[The following was written as a Guest Blog by Donna Gordon, who owns the Gallery of the same name on the 600 block, and who is an accomplished bronze sculptress as well.]
How to be a #1 Arts Town (Why people don't buy art and how to fix it)
I opened my gallery a couple of years ago and am having fun running it. In truth, I jumped at a great recession-born opportunity for cheap rent in a great location from a reclamation project. I needed a studio for my sculpture work, and this was a great opportunity to have both a studio and a gallery. I am fortunate for the time being, in that the bleeding edge adopters on the 600 block were given long leases and low rents in exchange for doing our own build-out. Now we have a beautiful block where there was once blight. I have no regrets. We just did not expect the recession to last so long. Make no mistake, it continues here in Florida with a tiger claw grip.
The truth about our current visual art scene in the Tampa Bay region, recession or not, besides a magazine poll that tells us we're (St Pete) the #1 midsized arts town, is that we're a great Arts-Looking town. We are not a great art buying town. When a recent Creative Loafing Reader's Poll voted the Dali Museum as the number one gallery in town, there can be little doubt we have a perception/education problem.
A real and vibrant arts hub must have a healthy balance of museums, non-profit Arts spaces, thriving retail spaces, open studios, art fairs and for profit galleries. In other words, a a good mix of art viewing, education, instruction, and diverse means of buying art. Tampa Bay has the first two in spades. We have many fine arts buying venues and galleries (mine included), but not nearly enough. In order for those that are here to survive, for more galleries to open, and for the Tampa Bay region to become a legitimate arts destination, the third leg of the stool must be strong, and that means that people who live here as well as those who visit, must actually buy the art they love to view on our institutionalized monthly art walks.
The benefits of being a real arts destination are huge to the city at large and to small business owners regardless of artistic inclination. We love having the reputation of being an Arts Town, but I have heard people come into my gallery who are not from here say they thought there would be more galleries in town, more to look at, slong the lines of Charleston, Santa Fe, or Carmel. It's expected.
But there won't be more galleries until that business model is sustainable.
[End Part I, Part II to follow soon]