Blogger Night: Swarm Gallery

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On October 4th, the bloggers once again gathered together to learn about the arts, this time tackling downtown Oakland and Swarm Gallery.

Having recently posted about what I've learned from the arts and applied to business, it was if the tables had been turned, as the group of us pestered gallery owner, Svea Lin Vezzone, with our questions about how she runs her gallery. She was really honest with our group about how she came to found the studios and gallery, explaining that the hybrid of gallery and studio space was something she spent over a year vetting. Swarm's purpose is two-fold: providing studio space for artists (who each have their own "office") as well as a gallery to display works of other artists on a rotating basis.

In thinking about the intersection of art and business, here's some of the lessons we learned that day.

  • Shared expenses help everyone

Much like in the business world, when artists need space to create, but not rent an entire building on their own, it makes sense to rent space where shared resources (e.g. power, coffee, bathroom access, high rent) can me shared by many, making the total cost less.

  • Working in isolation works for some, but others like to have interaction

At work, there are some people called "individual contributors" – these are people who may not manage other people, but who create products, reports, plans, and execute on them without managing resources. Yet these folks still need to glean ideas from other people and be able to sell their ideas. Art is much the same way. While each artist had their own office, there's still a sense that other people may be facing similar challenges or successes. A chance for artists to interact offers the possibilities of cross-pollination and escape from isolation.

Most importantly,

  • Art suffers from sticky perceptions

Some brands out there suffer from poor perceptions even though they product a decent product. You may really be somewhat satisfied with your Honda, but it may not think it's the sexiest thing on the road. Or you may think that a restaurant provides a delicious meal, but you think it's too expensive to go back time and time again. A lot of our discussion with Svea revolved around the perception of those in the room that buying artwork is intimidating. It was a combination of the cost of art, fear of making the wrong decision, and not knowing what constituted "good art." Svea, and Jenny, our fearless leader, both stressed that for the last point, it doesn't matter. Do you like it? Would you like to see it in your home?

But ultimately, it means that galleries need to do more outreach to people, which is a marketing issue. Changing perceptions is also a marketing issue. This is larger than one gallery in and of itself, and also includes the pocketbook allocation analysis (that is, of all the places someone can spend money, do they make the choice between different pieces of artwork, or between a piece of artwork and say a new shirt or a new iPhone). In market research, we could design experimental tests to determine how people would spend their money.

I love that Swarm is trying to make art more accessible, by offering a great space (see photos here) and a young, informed owner who spends time really thinking about these issues and how to get more people thinking about art.

Many thanks again to Jenny for organizing.

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