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

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

Yesterday, 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?

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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, and founder of the Art Business Academy. 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.


  1. Our small co op gallery has now been running since about 1991, some of the original members are still showing with the gallery. Year on year we plan solo and group exhibitions, take it in turns to hang the shows, and book it for a couple of weeks if we want a solo show. We don’t become rich on our sales but it is nice to sit the gallery, chat to customers about our work, gauge reactions to new work and put on workshops during festival week. Some us are or have been part time tutors and its nice to invite our students to our solo shows-gives a bit of street cred, and as a working artist, friends/colleagues are a bonus as mutual support and encouragement

  2. Thanks for being such a wonderful and forthcoming influence to all artists. I have been a member of a co-op, The Artists Gallery, in Flagstaff for about 7 years. I show my work there and in Sedona Arts Center and Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon. Other than my website, my best sales come from the the co-op, followed by Kolb, and last, Sedona Arts Center. Briefly, rent in downtown Flagstaff is high, so the 35-40 members all pay rent based on our amount of display space. I have 12′ of wall space and pay $120.00/month, however when a painting sells, I get 80%. We have a board that manages the gallery quite well. We have a jury committee which assures that quality and standards are kept high. A display committee assures the gallery maintains a consistent appearance. This co-op has been in business for 23 years and not without it’s ups and downs and personality differences. The jury committee is pivotal making sure not only that high quality work is being considered, but that the personality of an applicant is one that would mesh easily with the existing stable of artists. Each artist must work three or four 5-hour shifts each month. Everyone has a job to do whether it’s scheduling for the upcoming month (one marvelously organized woman does that), setting up the serving table for Artwalk, or changing lightbulbs when they burn out. Each new member gets an orientation and is assigned to work with an experienced artist for several shifts. We have monthly members’ meetings which helps keep everyone on the same page. My responsibility is to line up one artist/month to do a quick 5-10 minute inservice on how they make or do their art so that the rest of us can better promote their art to the public. I, and most of the artists never feel the relatively small amount of time spent working in the gallery, about 20-25 hours/month, to be taking us away from our studio time. Indeed, when the public comes in contact with the artist in the gallery, they seem more likely to purchase that artist’s work. I can attest to that!

    The biggest problem I see with a co-op setting is the reluctance of some artists to interact in a genuine or professional way with patrons. I’ve been campaigning for art sales training for several years. I’m confident our sales could be stronger if we had an intense inservice on sales and relating to the public. The best I seem to be able to do is pass on the Reddot blogs. So, thanks for all your help in this area!

  3. I was in a coop gallery for several years. They had two avenues for artists: pay a monthly fee and get X percentage of sales or work a number of hours and get Y percentage (more than X) of sales. It was a fairly good run. As you said, there were personality problems that arose over the years that became sort of unresolvable. And, as mentioned, there was very little salesmanship displayed by the artists. Some would simply sit and read and ignore customers!

    Each artist was juried to become a member, but after that there was little jurying of individual pieces of art. Sometimes the quality was really low, but normally it was fairly decent work.

    I did sell work there and that made it nice for me. It was a good place to show new work and get reactions to it. We had monthly shows, and that was really nice. I’m glad for the experience because it gave me a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of the business side of a gallery.

  4. I haven’t done this yet, but I know an artist who has. She got together with other artists to collectively rent out a gallery location for a show on the Second Friday art walk. The artists ranged from beginner to highly advanced, with disparate styles. I’m not sure how effective this was at generating sales, but I’ve been planning to do the same thing this summer.

    With our group though, we’re going for more of a unifying theme. We don’t have experience showing, but a lot of experience making art. Putting together a group show like this seems like it may be more powerful than showing at an art fair.

