Start a Co-op Gallery: 8 Tips

An alternative way to exhibit your work


The Sage Brush Gallery in Taos, New Mexico

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Sage Brush Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, a co-op operated by 10 artists. Because there are 10 of them, each artist “sits” with the gallery about three times a month. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds of each sale goes to the gallery’s coffer, with the artist keeping the other 75 percent.

Once a month, they rotate all the artists’ work, moving the paintings around the gallery space so that each artist’s work occupies a different space in the gallery. In the middle of the gallery, there’s a space for the “Featured Artist,” so that every 10 months, each of the artists gets an opportunity to show more work.

The gallery is eclectic, showing a variety of different approaches to art, but according to Lynn McLain, one of the artists, it works! Once a month, all the artists converge in a business meeting to discuss challenges and successes. They are in a lively shopping center in Taos, so there are always people milling about.

What’s Important in Planning and Starting a Co-Op Gallery?

  1. Make sure the site is accessible to the public. The Sage Brush Gallery is situated in a well-known shopping center. A well-frequented street or mall will provide ready access to tourists and potential collectors (and you won’t have to spend money on advertising). A place, for instance, near a good urban hotel is ideal.
  2. Try to assemble a group of artists whose collective work displays different styles, different modes of expression, different media.
  3. Create a schedule that works for everybody. Be fair. Rotate shows. Each artist could show work for three weeks, for instance. Plan at least one group show per year featuring all the gallery artists.
  4. It’s a good practice to have one work by each gallery artist constantly on display in the gallery. All the artists should have portfolios available.
  5. Realize that a “cooperative” means that everyone has to work; the labor has to be distributed equally. Someone needs to be at the gallery at all times to greet people; someone has to take care of paperwork and keep the books; someone has to install work; someone must act as a registrar recording inventory; someone has to clean up; plan openings, etc.
  6. To attract more foot traffic, stage themed shows, especially around the holidays. A show of small works is perfect, for example, since people will be looking for gifts.
  7. Stage at least one open house every year.
  8. Become a good member of the community. Partner with nearby businesses; a restaurant or bar can provide wine and treats in return for a prominent sign advertising the business, for example.

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