Galleries : Gallery owners talk money
It is agreed: these are challenging times. Even businesses providing essential goods and services - home maintenance, groceries, health clubs - are affected by a declining economy. It would follow that artists and gallery owners would be in even greater stress about their business outlook. But in true creative mindset, Rick Willoughby of Edgartown's Willoughby Gallery on North Water Street in Egartown and Joan Merry of Gossamer Gallery on South Road in Chilmark seem instead to be cautiously optimistic and generally indefatigable.
"It's all uncharted turf," says Mr. Willoughby, who runs the gallery with his wife, Marge, and daughter, Sherry. "Actually anyone who's been in this business for any length of time - and we're in our 16th year - knows the decline began long before the economic collapse of last year. We don't know what to expect as far as the attitude of the consumer goes, but I can tell you that business today is not what it was six years ago."
Mr. Willoughby describes how the scene outside his gallery used to be: "...crammed at 11 o'clock at night with fathers, sons and daughters eating ice cream, while the wives shopped up and down on Water Street. It used to be we'd get out of here at 1 o'clock in the morning."
Mr. Willoughby admits, "This is somewhat scary, but if you look at it from the standpoint of 10 percent unemployment, it means 90 percent of the people are still working. What that means is the galleries are going to have to go after more market share in a smaller market. When the market was bull and everyone was busy, you could have a very small market share overall and still do quite well. Now you have to figure out ways to get a bigger slice."
According to Mr. Willoughby, the solution doesn't include lowering prices on established artwork. "It's the kiss of death when galleries regress in their prices," he says. "What does that say about everyone who purchased paintings previously at a price that was in line with what that artist's work typically sells for?
"What I advise artists to do is to paint less ambitious work," Mr. Willoughby says, "limited edition prints, monoprints, small watercolors, etchings, sketches - art people can afford.
"So the direction we're likely to go in as a gallery is not to sacrifice quality, but instead of a 30 by 40 inch landscape, how about something smaller that more people can afford at this time. We're not lowering our prices, we're not sacrificing quality, we're just offering something within a price range that reflects the condition of the economy at this time. That's just my opinion."