  5. Jason,

    I have been in a co-op gallery for almost four years and have found the experience quite fulfilling. The gallery currently has 17 artists who are full space or half space members. The display area has 12 designated display walls with each artist having a full area or half area. Every four months artists rotate to a new space so that there is an equality of exposure. Because we are in a major tourist center, 7,000 to 10,000 visitors pass through the gallery annually. There are approximately 25 galleries in a nine square block area, so competition is high. We are older artists, perhaps ages 50-75, who have had careers teaching art or in some other profession such as briush nests, ministry, etc. The quality of art is very strong, but none of the artists are what might be called career artists. New artists are juried in by the entire membership and we try to offer all mediums and a variety of styles so that artists are not competing directly with fellow members. The key to our success has been the careful acceptance of new artists when a vacancy occurs.

  6. Co-op galleries can be beneficial for networking, too. Years ago, we moved to a new city, so it helped me quickly meet some of the local artists and “get a lay of the land’, so to speak. Sales were only okay, primarily due to some of the points people have mentioned, wide range of skills and a lack of sales training. The biggest problems seemed to be non-curated art and people not showing up for their shifts (or just sitting on their duffs, not even engaging with the customer.)

  7. I am currently in a co-op gallery and love it. Yes sales can be slow, but it is a great community as you said, and it allows us newer artists to experiment and try different ideas. I agree with the down sides, personality conflicts can be difficult and sales can be lost due to some personalities. What is difficult for many artists is to understand that as a co-op gallery, it is their responsibility to also invite people to the gallery, blog about it, market it, etc. that is a difficult idea to comprehend for others.
    I strongly suggest all newer artists to give it a try.

    1. I completely agree! I had an experience in a co-op gallery where I was trying to show a customer I had a casual relationship with a new artist’s work. While she liked it, unknowingly she had shown an interest in one of my pieces earlier and led me oner to it. She asked me questions and I tried to engage her as much as I could then wished her a good day. Before I could get home the gallery manager called me to say that she purchased my piece. The lesson I took away is always promote and wish your fellow artist the best.

  8. Good article! My gallery is a collective, rather than a co-op and one of our guiding principles, set by the 7 partners who are “in charge” is that we don’t look like a rental space. Every show is curated to look like a cohesive gallery show – nobody pays by the foot or has only one wall they can use. As you mentioned, the community aspect is vital, not only for us having valuable critique and shared resources but as a business that has influence in the art community of our city. It’s a tough business model that can demand a lot of attention from the partners, but everyone participates in working and actively selling each other’s work. We involve everyone in the planning of themed exhibits, featured artist shows and national juried shows. Ciel Gallery in Charlotte, NC is a real joy to be a part of!! Please check it out –

  9. My co-op gallery offers about the same benefits and problems discussed in the article. It’s a great place for emerging artists to learn to hang their work professionally. The quality of the work is uneven, with some very good stuff and a fair amount of stuff that doesn’t really belong in a working gallery. Our co-op has a fairly tight board of directors who are efficient and hard-working but it doesn’t quite live up to the label “co-op”–we are limited to 24″ width of display space unless we pay double for two spaces at $100 a month for a single space, we can hang one new piece monthly, we only sit the gallery during our own month-long show–and are allowed one duo show annually. For a person such as myself who doesn’t paint regularly, it at least keeps me producing of a fairly regular basis.

  10. I had a wonderful ten year experience in a cooperative gallery in Northern Virginia. As you can imagine, the Washington, D.C. pool is large. This was my first gallery experience. What I found was a safe, nurturing environment to grow both my art and my confidence. The better artists were inspiring and challenging. We were required to paint a “show” every 18 months. I learned to create a cohesive body of work and market a show at the same time. We were limited in artists by the space we had. The most we ever had was 21, which included ceramics, jewelers, bronze sculptors, and wall artists of every medium. You’re correct, this gallery has been around a long time and had a reputation for quality work at affordable prices. If I did a street show and said I showed at “The Loft Gallery” often people were impressed. We all voted on decisions but did have a director, the woman who started the gallery, and she did weigh in when necessary.

  11. I am a member of Spark Gallery, a co-op in Denver that has been in place since 1978! It is a high-functioning gallery with 30 artist members from every discipline. I’d like to offer another reason to participate in a co-op. This is the place, over the past ten years, that I try new things. Whether it is a new concept or a shift in medium, I am free from the restraints of a commercial gallery which, correctly, wants to sell my most consistent work. Having a place to experiment and exhibit with feedback from a group of artists I respect has significantly and positively impacted my artistic growth. A co-op gallery isn’t better or worse than a commercial gallery, but rather a complement.

