Galleries on the Go: Four galleries that moved, and how they fared

By choice or by necessity, four Island galleries relocated during the past two years. One moved just a few doors away and three to entirely new towns and dramatically different settings. Starting fresh in new digs is a risky enterprise. Here’s a look at how A Gallery, Kara Taylor Gallery, North Water Gallery, and PIKNIK Art & Apparel reinvented themselves and how it worked out for each.

In the by-choice category, artist Kara Taylor and owner/curator Michael Hunter of PIKNIK Art & Apparel opted to leave successful, established locations and start anew. Ms. Taylor, a painter who both showed and created her work in her former space at 19 Main Street in downtown Vineyard Haven, decided to pack up after about seven years and return to her up-Island roots. She operated her first gallery at Nip ‘n Tuck Farm in West Tisbury for five years before going “urban.” But after years of dealing with the pressure of having to fill a very large space on her own, she says she was ready for a change.

“I wanted more freedom to focus on painting,” she explains. “And I desired a seasonal business as opposed to year-round. Main Street gave me great exposure, but I was running myself into the ground, and my work was beginning to suffer because of the constant pressure of needing the walls to make money.”

She traded the pedestrian traffic of an in-town location for the pastoral serenity of a new destination gallery at 24 South Road in Chilmark, former home of the late Stan Murphy Gallery. And, although she lacks the space to work on her paintings in the two small (11′ x 20′) buildings, she says the move has been a good one. “I was scared at first,” she admits. “It was kind of risky, but I’ve never let that stop me before. Luckily, I have a good following, and all my people came and found me this summer.”

Michael Hunter, now in his 17th year as a gallery owner on the Island, operated PIKNIK Art & Apparel at 99 Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs as his primary location until just over two years ago. But after two winters with PIKNIK pop-up stores in Boston, he realized that Edgartown might be a better fit for his eclectic, contemporary art and sophisticated clothing and accessories collection.

“I was blown away by people I saw in Boston who owned property in Edgartown and never heard of PIKNIK or the Arts District in Oak Bluffs,” he says, still sounding somewhat apologetic (although not in the least remorseful) about his decision to relocate. “Then Oak Bluffs barricaded my building away from other galleries, while I was in Boston.” He is referring to the town’s decision in November 2011 to make Dukes County Avenue one-way from Wing Avenue to Masonic Avenue in the Arts District as part of a two-year experiment, causing confusion in the traffic patterns surrounding Mr. Hunter’s popular location.

The following spring, Mr. Hunter was strolling in Edgartown, casually noting possible sites for a new PIKNIK, when he ran into a friend who is a real estate broker. “He nodded his head to the left,” Mr. Hunter said, pointing out a space that had come on the market the day before. Without hesitation, the always adventurous gallery owner made plans to close his Oak Bluffs location and move to downtown Edgartown, opening at 11 Winter Street, adjacent to Nevin Square, in early May 2012.

“I’m no longer a destination gallery,” he says. Quite the opposite, he is directly in the path of thousands of tourists who stroll the streets of Edgartown, coming by cruise ship and bus from around the globe. “I experienced 60 percent new business in my first year,” Mr. Hunter says. “It was like a brand-new enterprise.” Now, after his second complete season in his new location, he pronounces the outcome of his move “beyond my expectations.” And, while the customers who loved his Oak Bluffs setting “whined and complained” about the move, according to Mr. Hunter, he still sees them every week. “I got them hooked on the Black Sheep Fromage and Charcuterie, a neighboring artisanal cheese, meat, and chocolate shop, and now they won’t stay away.”

Both the A Gallery and North Water Gallery found themselves in “have to move” situations. Tanya Augoustinos, A Gallery owner, had opened at 412 State Road in Vineyard Haven in early July 2012, and operated her 4,000-square-foot space housing contemporary art, much of it large-scale, until the end of October. She learned that the owner had other plans for the building and, if she wanted to continue to show the type of work she enjoys most, she would have to find other space.

“I wasn’t sure I’d do it again,” Ms. Augoustinos says. “But I felt a desire to continue what I started, not to disappear.” Because of the scale of the work she represents, including some by Island painter Rez Williams, she did not find a plethora of choices. But a visit to the former Nye Gallery at 8 Uncas Avenue, just off Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, convinced her that she’d landed a viable spot.

“I like the fact that it’s on the edge of town and you can get in and out easily,” she explains. “And it feels like a semi-industrial area. There aren’t many places like that on the Island, and it feels like something is about to happen here.”

Because the space had been a gallery in the recent past, Ms. Augoustinos said she was fortunate that the lighting was in place and she had little work to do. “We repaired the surfaces of the walls, filled in the gaps between the wood boards, and painted them dark charcoal.”

While traffic was down by about 50 percent this season, partly due to a late launch at the end of July, she says she is optimistic it will build. “We’re more of a destination gallery now, but we’re collaborating in Arts District activities, including the Art Stroll. I see a constant flow of new faces, and between my own marketing and good coverage in the newspapers, many of my former customers found me as well.”

Ms. Augoustinos is comfortable being off the grid: in the past, she ran a small gallery behind the Scottish Bakehouse that she called “a hole in the woods.” Now, with a commitment through next season to stay on what she hopes is an emerging Uncas Avenue, she says, “in Vineyard Haven, the space inspired me to find artists. This time, the artists inspired me to find a new space.”

Perhaps the easiest move of all was accomplished by North Water Gallery. Gallery director Robin Nagle explains that the building owner notified the long-established gallery at 27 North Water Street in downtown Edgartown, that the two-level space would no longer be available for the 2013 season. As luck would have it, however, a one-level storefront three doors down would be. The new address, 27 North Water Street, the same as the old, is located in the same building.

“It’s a smaller, more manageable space,” Ms. Nagle says. Now in her third year as director, she is excited to have a space that, as she puts it, “became my own.” Because of the proximity of the new gallery to the old, Ms. Nagle says that they didn’t have to do much marketing. “Returning customers found us after we re-opened at the end of April,” she explains. “And we tried to maintain continuity with wood floors, a desk in the front, and works by familiar artists hanging in similar places.”

Because the new North Water is 60 percent smaller than the former, Ms. Nagle says it gave the gallery an opportunity to make some changes in the artist roster that needed to be made. “We had to make a few cuts,” she says, “but it all worked out well.”

She rues the reduction in storage space, but she is thoroughly positive about the outcome of the move. “Our numbers are up from last year, and the season went better than we ever expected,” she said.

While all four galleries happened to downsize as they moved, none reported scaling back as an intention. And, despite the inconvenience of packing up art, sprucing up new spaces and getting the word out to their patrons, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Hunter, Ms. Augoustinos, and Ms. Nagle all sound upbeat about the year ahead.

“I don’t mind reinventing myself every five years or so,” Ms. Taylor concludes. “What felt like a big risk at the time has turned out to be a great success in the end.”