How to Start an Art Gallery Business

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Woman in art gallery look at pieces of art.
Woman in art gallery look at pieces of art. (Image: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

To start an art gallery, you need a good understanding and appreciation of art together with the ability to manage and market a business. You’ll have to establish relations with artists and members of the community interested in art to build your collection and grow sales.

Locate the Business

If you are a working artist, you may want to combine your studio with a gallery, using the gallery to show your own work as well as the work of other artists. A location close to other cultural businesses like arts and crafts outlets, theaters or museums could prove an ideal venue. You also may find an opportunity to take over an existing art gallery that requires only small interior changes, rather than a major conversion.

Choose a Niche

You may be interested in a wide range of art or you may have a specialist interest in a period of art history, a particular school of artists or a medium such as sculpture, ceramics or oil paintings. Successful gallery owners demonstrate a consistent vision in their choice of artists and the work they display. By developing expertise in a particular area of art, you can offer a level of advice, information and guidance to visitors that builds their confidence and encourages them to buy.

Build a Collection

To build a collection that will attract visitors, develop relationships with artists who reflect your gallery profile. You may find examples of their work in other galleries or online. Some artists, particularly established or popular artists, may demand some payment up front before providing you with artworks. Others may offer the work on consignment, taking payment when work is sold. In addition to your main exhibits, you may also wish to sell prints or books on art, or offer a framing service to build additional revenue.

Market the Gallery

An opening event can help you attract visitors to the gallery and provide an initial list of contacts. Publicize the event by sending a press release to the arts correspondents of local newspapers and radio stations and contact the art departments of schools and colleges, as well as local art clubs and adult education groups. Ask visitors for contact details so you can email details of future events or additions to your collection. When you have established a contact list, invite art critics, correspondents and serious art buyers to private viewings so you can develop ongoing relationships and build the reputation of your gallery.

Manage the Business

To register your business, obtain essential business permits by completing state or local business license forms. You must also obtain a sales tax license to cover sales of artwork. Make sure you take out insurance to cover public liability as well as your premises and your collection. Buying equipment, such as a credit card terminal or smartphone app, can help you take payments in a variety of ways. To manage your operations, buy gallery software to manage inventories, sales records, contact lists and financial information.

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