  12. Hi Jason, I have two experiences to share. I was art director of a local co-op and later a member and board member of another local co-op. In the first we had work duties as part of our membership. Each member was expected to put in 2 days of work at the gallery a month, typically two people per day. We had a jurying committee for new members and, on the whole, got quality work in. We sold a lot of jewelry but not much in the way of 2-d work. For the other gallery, while there is a review committee for work the review is not that stringent and the quality of work varies greatly from artist to artist. This gallery sells a lot of work at lower price points. I would say selling anything above $200 is an exception. This gallery has 3-person shows in a special room in the gallery each month, giving all members the opportunity to showcase their work. This gallery also works with local companies who pay a monthly fee to the gallery to have member artwork hung in their offices. The gallery also hangs work in the legislative offices at the state capitol. Both were good experiences but I used the galleries as a way to have my work seen locally knowing that my work would not sell at the galleries. I saw the galleries as one way for me to participate in the local art scene.

    1. Something I forgot to mention. Each gallery had a quarterly change-over of artwork. This encouraged the artists to create new work constantly. Both had a rule that work previously shown at the gallery could not be shown again for, if I remember correctly, at least a year. If you wanted to show each quarter you brought in new work each quarter.

  13. I was in a co-op gallery for over a year. I found that the place was in a very difficult location. There were days I “sat” with another person and never saw a customer or anyone else enter the gallery. One time I saw a customer in the gallery walk up to one of my pieces and say how beautiful it was and then buy a photograph that was a lot cheaper. It was then I resigned my membership in the gallery. It required a lot of time and effort to get there and “sit” for few customers. I would not join another co-op gallery unless it was in a well trafficked area with a proven customer base.

  14. I belonged to an excellent gallery Montana. It was considered a joint venture gallery in that everyone had to jury the newbie in. Not all the artists who applied got in. The group ranged from 8 to 10 people. It was great camaraderie and was the only gallery in town at the time. We had an upfront membership fee and then a monthly fee, but we got 90% of the sale, 85% if it was a credit card sale-which didn’t make much sense to me. Towards the end of my tenure there, I was pining away to get into a full fledged gallery, where there was a 50% commission. It would have been worth it. After gallery sitting Saturdays and baking for openings, I came away really appreciating all the work that goes into running a gallery. I’ve been invited to join other co-op galleries, but stayed away because of the poor quality of art and the very crowded, unprofessional look of displaying in the places.

  15. When I was part of a co-op several years ago, I made friendships that still continue. I learned how to hang a show and got valuable feedback when I was just starting out, and it was a good way to ease into understanding what it takes to run a gallery. I left when I realized the co-op wan’t really attracting much business and that the other members didn’t seem to mind. My experience there taught me what NOT to do as much as it taught me how to do things that still serve me, and it gave me a clearer vision of what I wanted (and didn’t want) for myself and my career.

  16. Jason, the Southern Utah Art Guild operates a coop in downtown St. George and up to 30 artists can display. We have been open since mid December, and have created quite a buzz in the arts community. The guild operates the coop in a building owned by the city, so we have some restrictions on what hangs there (family friendly , etc.) we will see how this plays as time goes by. I also have a studio in an upscale arts community and display in a gallery that is giving me one-woman shows.

  17. I belonged to a co-op for about 15 years. At first it was great, I learned and was nurtured and grew. I actually sold a fair amount of paintings before I left. The down side of co-ops became greater than the benefits. I now rent a space which has five galleries and one all media gallery. The five are rented space for a month and you are invited to show. It is a great place in which to work, but sales are slow.

  18. I have never sold much in co-op galleries. I’ve done better in traditional commercial galleries, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the commercial galleries know their clientele and their needs and they know their artists and actively promote their work. I vowed years ago that I will never again pay a gallery to show my work, but I’ll gladly pay one 50% to sell it.

