Thursday, May 23, 2013

Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Part 7: Red Flags...

In most of the installments of this series, I've hinted at things to be weary of when working with a new gallery.  Here are a few more things to keep an eye out for.

7.  Red flags.

In a perfect world, every exchange with a creative space would be simply amazing and trouble free.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  I do believe that a good many of the most common problems can easily be resolved with a little caution.  The old adage is still true:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

But knowing what to look for isn't always easy.  No one actually uses bright, big flags to mark their shortcomings and problem areas.  There are some things to be aware of that can help avoid sticky situations though.

Never pay someone upfront to show your work.  It's true that there are some business models like co-ops, artist collectives, and artisan malls that are an exception to this cautionary rule, but I would be highly leery of anyone who asks for money upfront.  What's to stop them from running off with your money?  If they do ask you for money before they've sold anything, ask if they'll be taking an additional percentage on work sold.  In our shop, we absorb the expenses of showing the work (utilities, rent, promotional materials, event supplies... etc.) into the percentage we make after a piece is sold.  I feel it makes us work harder to sell the pieces and a sign that we are invested in the artist.

Beware if it's too easy.  One of the things that sets a "good" creative space apart from an "okay" one is a clear and distinctive curatorial vision.  This vision sets a tone for the work available and is an integral part of branding a business.  If a shop owner says yes to everyone who walks in the door, the result is chaos and your work can be lost in the jumble.  For whatever reason, I also find that it's harder to collect payment from these establishments.  It might be because they're spread too thin or don't keep up with all the paperwork for the abundance of artists that they deal with.

Take caution if the name of the establishment changes frequently or they change ownership often.  I have met some truly unlucky business owners who kept running into trademark issues concerning their store name and had to change it multiple times within a short span of time.  This is a rarity though.  A trick that some less than legitimate shop owners perform is filing for bankruptcy and reopening under a new name.

Make sure that the lines of communication are open.  One of the fundamental pillars of a good relationship (whether business or otherwise) is healthy communication.  Keep in mind that everyone has a different opinion of what that entails and it may take some time before everyone is on the same page, but you should be alert of shop owners who purposely avoid talking to you or are constantly unavailable.  If you make an appointment to discuss business and they are aloof, uninterested, or don't show up... it usually indicates that there could be some serious problems.  A good shop owner will always make time for their artists.  They may need a gentle tap on the shoulder, but if you have to constantly hound them, it's not worth the heartache and frustration.

Take note of the merchandise and how frequently things are changed up.  If a gallery is selling work, their inventory should reflect that.  Of course, there might be seasonal factors that come into play and certain times of the year might be busier than others, but if you keep going back and seeing the same stuff, it probably means they aren't selling the pieces well and it might be best to find greener pastures elsewhere.

Signs of disrepair in shop say a lot.  We take a lot of pride in making sure that our store is not only clean, but aesthetically pleasing, and that things are displayed in a nice way.  If a store is dirty or their display is falling apart, it might mean that they aren't fully invested in selling the work and aren't maximizing their potential to present your product to the best effect.

While there are plenty of things to keep an eye out for, one of the biggest red flags to be aware of is the one that doesn't have any physical markers.  Trust you gut.  If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.  Use your intuition and put out those extrasensory feelers.  If you use a little bit of care and attention, it can save a lot of future pain.

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