Between the months of May and September the number of residents on Martha’s Vineyard increases tenfold. Typical of most islands that support their existence by being a vacation destination, the Vineyard caters to its seasonal inhabitants, who help to sustain local businesses year round.
Year-round Island galleries offer another perspective. While the galleries may flourish during the season with more operating days and longer hours, they don’t shut their doors at the end of summer. Rather, they maintain their business and focus on art throughout the year.
If anyone understands the realities of running a gallery year-round on the Vineyard, it is Chris Morse. Chris Morse and his wife Sheila own and operate three Island galleries: The Granary and The Field Gallery in West Tisbury, and North Water Gallery in Edgartown. He took over his first gallery, The Granary, 15 years ago, and maintains a full year-round staff. Mr. Morse acknowledges that sales are weighted towards the high season. He also acknowledges that artists understand the off-season is their time to focus on creating a body of work. Yet, Morse is adamant that he does not allow seasonality to run his business. All of his galleries represent a mixture of Island and off-Island artists, and he is in touch with these artists throughout the year.
What changes in the off-season, according to Mr. Morse, is a burgeoning opportunity to host more creative events. He lists book-signings and wine-tasting as some examples of activities that help to bring people into the gallery who might otherwise not be inclined or particularly art-oriented, but are looking for something interesting to do.
“There is a great value to running a year round gallery,” says Mr. Morse. “People are coming in because you’re open.”
This is the 16th year of year-round operation for the Shaw Cramer Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, owned and operated by Nancy Cramer. She admits she caters somewhat to the seasonal business with extended business hours. She has three employees (one of whom is one of her exhibiting artists) who she employs part-time throughout the summer and, when needed, the shoulder seasons.
“Everything is a constant flow,” she says, “with ever-increasing and decreasing hours according to the time of year.”
Ms. Cramer emphasizes that the intensity of work never slows down. Like Mr. Morse, she sometimes uses the off-season to host unique events. During the Thanksgiving holiday she hosted a drawing show of Island artists. She plans events “when the mood inspires.”
More often, Ms. Cramer utilizes the off-season to hone her gallery’s image and often expand the range of artists she represents. “Galleries are a world of details, and details take a lot of time.”
Several of the artists Ms. Cramer represents spend off-season months promoting themselves in national venues or working in other artist communities. Upon their return, these artists are able to offer a refreshing point of view. “There is a great sharing,” Ms. Cramer says.
Louisa Gould and Kara Taylor are both gallery-owners as well as artists whose galleries shift in the off-season in order to better accommodate their own work schedules. Ms. Gould represents herself in addition to more than two-dozen other artists. While she admits she works with some artists more than with others, these relationships don’t depend on the season but rather on the artist’s work preferences.
As a gallery-owner, the off-season provides Ms. Gould with more time to attend to the gallery’s organization, specifically its public relations, such as press releases. As an artist, this chunk of the year provides Ms. Gould with more time to work, establishing a body of art that can be ready for a summer show.
“It’s difficult to work as an artist during the summer,” she says, adding, “It’s 24/7 for 12 weeks. It’s nonstop. That’s just the nature of the business here.”
Kara Taylor, owner of the Kara Taylor Gallery, shows only her own work . Therefore, she completely devotes herself to her career as an artist in the off-months.
“I’m quite diligent about setting those eight months aside to focus on a new body of work,” she says, “but I do complete some new paintings throughout the summer months as well.” During the winter Ms. Taylor works in her studio, which is located in the back portion of the gallery. In these months, the gallery is open three days a week, as opposed to the six days it is open during the summer.
From June through September, she employs one or two assistants. She closes her gallery in February and half of March to travel off-Island and “regenerate,” a process she believes is imperative to her life as an Islander and artist.
Ms. Gould agrees, “For my career as an artist, I know I need to get off-Island during the winter. It’s a continual learning process.”
Year-round art galleries provide both unique and over-lapping approaches to the Island’s art-world. Gallery owners shift their businesses in the off-season depending on their individual styles and needs. No gallery owner significantly changes their interactions with the artists they represent, although these relationships are universally championed.
“Every day is a great day to learn and to give,” Ms Gould says, referring to the relationship she has with her artists.