  19. I am the owner of a co op type of Gallery you spoke of in Michigan. Being a artist for over 35 years doing art shows up to 35 a year. A very good friend of mine asked me to look at the mall she worked at and to think about opening a Holiday Pop gallery up for November and December. Well let me make the story short its has been 10 years and 3 local stores in Michigan and one in Nashville. We have had a lot of ups and down a ton of learning experiences and listing to our artist we have made it work. Our gallery (market) runs like a co op but we do not have a membership as they call it. Yes artist work 24 hrs a month and holiday season 32 pr month for a rent reduction, if artist choose to pay full rent we have other artist work their required hrs.

    Each artist is a independent contractor and it has worked out quite nicely. The gallery (market) has a strict application process from artist to apply at the gallery from our on line applications to interviewing process for each artist. We find this works to find the artist who are ready to commit to making their business a successful artist. We have and some very successful artist who have been able to made a great carrier doing art work. The difference with our galleries we are in major malls yes rent is steep, sales for the artist are very good. Holiday season is amazing. A number of the Artist have also found ways to sell their art threw the year doing art show or doing other galleries. The Market has worked very hard to make each artist a total success.
    The Market takes a % of sales and each artist pays rent according to their space needs. It has worked out very good. We are always looking to in increase our sales and helping our artist to succeed as a artist. Ideas are always welcome.

  20. I use to belong to 2 co-ops so that I could force myself to do double time work to hone my skills faster, and participate in 2 different art districts in Denver. Finally I got enough other shows that I didn’t need the other gallery and the one I stayed with is smack in the center of the most popular art district. I think it’s been invaluable, I learned how to curate a show, hang a show, deal with all aspects of running a gallery and producing a show. I feel very comfortable in that world I just could not have gotten that experience anywhere else. We are a juried gallery and have various levels of skill but are considered one of the best co-ops for artists in Denver. I use to have a studio in the back of the main gallery and I think you could have called them vanity studios. Now I have a regular working studio and am very comfortable with that and look forward to having open studios and all the rest. One of the best things about a co-op is that you can try out new ideas and styles and get immediate feed back. You have relationships with other artists. I like them.

  21. I was in a coop gallery for about 7 years. Loved being able to see my work up on the wall and was encouraged to keep making new work.

    The main downside I noticed is that we were missing a Jason, i.e. a real sales person. Yeah, as members we sat the gallery and tended the customers, but we were not true sales people.

  22. I’ve tried a co-op, but the egos, the politics, infighting, and like of professionalism (especially when it came to sales) makes it a no go for me. I prefer the tried and true established retail gallery model for myself.

  23. I thought your article was spot on. I belong to a co-op gallery / café. I will be leaving it shortly. The cafe was meant to be an inducement to attract buyers. In reality the cafe requires far to much of my time and art sales do not justify it. The other negatives are the personality clashes between so many artists and the reality that not everyone puts in equal effort.

  24. Thank you SO much for these two articles on vanity and co-op galleries. As a new artist, I am very intimidated by galleries. When I research my local galleries, I get very confused by the terms and conditions that they offer. I was put off by having to pay for a wall space and have to “work” shifts at the gallery to sell my art and also have sales skills. Needless to say, thanks to your articles, I now understand more about which model the gallery may be following can focus on the skills I need to bring to the table and adjust accordingly. Thank you very much!

