The Business of Art

F. Lennox Campello

The Business of Art

Since we hunkered down in reaction to the Covidian Age, the spectacular crash of the worldwide economy has had a well-documented impact on business.

Art, as a commodity is a business, and the business end of art has suffered tremendously as a result of the draconian ruleset imposed on most countries by alarmed governments.  Independently owned commercial art galleries, most of which are operated on a very tight budget, are probably going to suffer a 80-90% no return rate in the first couple of years of post-Covidism, if such a thing happens.

Adrift by Anne Marchand

Most medical models (so far) have been egregiously wrong in nearly every pandemic prediction made – this is, in my opinion, the result of lack of valid empirical data, and an all-human need to protect the herd.  Take these models, and mix them up with some ECON 101 basics, and the future of the art business as an independently-owned art gallery looks grim – for the immediate future.

Once we fully return to pre-COVID lifestyles – if such a return happens – then, like a flower sprouting from a crack in hard cement, galleries will return.  But until then, we may be facing a “dark age” of art – at least in the physical, tangible form which has been the standard for the art world.

Art on the web will continue to flourish, but in spite of what you may read, the commerce of art on the internet, based on empirical data and not on hyperbole, seems to touch only the endpoints of the economic scale: (1) the inexpensive bottom reaches of the artmosphere (that’s my invented word, not a typo), and the rarified upper crust of the same artmosphere: the blue chip artists, the big auction houses, etc.

There will always be a demand for Picassos at one end, and always gullible people buying “original” Frida Kahlos and Andy Warhols on Ebay for a handful of bucks at the other end.

But I suspect that the vast middle class of the art world will remain “stuck” on neutral until venues such as art galleries, worldwide art fairs, and the true battleground front lines of the art world: outdoor art festivals… return to “normal.”

For the vast majority of artists, the commoditization of art has always been – at best – an edgy precipice, and that precipice is now, and will remain for a while, even deeper and more slippery.

What can artists do?

The Memory Keeper by Elissa Farrow

First and foremost, in spite of my grim predictions, artists MUST remain online and have a solid presence on the web and an even more solid digital footprint.  As you create art, that art must exist in various forms – on social media, on blogs, on your website, etc. Every piece of artwork created must have multiple footprints on the web.

Second: The most expensive thing in the world is information. Artists need to hook up and be connected to as many sources of art-related information as possible. Artists need to be aware of opportunities, calls for art, requests for proposals (for both public and private proposals), online exhibitions, etc. It is not hard to have a constant flow of information – in fact it sometimes becomes overwhelming – and from personal experience, I can testify that on any given day there are more than a few dozen opportunities in the US alone – and these days most of them are online-driven.

If anything – this model will increase! The federal, state, county and local 1% for the arts laws will increase (some already have), city art acquisition (such as the District’s “Art Bank” annual call for art) will expand – in fact, I would not be surprised, regardless of who wins the Presidency this coming November, to see the next President rekindle a new WPA-style arts initiative to help the American artist.

The Art Bank Collection is the District of Columbia’s fine art collection. Acquired through an annual request for applications, Art Bank works are loaned to District Government agencies for display in public areas and offices of government buildings. The Art Bank has been a source of recognition and support for local DMV artists since 1986. It now includes nearly 3,000 artworks. Note that I say “DMV” and not “DC-only.”  The application deadline for this year’s call for artwork is Friday, August 7, at 4:00 pm – DO NOT leave it to the last minute, as it takes some preparation to be ready to submit (I’ve already done mine!).

In addition, we are already seeing cyclical art exhibitions, such as the Maryland Art Place’s (MAP) annual “Out of Order” exhibition, which has been going on annually for 23 years, and which in 2019 exhibited 289 artists and sold 133 works of art (I was one of them and also sold work), move to an online platform.

What Happens to a Dream Deferred- a homage to Langston Hughes by Tim Tate

In 2020 MAP will still be holding “Out of Order”, only this Covidian year it is all virtual! MAP will launch the auction and make it available to anyone on an electronic device for free! In previous years it cost money to acquire a ticket and bid for them artwork.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

“Over the last 4-5 years MAP’s Staff, Board and Program Committee has witnessed some pretty great outcomes in cultivating the patronage of art, and we have the numbers to support that.  We’ve gone from 205 participating artists and 56 sales in 2016 to 289 artists and 133 sales in 2019. Income generating opportunities for artists are so critical, especially right now. The arts sector is suffering. Now more than ever we need to consider how valuable the arts are in our lives, communities and general well-being”, notes Amy Cavanaugh, MAP’s Executive Director.

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