I attended undergraduate school at SUNY Purchase in New York, and I used to spend summers on Block Island, working in restaurants. After I graduated, I went to Block Island for the summer and decided to stay for the winter and open a gallery the next summer. My girlfriend and I did it together. The first step I took was to find a retail space and determine the costs of running a gallery. I didn’t have the money, so I went to the bank for a loan. Then I sent out a letter to a mailing list I got from the local news- paper. In the letter, I told everyone what I wanted to do: open a gallery and show contemporary art in the summer and have openings every two weeks. I asked for donations in different categories from $10 to $100. I spent almost ten years running that gallery and also started a small magazine that was funded by local ads, which I secured myself.
Neither of those businesses made a lot of money, but it was enough to survive on, travel a bit, and I learned a lot about what it looks like from the gallery end. I saw many artists submitting their work along with their art statement. What I found was that I tended to only show people I knew and rarely anything from images I was receiving from artists. It was not that I didn’t want to show the work of artists I didn’t know, but it was easier to work with people I knew. That taught me a lot!
The images I was getting from artists looked very good at times, but usually the artist’s statement that came with it was awful. I would look at work I liked and, when I read the statement, often felt the opposite. The artist statement had a way of undermining some of the best work I saw. However, with friends and people that came by, it became personal right away. They would tell me about who they were and showed me their work, and if I liked them and their work, I would give them a show! What that experience taught me was that it is all very personal. As people, we respond to others who make us feel comfortable or happy or angry and uncomfortable. If I want to work with someone, it is not only because I think their work is good, it is because I like the person and feel that I can trust them and work with them easily. That was the key I never understood. It wasn’t about the art entirely, it was about a good working relationship.
Eventually, I left Block Island and closed the businesses, not because I didn’t enjoy it there, but because I wanted to go to New York and pursue the art world. You see, on a small island or probably any small community, there is a wonderful feeling that you know everyone in the town. However, I found that it was creatively constricting and claustrophobic. I was making art all the time and having a show a year in my own gallery, and I felt I wanted much more. I imagined that I would do some kind of performance in my gallery, but I quickly nixed that idea when I realized it would not be received well by this conservative New England community.
To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here. To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.