How Galleries Can Stay Engaged During Times of Adversity

· Gallery Resources

Every single person on this planet is interconnected. As global citizens, we hold a certain responsibility to take care of our fellow neighbors. This extends beyond personal life and into places of business. This of course brings a question to mind: where does your gallery fall in line

As the world continues to become increasingly more and more connected via online platforms, situations and conflicts that once felt impalpable or foreign, hit closer to home. Technology has opened the eyes of so many strangers, presenting harsh realities that cannot go un-missed or un-seen. The art world can no longer ignore moments of adversity. Not only because it isn’t the right thing to do, but because it will impact gallery sales.

Rising company pressure

Here to Travel, 2019

Companies are met with rising pressure to address ongoing international crises. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 54% of employees, internationally, believe that heads of companies should make formal, public announcements to address political and social movements. This extends beyond the business’ infrastructure and to the clients themselves. On a similar note, 53% of consumers believe that brands, or businesses in general, hold a certain responsibility to address social crises that do not necessarily align with the sector or purpose of the company, itself. 

Although it might be difficult for gallery owners or executives to make announcements regarding every single local or global hardship, it is important to put in the effort. For your gallery, it is possible that certain issues impact your company more than others. Perhaps there are moments that seem like clear opportunities to extend support or stand in solidarity. Just as there are potentially other moments that are less clear. If you are pacing back and forth, waiting to decide your gallery’s approach, begin to reflect beyond the walls of your creative space and ask yourself a few questions: How should you deliver a response? Who should be the one to say it? Where should it be published? Is this going to impact change? Are you being authentic? Or is it best to leave things unsaid?

Consumers are belief-driven

Modern-day consumers, including professional art buyers and collectors, are motivated by a moral compass. Their beliefs influence their day-to-day decisions, ultimately impacting their purchases. This is to say, that in contrast to consumers of the past, people are no longer entirely focused on lesser-expensive prices and convenience. Patrons of the arts as well as enthusiasts want to see that galleries and institutions are a part of international progress and only in the creative community for a net benefit. They want to see that art galleries and other artistic companies are personal, or human, with a moral compass that reflects their values

As expressed in the 2018 Edelman study, many consumers believe that companies and brands must contribute in order to solve societal problems, beyond government aid. This is reflected especially amongst younger generations. In Deloitte's 2019 Millennial Survey, “in France, 40% of [Generation] Y consumers and 36% of [Generation] Z consumers have started or deepened a relationship with a company whose products have a positive impact on the environment or society." As seen by these statistics, it is clear that consumers are driven by their values, ultimately impacting their purchases and art investments.  

The Edelman study also addresses that consumers are heavily affected by value-based communication. It is understood that product-based strategies are also effective but value-based messages have a greater potential to impact a consumer’s desire to advocate for your gallery, company, or brand. Galleries should not engage in public announcements on serious issues simply in order to see a rise in sales. However, it is important to note that a majority of consumers think it is essential that all sectors stand in solidarity with important movements and serious crises.

How galleries can approach moments of adversity

Eri Pançi, 2019

You have decided that your gallery is going to make an announcement in solidarity with an ongoing social or political movement, or perhaps, an international crisis. What are the next steps? There are three important questions to ask yourself in order to begin an honest dialogue. 

  1. Is this issue important to you and your employees? 
  2. Can you speak about the issue in a meaningful and authentic manner?
  3. Can you advocate for change or make a positive impact? 

If your answer to each question is yes, then you should take time to prepare a transparent and authentic statement on the issue. If you were unable to answer the first two questions with a yes, then perhaps, step back from the conversation and read more about the ongoing situation. Learn from others who are well-informed about the topic and reflect on why you answered no in the first place. It is better to say nothing than to say something that is disingenuous

Examples of galleries and art companies taking the initiative 

1. Over the last decade, there has been an increasing interest in the evolving crisis regarding climate change. This, of course, has impacted the organization and nature of various companies throughout the art world, including art galleries. Some galleries have put in an effort to limit the use of paper and other unnecessary materials, to prevent waste. Some have curated exhibits focusing on ecological artworks and recycled materials. Others have made the climate an integral part of their company values. Our partner gallery, Little Bird Place, has placed ecology, sustainability, and climate change at the forefront of its mission. Because of this, all of the artists represented in its catalogue share a similar passion. Even if your gallery is not entirely dedicated to the environment, it is possible to begin initiatives that will positively impact the planet and inspire your clients, as well.  

2. As the term “Black Lives Matter” ricocheted throughout the United States and across the planet, companies internationally came forward to address the growing movement, standing up against racial inequality and prejudice. Art institutions, companies, and galleries altered their communications strategies and even events to stand in solidarity with the movement. For example, various institutions, organized exhibitions dedicated to the subject matter. Such as Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at the Brooklyn Museum in 2019. Beyond this, public statements were seen all over the internet. Our partner gallery, Playground Detroit, a gallery and art agency dedicated to the creative voice of Detroit, published a moving statement in solidarity with the movement. This is a meaningful example of an authentic and heartfelt announcement that not only speaks to clients but will have a positive impact on the local community.

An excerpt from Playground Detroit's statement, 2020

3. With increasing technology, the art world has become more and more digital. Before Covid-19, institutions and galleries began initiatives to expand their digital presence. Our partner gallery, Gazelli Art House, is dedicated to virtual reality and digital art. In 2015, the gallery launched, a digital residency, allowing virtual artists to integrate their work into physical spaces. Beyond our partner gallery, there has been a growing interest in digital accessibility in the art world. This is the first-hand impact of Covid-19, a time in which the cultural sector completely shut down, encouraging all facets of the community to begin or strengthen their online presence

4. The boom of online art sales platforms and virtual exhibitions has made it easier for the uninitiated public to purchase art. Not to mention, the growing demand from buyers for greater affordability and fiscal transparency in the art landscape. At Artsper, accessibility is one of our core values. We believe that art can be enjoyed by all, but also that everyone should have the opportunity to purchase it. In practice, this translates into a pedagogical discourse in our communication, free support by a team of art experts for all our clients, and a large choice on our site, with accessible works starting at 50€.

The Artsper platform, 170,000 works of art starting at €50

A commitment that is built gradually

Galleries must understand that expectations for art businesses are evolving. Even if you have yet to speak about a difficult topic, it is quite likely that you will need to in the future. It is important to make this decision with care and in a collaborative setting. Have a gallery-wide meeting, reach out to investors, donors, collectors, or friends. Read, do your research on the conversation. Do not make a decision or an announcement pre-maturely. Answer the previously listed questions with candor. Reflect and think about the potential, positive impact an announcement of this caliber can have on your community and the international landscape at large. At the end of the day, the most important element of the equation is to remain authentic while attempting to enact positive change

Mihai Surdu, 2021

As you move forward, it is important to recognize changing times, especially in regard to gallery operations and online communication strategies. If you are in need of some inspiration, look at other galleries or artistic institutions. There are plenty of wonderful initiatives being taken throughout the art landscape created in moments of adversity, in solidarity with those affected. If you haven’t already begun, are you ready to be a part of the progress?


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