I heard a while back (about a year ago, because, yes, I am about that far behind on some of the things I’ve been meaning to blog about) that Intermedia Arts, a local arts group/space/organization, was closing it’s gallery and laying off all of it’s full time staff because they, and the arts in general, were being hit particularly hard by the recession, and it was the only way to stay afloat. From their website, it looks like they’re back in their space and hosting things again (admittedly I haven’t followed it all that closely), but I would tend to imagine selling art and managing galleries still isn’t exactly a booming enterprise as the moment, and that both artists and galleries are probably still squeezed pretty tightly.
Another fairly visible symptom of the recession that I’ve noticed is that there are lots more empty store fronts than usual. Businesses close, and they leave their spaces empty, and it takes a bit longer for property owners to find someone else to rent the space.
So, putting two and two together, there are empty store fronts that look vacant and depressing, seem to be magnets for graffiti, and which are drawing no rent, and you have galleries closing and artists with no places (or less visible places at least) to sell their work or get it in front of people. So, the free idea for this week is to set up some sort of organization / program to connect property owners and artist to display works in the front windows of empty store fronts until the space gets rented again.
Here’s a few reasons why I think this particular match up would work well for everyone. First from the artists’ perspective:
- Your work is put in a place people are used to looking at to buy things and it gets it in front of people who may not generally go to galleries. It’s not only a sales outlet, it’s advertising.
- In this idea, there wouldn’t be any active curator working at the store, just a locked store front with art in the windows and number to call if you wanted to buy something, or an email address, so the fees/commissions would be notably less than you would usually pay to galleries. Also with the cheaper space and more of, there would be potential for many more artists to get exposure than usual.
From the property owner’s perspective:
- Though the rent may be notably less than if you had an actual tenant / business, it’s some income. If the group that organizes this is set up as a charitable organization, you may be able to write off some of the difference for reduced rent (not sure about that part, but I would imagine).
- It keeps people looking at your space, noticing it, and thinking of it as a place where people sell stuff. Again, basically free advertising.
- Reduced graffiti. This one takes slightly more explaining. From what I’ve seen, totally empty / basically abandoned store fronts get tagged pretty quickly. Ones with “For Rent” signs get it slightly more slowly, but not much. Murals almost never get tagged. My guess is that this is because most people who tag and do graffiti on other people’s property think of themselves as artists (I think of them as jackasses, but that’s a topic for another day), and/or they have some resentment against corporations and/or they see it as much more justifiable to tag something that’s just a blank space than something that’s already decorated in some artful way. So, my guess is that while abandoned looking store fronts get tagged in a hurry (making the property look worse, incurring costs for clean up, and making it harder to find a new tenant, because who wants to rent a place that looks like it gets tagged all the time / is in a rough neighborhood), ones that have art in the front of them, especially art from local, community artists, would get tagged much, much less.
Additional benefits / reasons these groups should love each other:
- Artist looking for a place to show their work will probably be much more flexible in lease dates. If the property finds a tenant while there’s art in the windows, the art can be moved out and the new tenant in on basically no notice at all, especially if one art organization manages this for lots of artists and lots of spaces. In effect the property owners don’t have to worry about losing any potential tenants.
- Without anyone being at the storefront on a regular basis, you might think theft would be a problem. However, I would have a hard time imagining it being too big of a problem, because unlike commodities such as TVs or cell phones or whatever, art’s pretty unique, and it would be hard to get any money out of reselling it without being detected. Which means theft isn’t very profitable. A good chunk of the worth of art is identifying who made it, and doing so is basically turning yourself in. And again, you have the fact that I would think most thieves would think it’s more justifiable to steal from a large corporation / store / chain than from a local artist who may well be just as financially hard up as they are. Plus, if you rotate things through fairly often (once a week maybe, which would still be practically no labor cost), the space will still seem active. Plus, if people get used to looking at it to see what’s new, people will look more, and probably report a broken window or other damage pretty quickly (another bonus for the property owner – casual strangers watching out for your store). You could also have a very simple / cheap (maybe even fake for the deterrent factor) security camera pointed at the front window.
- The other obvious use along these lines would be advertising, but there’s lots of reasons this is better. Basically this part ties back to the graffiti argument. The only things that get vandalized faster than abandoned store fronts are Bebe ads. Put some ads in an empty store front and it will look like a 3 year old playing with MS Paint in about 5 minutes. The property owner might make a couple of bucks off the ads, but they’ll have a much higher liability for having to clean up graffiti later. Beyond that, who wants to advertise their product in an empty store front? Doesn’t really give the impression that most advertisers want to get across about their product. And, again, people tend to (at least consciously) tune out ads and/or purposely ignore them, where as art that’s new on a weekly basis would draw attention (I think).
Really, all you would need to get this going would be one or two people with a phone and the numbers of some local artists (or galleries that have artists they’re turning down) and some local property owners (and those number are already in lots of the store fronts). The artists get exposure and potential sales, the landlords get at least some rent they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten and get it on a very flexible basis. I would think there could be very low overhead / middleman costs, especially if a group like Intermedia Arts, or the Walker, or MIA (would seem to fit perfectly with their “Foot in the Door 4” exhibit), or MNartists.org, or Artspace were the ones to set it up, with a relatively low commission being charged on each work sold.
There could definitely be things I’m missing here as I’m neither a property owner nor involved in the business of selling art, but it seems like a win-win for everyone involved to me. And really, it could be done any time, it just seems like there’s a lot more opportunity and need on both sides of the deal when the economy’s down.