While most of us are accustomed to using the internet to purchase things, the pandemic has made shopping, ordering food and discovering new places online much more prevalent.
Many larger retail and restaurant businesses have managed to stay afloat through their online presence. However, local shops have struggled to stay open without the foot traffic they’re used to. One of the industries that’s been hit is art galleries. Arcadia News spoke to gallery employees in Scottsdale and Phoenix to see what they’ve been doing to keep the art scene relevant.
“It’s been an interesting year. Last year was the best year we’d had in the past five to seven years, so to go from that to the worst – it’s been a huge change,” said Max Smith of Art One Gallery. “We’re hanging in there like a lot of businesses in the area and doing what we can to stay busy and stay relevant. We just unveiled a brand new website and we are increasing our social media presence.”
Smith explained that while they’re open to the public and available for online appointments, it’s been tough.
“We’re such a month-to-month business that we couldn’t afford to close. We had to do what we had to do, taking the necessary precautions and all that – people weren’t walking around anyway,” Smith said.
Safety precautions at art galleries include employees wearing masks and asking that people wear a mask when they’re inside. They provide hand sanitizer, and some places offer gloves.
“We’ve had to change our hours because there wasn’t any foot traffic, and for our business, that’s crucial because art is visual. Seeing it in person is far different than seeing an image of the piece,” Smith said.
Paul Eubanks of the Paul Scott Gallery said that thankfully they haven’t had to change their business model too drastically since the shutdown.
“Paul Scott Gallery has always been strong at reaching out to a vetted mailing list built over nearly 30 years. These outreach efforts primarily involve various mailings and a little bit of emailing,” Eubanks said. “We are fortunate in that our existing clients often contact us proactively. Sales, so far, have been in line with past years and summer month sales.”
Eubanks said they are actively exploring several ways to engage patrons, ranging from targeted “unveilings” of new works, a new catalog, a more consultative relationship with key artists and online options.
Valerie Hildebrand, from On the Edge Gallery, said they received help from Jeff Handley of 360° Niche (a virtual reality/photography business) to create a virtual tour of the gallery in March after they closed. “We made that available on our website. It has been well received,” Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand said that their art sales have suffered. The gallery had just moved to a new location in February (7077 E. Main St., Suite 1, Scottsdale) and sales were up over the previous year – but that changed after the pandemic hit.
“We were very excited about the opportunities in our new location. It’s been a little difficult losing that excitement and momentum, but we’re currently preparing for the beginning of our ninth season, which begins September 1,” Hildebrand said. “We have some very talented new artists joining us and many of our artists who are returning for another season are doing some very exciting new work.”
The Shemer Art Center debuted a mobile app in March, which made it easy for students to stay connected from their phones. They also created an arts activities book for families and started converting all of their art classes to virtual platforms.
“From there, our classes started growing and we are now in our fifth month of virtual classes,” President Shonna James said. “We have also converted our last four exhibitions to virtual, and we are currently in the process of uploading our latest exhibition, Inside Perspectives, which opened August 4.”
At Art One Gallery, they’ve started The Art One Show, an in-depth online interview with an employee at the gallery and one of their many artists.
“It’s been cool, and we’re learning things that even we didn’t necessarily know about our artists,” Smith said. “It’s been cool to talk with them and understand their perspective and influences and how they found out about the gallery. It’s been really fun.”
Smith said they are planning to change up the format for their second season. They’re going to go even more in-depth and check out the artists’ studios and see their process.
“The whole point is to keep attention on our artists’ and the gallery and cross-promote both. What’s been awesome is a lot of the videos have generated sales,” Smith said. “It’s been nice to have the online option, and it has kind of saved us because people are definitely on their phones – they’re just not leaving the house as much.”
This year, Art One is holding a fundraiser to raise money for personal protective equipment for students when they return to school. Masks, shields and cleaning supplies will be donated to schools around the Valley.
“We want to spread the message of local art and the importance of supporting up-and-coming artists because that is what I think will bring a lot of joy to people in this dark time. Staying positive and doing whatever we can to stay relevant is the best thing that anyone can do,” Smith said.