most galleries don’t make money; business of art


ames Tarmy digs into Magnus Resch’s startling look at the economics of running an art gallery. The result isn’t pretty. After reading the book, Tarmy says, “It turns out that the upbeat world of biennials and art fairs and parties is in fact a cutthroat, antiquated, deeply flawed industry hampered by an obsession with keeping up appearances and an often misguided aversion to making money.”

Here are some more of the startling things Tarmy discovered in Rensch’s book:

  • Fifty-five percent of the galleries in Resch’s survey stated that their revenue was less than $200,000 per year; 30 percent of the respondents actually lost money; and the average profit margin of galleries surveyed was just 6.5 percent.
  • In the U.S. and Germany, the physical cost of an exhibition space was listed as galleries’ greatest expense (in the U.K. it was second), and Resch writes that “the almost unanimous, and unquestioned, conviction that central premises in a major city are essential simply cannot be justified with an economic rationale.” In other words, collectors will go wherever the art is, and everyone else—the inevitable crowds at openings, the passersby who pop in to see whatever’s on view—has no bearing on the gallery’s bottom line.
  • Galleries generally split the sale of a work 50/50 with the artist. Resch argues that—given that galleries often have to cover marketing, production, shipping, and insurance costs—it should be closer to 70/30. Cue artist outrage.

Why Do So Many Art Galleries Lose Money? (Bloomberg Business)


Bill Higginson: Business Basics for Artists, Ferry Building Gallery, Sunday, Aug. 9 at 3 p.m. as part of the Harmony Arts Festival’s Artspeaks series. For more information visit

When it comes to artists looking to market their works, the online world is where it’s at. At least that’s what professional artist Bill Higginson says, who will be giving a talk on Business Basics for Artists at West Vancouver’s Harmony Arts Festival this weekend.

The Australian native moved to Vancouver over six years ago to further his artistic career. It was during that time however that Higginson found himself needing help on the business side of things, which led him to eventually co-create the website two years ago, a site which provides online showcases of both his own and other artist’s works available for sale. It’s a way of marketing he says that is becoming the future of the art world.

“Art is coming online and it doesn’t matter which way you look at it, it’s bound to happen,” says Higginson on one of the main points he will be raising during his two-hour talk.

“The galleries are fading to some degree and (artists) have to realize they have to start looking at themselves like they run a business. The basics are they have to get online, they have to send out newsletters, they have to do their social media and it comes down to there’s really no excuse for not doing it.”

Today’s shift to online everything was one of the reasons

was created in the first place as Higginson shifted his focus from artistic techniques to the sale of works themselves. He says he’s noticed a rising trend in recent years of more and more artist’s trying to make a go of the sale of their works independently.

“Even in the past 15 years I’ve already seen a huge change. A lot of independent artists are kind of taking the reigns of their own world and trying to make a go of it themselves,” he says, explaining the challenges of both being an artist and trying to run the business end of things.

“No doubt it is like running two businesses, you have to be a business person and an artist to do that yourself, which is two jobs essentially.”

There’s more to marketing online than simply slapping a work up and waiting for it to sell though, according to Higginson, who says independent artists need to take advantage of everything the web has to offer.

“It’s not about posting an artwork online and hoping that it’s going to sell, it’s about using the current network. .. and

pretty much tapping into that network via online resources, sort of using the online to better reach their customers.”

He says galleries too will need to market themselves online if they want to be part of the future.

“In a way they’re acting very much like artist’s too. They’re not coming online properly, they’re not doing their social media properly and that’s why a lot of them are going to go backwards.”

This year marks Higginson’s fifth year in a row speaking at the Harmony Arts Festival since moving from Australia’s Gold Coast. He says the art scene in the city and around the North Shore itself is one of the reasons he hasn’t returned home in over half a decade.

“The art community here is amazing I love it and always have and it’s probably the reason I haven’t been home in six and a half years, (that’s) kind of upsetting in a lot of ways but no I really do love it here. The North Shore art community is something else. It really is.”

Higginson’s talk on the Business Basics of Art takes place on Sunday, Aug. 9 in the Ferry Building Gallery tents, the last day of the Harmony Arts Festival this year.

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