Sell More Art: Is a Gallery or a Co-op a Better Fit for You?

Making the leap from feeding your passion and creating art to offering your art for sale requires serious considerations. We review two classic outlets for reaching customers and collectors: art galleries and art cooperatives. We weigh some of the pros and cons to help you decide if a gallery or a co-op is a better fit for you.

5th Street Gallery, a cooperative in Cincinnati, Ohio

5th Street Gallery, a cooperative in Cincinnati, Ohio

Traditional Art Galleries
Getting your art in a fine-art gallery with an established base of clients and a solid reputation, instantly adds credibility to your work. If you’re new to selling your art or new to the region, the gallery’s endorsement elevates the value of your work in the eyes of those who trust the gallery to offer them outstanding art. When the gallery represents you and your work, they’re putting their reputation behind their endorsement of your work. As a result, you have an invested partner who’s equally interested in seeing your work sold.

Galleries have their own marketing and public relations machines in place that they’ll use to promote themselves and the art they are showing. This exposure will be great for building your name recognition within the art community. However, you may not have much control or say in how the gallery promotes the show of your work. If you have your own vigorous marketing plan in place, this lack of input with the gallery is not an issue. If you are cultivating your brand recognition and don’t have your own marketing in place, the promotion your show receives will be solely dependent on the gallery.

When you sell art through a gallery it’s common for the gallery’s commission on the sale to be 40%-50% of the final sale price of your work. Pricing your work may or may not be negotiable with the gallery; be proactive and don’t shy away from this key part of the leap into selling your work. Discussing pricing is important and a key factor in building a solid business for yourself. (Check out our stories we have on pricing!)

Beyond framing and shipping your art to the gallery, and attending the show’s opening, the day-to-day workings of the gallery and your show is the responsibility of the gallery.

Art Cooperatives

An art cooperative (or co-op) is a collection of artists working together, making all the decisions regarding the operation of a shared gallery space. This translates to you being involved at a much deeper level than if you were in a gallery. Therefore, with a co-op you have greater say in various details of the marketing for the gallery and your work. Additionally, you’ll most likely retain more of the final sale price of your work.

However, co-ops frequently stipulate that each artist work a set number of hours a week in the gallery. In exchange for your labor, the percentage of the sale price of your work going to the co-op is reduced. Each co-op sets their own percentage-of-sale rates, required hours of work and responsibilities. Some allow artists to show in the co-op without working hours in the shop. In exchange, the percentage of sale price that goes to the co-op is usually greater. However, even under this circumstance, the percentage paid to the co-op is likely less than with a traditional gallery.

Everyone in the group manages the co-op. Every aspect of running the co-op/gallery is be discussed and agreed by all. Everything from ordering office supplies, creating work schedules, allocating display space, marketing and even basic housekeeping is the responsibility of co-op members. Determine if you’re willing to work and compromise with a group of artists. Are you willing or able to be this hands-on?

The Hidden Benefits of the Co-op

Everyone’s art is important to members of a co-op, and the key reason you banded together is to sell art. It’s a business and everyone’s number one job is selling art. Therefore, to be successful at selling other members’ art, you have to learn about their work’s inspiration, processes and history. In doing so, you are exposed to a lot of invaluable information about how other artists work successfully. Just as important, you will learn how potential customers respond to available art. Being part of a co-op may be considerably more work, but the learning opportunities and hands-on experience far outweigh the workload.

Best of Both Worlds

Ideally you want your art to be in front of as many people as possible. The more reputable places displaying your work the better. Before you sign agreements with a co-op and a gallery, ensure you are not violating any contract regulations. Also, look for establishments that will help to expand your presence rather than oversaturate a particular neighborhood.

Learn more about the business of art. Check out the ArtistsNetwork story, The Do’s and Don’ts of Navigating the Art World. 

A special thank you to the artists of the 5th Street Gallery in Cincinnati, for their insights into a cooperative. 

 

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2 thoughts on “Sell More Art: Is a Gallery or a Co-op a Better Fit for You?

  1. betriix

    I wonder if artists would still profit more with a gallery, because of its perceived authority or prestige, even though the artist is paying a large commission.

    1. Jennifer Smith, Acrylic Artist Managing Editor Post author

      Betriix- That is something I have been pondering, too. I also wonder if a lot of it comes down to pr/marketing. If your co-op has an aggressive way to reach new clients and has a group of dedicated artists who are excited to promote all the work, not just their own, I believe a co-op could be quite successful. Price point would be another consideration. When art becomes a financial investment, the guidance of a reputable gallery is very important to buyers. Best of luck in your ventures, Betriix!

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