  25. Hi Jason,
    I have been involved with co-op galleries off and on for over twenty years due to the fact that I live in a small rural county in northern California that is only able to support a couple regular galleries. The most recent co-op gallery I belonged to charged a hefty rental fee, commission on sales, and required volunteer work hours based on the size of space you had (and paid for). It is these “volunteer” work hours I want to speak to. According to Federal and State labor laws, it is illegal to require a person to volunteer to work in a “for profit” business. Even if you are voluntarily working at a co-op gallery at your own convenience, but the gallery is a “for profit business”, you have to be paid. The same goes for non-profit businesses. If you work on a regular full time or part time basis, you have to get paid. If the non profit entity has a fund raiser, and you work for pay for them say as a cashier, then you can not volunteer to be a cashier since that is what your paid job status is. You can volunteer for any other kind of function. One of our local non profits does river advocacy work and has a dozen paid staff. Once a year they hold a “river clean up” day. The staff that coordinate this project get paid because that is directly related to their paid job. But I can volunteer along with other members of the public because I’m not an employee. The only legal business model for a co-op gallery is for all the artists to be owners. If the co-op gallery is owned by just one or two people, and the rest are just showing their work at the gallery, the only two things the owners can ask of the artists is to pay a fee for a given amount of display space and a commission on sales of their work sold. If they require them to work, they must be paid. The interesting thing is there are a lot of co-op galleries around the country that have been doing business just like the post by Dawn Sutherland above for many, many years. When I asked the State Labor Board here in California why and how so many get away with this, their answer was they are a “complaint driven” organization. So if nobody complains, nothing is done. If anyone doubts this, please contact your State Labor Board or look up labors laws on the internet. How a co-op gallery files taxes is a mystery for me.
    What I have noticed, especially in rural areas, there are very few if any venues to show ones art. Most artist are not business people, and I understand that by just paying a fee and volunteering some hours per month, who could pass that up to have a consistent place to show ones work.

  26. Hi Jason,
    I just noticed a post by Debbie, who is an owner of a co-op gallery Michigan for 35 years, and she states ” Our gallery (market) runs like a co op but we do not have a membership as they call it. Yes artist work 24 hrs a month and holiday season 32 pr month for a rent reduction, if artist choose to pay full rent we have other artist work their required hrs.
    Each artist is a independent contractor…”

    Stating that each artist is “a independent contractor” is a term I see thrown around a lot. Having been in business for 42 years, I’ve learned that calling someone an “independent contractor” is very precarious. Here’s what the IRS says “The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done. The earnings of a person who is working as an independent contractor are subject to Self-Employment Tax. You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer (what will be done and how it will be done). This applies even if you are given freedom of action. What matters is that the employer has the legal right to control the details of how the services are performed.”

    So if the co-op gallery tells you that you have to volunteer (work) X amount of hours per week/month, you are an employee.

  27. I have considered joining a co-op gallery in my city. The artis in the gallery are a great group of people, many of whom I am acquainted.

    The quality of art is quite high but every inch of space is taken up with art. The only other consideration is they the last time I was in the person who was to man the front was in the back vacuuming and despite a very loud door chime he didn’t hear me. I had to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention. I myself wear hearing aids so I understand his challenge.

    They have actually had people walk in and pick up a piece of art and run off with it. It makes me question whether I really want to place my art there.

  28. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for writing a follow-up article on Vanity Galleries vs Co-op. I am no longer confused between the two.

    Yes, your comments regarding the ups and downs of co-ops if spot on! One co-op is run by a well organized board of professional artists who jury in all artwork/artists. Additionally they provide training in sales and staff the gallery. It has been very educational since they have had this gallery for about ten years.

    The other co-op is very new and run/organized by an artist who is new to gallery management, leadership and sales. There isn’t much of a juried process, so some of the work not well received by gallery patrons. Currently the staffing needs are small, about 8 hours a month, so creating new art doesn’t really suffer. I’m sure as time goes on, this new management will become more proficient in managing and directing the gallery. It’s a beautiful place with a great location. Additionally, it’s fun to staff with another artist who I usually don’t know very well.

    Thank you for a great article!

  29. Hi, Jason. I’m currently considering getting into a juried co-op gallery in my new location, so this article is particularly appropriate right now. Back in late 2008-9, I listened to Brian Davis (extraordinary oil painter of realistic florals – mega-gallery representation, $20,000 – $30,000 prices, collectors worldwide, in big museum collections) give a talk about marketing one’s artwork. He told us to that co-ops were “the kiss of death” to advancing one’s career because a) showing beside less accomplished work pulls collectors’ opinion of your work down, and b) co-ops hold your prices artificially low because so many artists underprice their work so it will sell better. That has been my experience in the co-ops I’ve tried in the past; I’ve even been told by visitors that they had come across state lines to that co-op gallery because they could “get cheap artwork here.” These weren’t juried co-ops, though, so I’m thinking about it. Where do you stand on Mr. Davis’ two reasons to avoid co-ops?

  30. Thank you for this article! I also think it depends on where a person is in their life. I have been an oil painter for 48 years, but I was unable to paint for several of those years. After we moved to AZ in 2011, I found my love of painting skies once again. I have sold several paintings and exhibited in a few places. My work is now in a gallery on Tubac, AZ, but it is going to switch over to a co-op. I have no interest for many reasons, but the main reason: I feel I will lose my passion for painting if I have to think about driving 65 miles (one way) to work and worrying about selling about paying a monthly fee. This is my soul. I am too old to worry about proving myself.

  31. My experience in co-0pp show was amazing, where many creative well-known photographers got together and created one incredible show.
    I was blessed to be among this group, we each hung two of what we thought was our best work. Since there were so many of us.
    All of the photographers at some point during the show walked the floor, I felt amazing being able to do that, I got to talk with some amazing people, and enjoyed talking about the artist’s work, the ones which I knew well. The opportunity was so awesome, I met so many people that also shared their interest in the art of photography.
    The turn out was fantastic, with more artist came more people. That was for sure.
    We all paid a portion of the rent and we all brought food and drinks.
    Each one of us did a part in the opening night as well as putting the gallery show all together. A huge job! So many things can happen, even to me, my print glass got broken cutting into one of my prints and the thick Matt. I did a very bad job of packing it. Lesson learned. Thank goodness for Frame it yourself service, and my extra prints, I got it replaced in time.
    Many of the photographers were professional and I think all of us have had experience in galleries; at some point. So much of the process went smoothly. Expensive! The price is much less when a large group gets together. And is so much fun! Worth it OH YES! A percentage did go to the gallery. I am happy to say I sold two prints.
    However I do not think this is a venue to make a lot of money at.
    However your new found clients that love your work and getting yourself out there to be seen, I think is worth it.
    I find I sell more when people meet me in person with my art.

  32. For about 5 years I belonged to a cooperative where we had regular meetings, shared maintenance of Victorian house. There was media exposure and civic involvement with purchases reflective of the regional values. It was not a huge money maker for artists. The quality was uneven. It has been in existence for many years. It is a good way to reach out to neighbors and socialize.

  33. Location. Location. Location.

    Do art collectors freqently go there and make purchases?
    If so, and you aim to support yourself with your art, then joining an art coop gallery provides a viable option. If not, then consider using that time to search for galleries that sell well.

    I’ve been an active member in two cooperative art galleries: one in the Pacific Northwest (at a resort) and one in the capital city of an east coast state (an artistic city). The gallery located where affluent people visited frequently faired FAR better in art sales than the one where parking proved scarce/difficult and the immediate area appeared only questionably safe.

    Yet both coop galleries displayed equally talented artists work; had equally loyal/hard working artist members; presented their work in spacious and well-lot interiors; and engaged actively in marketing/events.

    So, I suggest choosing an art coop location where art collectors feel comfortable, safe and attracted often.

  34. I have been an active member in a Co-op Gallery for the past two years. And while it was a great platform for me as a beginning artist, your comments regarding the dilution of your art being displayed is a fair comment. At the end of two years, on reflection, it was a good first move. It gave me the confidence to build my skills and my confidence. I have been lucky, by selling at least one art piece each month over the two year span. But the negatives have far outweighed the positives. Lack of sales experience from other members, members promoting their own work over other artists work, difficult personalities and the biggest of all – no business experience amongst the co-op leaving the Gallery in a vulnerable position financially. The gallery as well has a cluttered look which detracts the exposure of ‘well done’ artworks. To add to the cluttered look, the Gallery has sucumbed to introducing more ‘Kraft’ quick selling merchandise to build up the bank coffers resulting in reducing the ‘fine art Gallery look’. For the most part, most of the members are fantastic. But as always in life you get that one who is difficult, never pulls her share of the responsibilities and causes mayhem amongst the team. I am happy to move on.

