Art Galleries Outside Cities

Musings on regional galleries and advocating for the Arts and Artists outside of major cultural centres - the cities.

Cities provide a rich field to explore the Arts, and the visual arts in particular. They are the homes of State art museums, fancy and not-so-fancy commercial galleries and interesting arts co-operatives.

Regional artists exist throughout the country and are both diffuse and concentrated. They are no less talented or worthy of advocacy, in comparison to their city ‘cousins’. Some are also fortunate to be well-represented in cities.

Government-run regional galleries, aside, there are a plethora of endeavours run by individuals, couples or groups of people in regional areas that act to advocate for local artists and support local culture through the visual arts. Their support often extends to investing their own cash and much time to do this. It often relies on people of goodwill, including volunteers and a small cohort of local art-buyers to keep things going. For those with extended and hard-won networks, there are regular or sometimes-buyers from outside of the local region as well.

The variety of galleries in our own region of Northern Rivers is pretty startling. There are commercial galleries like us, who have a regular exhibition programme and specialise in local artists. There are craft and art galleries, community-run enterprises, arts collectives and galleries run by sole artists. We all do something a little different, but we are all not in it for the money! That’s for sure!!

But then, we do need to at least be able to financially secure for what we do for local arts - eventually.

No matter what model of art gallery is being executed, a business plan is a must. This may be an evolving document, but it should clearly articulate what you are doing and why. We dislike the nomenclature, but a “vision” or “mission” statement accompanied by a rationale is very helpful.

Some idea of local opportunities and constraints (the SWOT analysis) is also helpful. It begins to tease out what may distinguish the gallery - how it offers something different to “competitors”. We tend to think of this as how we contribute to diversity and maybe also quality, in certain genres of the visual arts.

From this comes an understanding of aims to achieve the “vision” or “mission” of the endeavour and what objectives there are to fulfil those aims, acknowledging issues raised in the SWOT. This starts expanding into day-to-day objectives like presentation, cleaning away cobwebs and dust (a challenge out here in The Channon) and the way people are greeted when they enter the gallery. There are the more global issues too, like workplace health and safety, insurances, artist selection criteria and providing provenance documentation for sold works that live beyond the gallery and acknowledge the artist’s extended life as a creative force and perhaps also as a commodity (icky term, but it DOES happen).

Every gallery needs some sort of criteria for selection of the artwork that they exhibit - even community or co-operative ones. It is important to reputation and the general assessment of quality of the arts of a region as well.

There are a host of strategies and actions that need to take place to realise objectives. Some are more obvious and some take a bit of knowledge, advice or trial and error. Marketing is an example of the latter examples, and it can include blogs, social media and advertising - and all sorts of permutations and combinations.

It all sounds huge, but really, it’s just sitting back and thinking things through a bit - and documenting it, no matter how rudimentary. It’s amazing how it can expand upon a few revisits, a little more thinking and perhaps the odd glass of wine!

No matter how we might all advocate for the arts via our galleries, we all need a sense of what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we actually will do it. It’s not all about being hard-nosed business people. We all want great things for our artists though, and the visual arts in these beautiful places outside of cities.

Networks are very important too, and we are very fortunate to have links and some very close ones with local government, commercial and community arts advocates and galleries. Some of our artists, too, proffer some pretty insightful advice for which we are truly grateful.

Regional galleries play a significant role both locally and nationally. They are an interface between the local and its cultural exponents and creators. They are also be a window on regional artistic endeavours, and hopefully excellence, to the world!

We are still working on this. Advice is welcome! Likewise, we are up for conversations and sharing of knowledge and experience with others.

There is so much that regional arts practice, individuals and endeavours, can offer this nation and beyond. Cities are great, but they are just a part of the whole - not the whole, itself! Just ask some of the buyers of our art who come from the city!