, and also work as a consignor in a coop gallery in the smaller town where I live and work. This is what works for me since I live in a region with several large dominant art markets, yet it also has a lot of artists dispersed throughout smaller towns and villages, with a lot of vast and sparsely populated rural area separating everything. As a consignor I can’t really speak to the coop membership aspect of this subject, but the positives noted in this blog are consistent with my experience consigning work in a coop. Everyone seems to get along well, they are conscientious and enthusiastic, and I try to attend as many special events as possible, which the members appreciate.

  45. Way back in the 70’s I helped found a coop gallery in Chattanooga, TN. It is still active today. Helping to write the bylaws and serving as its First President gave me an opportunity to learn the business end of running a gallery and how to schedule the work time for members. I served as treasurer for one year and learned how to keep books, which was valuable for years to come. Some of the artists became long time best friends. We all encouraged each other in our work and became better artists along the way. Sometimes we attended workshops together which always expanded our art experiences and tightened our friendship bonds. Life changes for everyone and I moved to St. Augustine, FL where I became a member of a longtime coop gallery there. In time, I served as its president for three years. During that time I also exhibited at a commercial gallery in Jacksonville, which was a good experience, but it closed after about two years. Now that I am 80 years old and not so active, I have wonderful memories of working with many artists over the years. I would say it is definitely worth the experience for some artists. All coop galleries are not the same, but you can learn something from most of them even if you only stay one year. The best ones have by-laws, rules, and are organized and have a jury system in place to screen artists. If you do not have an attitude that helps you give of yourself and work with people it may not be for you. Life changed again and I moved back to Chattanooga , TN. , still painting some, but enjoying being free from responsibilities.

  46. Coops are art clubs. Most have very poor sales because, well, they are clubs. Which I am fine with them as a social form of entertainment for people interested in the visual arts. What I don’t like is that the public is exposed to such low-quality art in them that they create confusion in the art market. When you show dirt cheap, poorly crafted artwork the average person sees that you don’t value art so why should they?

  47. Great information. I was in a coop and received commissions for portraits from members who gave customers my name when they wanted portraits.
    I thoroughly enjoyed working at sales, and I loved it when I was able to have a day of high sales. But the travel and time was a problem. But since taking a self-reliance class at my Church I realize it’s part of the business. And as I said I got more sales of portraits from members who recommended me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *