A co-op gallery can have several different models of operation, but is basically a group of artists who have come together to provide a venue where they can jointly display and sell artwork. Sometimes the group of artists share a space and most of the financial obligations, many of the financial hurdles facing individual artists can be overcome as a group.They can also be part of a formally organized community art group or art guild. Sometimes the artists workspaces are also their exhibition space, which helps to ensure that workspaces are organized enough to be able to show off and sell their wares when it is time for exhibits and events.
In most cases artists in co-ops pay membership fees that covers the space. Because a co-op gallery is usually self-organized, members in most cases not only supply artwork to the gallery, but work in the gallery on a regular basis. Member-artists will man the sales floor and handle the business operations of their art or wares and sometimes for the gallery and all the members that have work in the space. In terms of marketing, public relations and advertising, if the members of your artist co-op agree, purchasing a large advertisement in a local arts weekly or printing and distributing flyers announcing exhibitions and events becomes less costly for each individual artist, though all artists will share in the potential benefits.
It is always great to be in a community of artists, people that understand your struggles and the dynamics of making your art your business. Being in a co-op also is a way to expand your network, both personally and professionally. Working around and sharing responsibilities with other artists means you'll be introduced to different styles, opinions and points-of-view on a regular basis. You will be able to provide each other with insightful feedback, constructive criticism and helpful suggestions on your own work.
Clients or potential buyers also offer a way for a networking opportunity. When events and tours in the space happen the followers of the other artists will have an opportunity to see your contribution, expanding your own circle of potential buyers. Think about those events where artists' customers, friends and family are invited to meet the other artists in the cooperative. These can be scheduled on a regular basis and it doesn't always need to be a huge, formal event, you can have small intimate events.
Having a co-op can also give artist's who want to give something back to their community, and nurture upcoming artists in their area. Being in an artists co-op can make education a part of the mission and can increase awareness and revenues at the same time. Being a part of an artists co-op helps with things like hosting a workshop or providing a class, offering and promoting educational opportunities within their community. Because the responsibilities of setting up, promoting, managing, staffing and supporting the outreach activities are shared, and all the work, benefits a whole.
Before getting into an artist co-op make sure everyone is aware of how much time and work will be involved. Lots Of Time and Lots of Work!
To have a successful artist cooperative many people have to assume responsibilities within the organization, instead of one individual artist making each decision and performing each task. The time involved will be from the beginning, when you will have to select and recruit members to getting finances and other details set up to the shared responsibilities of manning the gallery while it's open. All artists involved will often have to play the role of gallery owner, janitor and envelope stuffer, all in the same day.
In order for the cooperative to run smoothly, each member needs to make sure they don't drop the ball, because it will effect all that are involved. If you say you are going to do something, make sure you are able to commit and follow through. You may want to set it up so that artists can trade schedules and tasks amongst themselves so all bases are covered when there are changes.
Remember to be patient and pay your dues. Money will not come pouring in just because you make the decision to work together, in the start the money will come from each individual artist who has joined. Be patient because in the begining it can be frustrating when your $50 or $100 a month can seem like too much if your work isn't selling or you haven't been happy with each decision the cooperative has made.
Artists who join a cooperative must agree that dues should be paid by members for a minimum amount of time in order to allow the cooperative to forecast finances and plan accordingly. Calculating dues can be done by dividing the total monthly budget amount by the number of members you want your cooperative to have, you may want to think about having an 'emergency fund' in your monthly budget amount.
Along with the shared responsibilities come shared choices since artist's cooperatives represent several artists. The artists must be able to come to an agreement on decisions regarding everything from which space to rent to which color scheme to paint the interior and even things as small as picking the font to use on the marketing information. Remember to be flexible, because getting used to having to refer to others before making a decision can be difficult at first, even or especially among the best of friends.
Some Basic Steps on Starting an Art Cooperative
Select a core group that consists of people that are excited and willing to do the work to get the art cooperative going. Recruit other artists for membership. Look in places such as schools, pottery shops and galleries.
Work together to create a mission statement. A mission statement to put what the cooperative is about on paper, have a few concise sentences.
Develop a contract for each member to sign that defines fees, responsibilities and rights between the cooperative and the member. Include termination steps for both parties and how to solve disputes, such as through an arbiter.
Include activities the cooperative will offer to members and then assign people to oversee the planning of the activities. Activities examples include newsletters, workshops, website, sales and planning meetings.
Assign a person as the treasurer. This person should be comfortable with spreadsheets and working out budgets.
Locate a site where you will be a size that fits workspace, exhibition and events. It will also be a space where you can hold meetings and workshops.
Look for inexpensive equipment and supplies from local art studios and sales online.
Determine the membership fees that will cover workshops and other overhead fees. The larger the membership, the more the cooperative will be able to do.
Raise money by organizing a fundraising event or arrange for joint art shows with local galleries. Schedule shows around holidays and themes to create traffic.