  35. I belong to a small gallery that is essentially a co-op in that the owner charges each artist a wall fee by the ft., we each work a number of shifts every month but pay no commission on sales. The owner has neither the time nor the inclination to spend more time on site and has unpaid bills and services that create considerable tension among the artists. Some want to chip in and help her by buying some cleaning and bathroom supplies, others would prefer not to go down that path. I am of the latter persuasion.

    If walls are full and no additional income is anticipated from this as the only known source of revenue, I’m not sure how or why the owner continues to operate. If “full” still isn’t making it, and no commission is added to the revenue…?

    I find myself questioning the business model and longevity under these circumstances. There have been numerous occasions where artists who have sold work wait months for payment, several of whom have taken their work elsewhere. I’d love more info. on this if anyone has experienced success doing business in this manner. I just don’t see any potential for guaranteeing that expenses can be covered by the owner, and I don’t feel that I should start bailing her out just because she’s experiencing difficulty. This is her initiative…she is an experienced business woman, and the terms are as previously noted. Not the artist’s issue.
    It begs the question of how the

  36. I am an artist/ fashion designer and a new gallery owner (2 and half years)

    I have never heard of the term vanity before except yesterday an artist asked me!

    then I came across your article .

    I have no idea what our gallery is considered, each artist pay for the space they use and we take a commission for sales, except some juried exhibitions ( 3 per year ) or fairs and markets like summer and Christmas market is a fixed fee for a no. of artworks ( usually very symbolic )

    When we organize exhibitions for established or emerging artists, we don’t blind them.

    but we ( me and my husband ) take care of keeping the gallery opened, advertise and organize different events to boost the sales invitations,. Etc..
    as not any of our members could qualified to be able take care of a gallery on a professional way or curate and install artworks ! maybe only one that help us from time to time if he is exhibiting also.

    We have a basic membership very small yearly fee and the artist get discounts and participation in a group exhibition once a year ( free of charge)
    and a monthly membership if the artist have their works on regular base both in the gallery space and in the storage.( if they have a fixed no. of artworks/ month) or a space. the can also have closed events and use the space if they want after the opening hours.

    We usually have quality works except couple of shows per year for amateur artists.

    Is our gallery co-op or vanity ?

  37. I am co-manager of a Co-op gallery that has been open almost 5 years now, and it has been a great venue for me to show and sell my work, which is textile arts. For years, I did craft shows and have had an on-line presence for about 12 years. My best sales have been through the co-op, and it has been a great experience learning how they operate, interacting with other artists, and participating in the running of the gallery. We are currently re-opening following a shut-down for the Covid-19 virus, and are gradually building back up to 7 days a week. We are located in a local Mall, and more and more shoppers are coming in, glad to have the opportunity to browse and buy from local artists. This type of gallery might not be for everyone – we do work shifts, and commit to 3-month periods of being in the gallery. There can be personality clashes, but I find that most artists are happy to have a place to show and sell where they don’t have to continually set up booths and break down after a 1 or 2 day art show. It’s a great way for newer artists to break into selling and displaying their work. We need more of these!

  38. My wife owns an art gallery which I manage. This is our second. Our first was in Florida and was successful until a hurricane hit it and our insurance company went bankrupt. This was about 15 years ago. We now have one with 19 artists plus my wife. We have been able to finance it somewhat with classes. We have no drama and everyone supports each other. We are very aggressive in the market. I question some of the coops when they say they pay upwards of a hundred a month. Are the artists selling that much art to recoup their expenses? Granted, we are in a relative small market, (175,000) and our avg art is less than $500. We do a percentage and then some artists pay a $25 fee to have their own “page” on our website with unlimited postings/changes. Side question. We are about to try to go 75-100% online shopping cart after a fairly successful Christmas season with 20% online. Any feedback or articles on galleries or coops doing that and their success for larger ticket items?

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