Some Practical Advice for Gallery Operators in Riverwest

by Mark Lawson Many galleries have come and gone in Riverwest, each with a unique approach to the business. However, there are enough common threads that some practical advice emerges which any prospective gallery operator should consider before starting a new business. You are not going to make it on walk-in retail sales alone in Riverwest. Recently I spoke with Tory Folliard, co-president of the Milwaukee Arts Dealers Association about her experience in running her gallery in the Historic Third Ward. Even with this prime location, her gallery, as well as all of the other successful galleries in town, can’t survive solely by customers who walk in and buy art. Much of their business is done by knowing what their customers want and reaching them through phone calls, mailings, the internet, and art expositions such as Art Chicago. Have a realistic and effective marketing plan. Diversify your business; use the space for other things that keeps its dependence on retail to a minimum. If you can’t buy a building, investigate your potential landlord thoroughly. Ask tough questions; get everything in writing. Interview tenants who were there before you or who are in other parts of the building. Develop a good business plan. There are several organizations in the Milwaukee area that will give you free advice in putting something like this together. Be prepared to not make any money for quite a while. Most of the major galleries in town started out very modestly and grew over many years. Be professional in your business in your dealings with artists, customers, neighbors etc. Learn how to do press releases and other marketing activities. No one will come if they don’t know what you’re doing. Be persistent, it won’t be easy. No one should go into this business because they think it’ll be lucrative; you have to love what you’re doing, or you won’t last.
by Mark Lawson