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Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Gallery is No More

Its been a month since I came back from my summer vacation. The first one I took in five years.  I took it just after I closed my gallery in May, this year 2013. I started the gallery at the beginning of 2012 with two (ceramic) artists friends. We were always complaining about the lack of galleries on the island and I thought, hey, lets stop complaining and do something for ourselves. We could run a co-operative. So we did.

 The sales for the newly opened gallery were good at the beginning. I understood it takes time and a lot of work to build up a reputation but believed if we all work equally together, we could do it. Unfortunately in the first 3 months one artist pulled out, due to being unable to understand this concept.

We found another artist (painter) to share but she was about to have a baby and could not attend in the gallery often. Then as soon as we hit low season and the sales dropped, the other artist quit as well. I felt angry and disappointed. I had made an error in judgment about going into business with others. I had to find a third artist to share the space but the artists that applied only wanted me to be the gallery owner, who sells their work, while they create in their studios. I had an option to quit then and there but pure stubbornness wouldn't let me. I continued to pay 2/3rds of the rent and running of the gallery. I felt little support from other artists. Feedback from visitors was great. Our open nights were a disappointment with only 5 people turning up, we found little local support. Sometimes it seems that people like to see you fail because you are doing something they would like to but don't have enough passion to do..
(copyright held by artist)

 It was a struggle getting rent through the low season. There are times no one walks in all day or you can go weeks without a sale. Cash was in short supply, dinner was often sandwiches and I shelved medical treatment for a knee injury to keep the gallery open. I often sat all day and also in the evenings, till 9.30pm. When there were no sales, I had to find freelance sign work to pay the rent. I hated owing rent, I never had debts and I hated even being a week behind in rent.

I kept going because I don't like giving up and I felt many people assumed I was going to fold as soon as the other artists quit on me. I did not want to give anyone that satisfaction. The other artists then put work by the gallery of an influential, well established and extremely competitive local (painter) artist.  Some artists kept asking me to sell their work but I had no intention of playing gallery owner for others. Well meaning friends advised me to introduce other products, like clothes, jewelry and cheap crafts into the gallery and so effectively turn it into a store. I was dismayed that people around me just did not get it. I am an artist first. Apart from the overseas visitors, its often seems I am the only one who sees herself as that, so its a good thing I never do give up. Eventually of course, my work, mood and creativity started to decline. I tried to remedy this by doing my painting in the gallery but was constantly getting up and attending to potential buyers and worrying about the end of every month rent to pay. It just exhausted me. I thought if I could just make it to the season, it will be worth it.

Well, 2013 came with a disappointment, not just for me but for everyone. Tourism numbers were really down, and those that did come where afraid to spend because of the economy.  Many locals complained in the street fairs and markets. By the end of the season in April, and with another low season looming, I decided to call it quits, I was depressed. I had to find a new way forward but it was becoming clear it was not here and it was not like this. The feedback I got over the two years from the visitors to the gallery on my work, was very encouraging and greatly added to my confidence in the quality and honesty of my work. It helped to hold me up good, when the air of cold competiveness and indifference I felt often around me got me down and doubting myself. I pick up emotional energy in  a room very quickly and it can leave me anxious. Its just this way when you are a highly sensitive person, you absorb all things from people, the good and the not so good vibes. (Something, I am learning to protect myself from). My co partner artist, did not want me to close but as she could not put more support into the gallery to help, financially or in hours, I could not sustain my enthusiasm for it any longer, I had to tell her, I was sorry, I was tired.

I had a bunch of mixed feelings at closing. On one hand, I was no longer sleeplessly worrying at 2 in the night over rent due, it was a great relief, but then I also hate to quit things. I like to think I am not a quitter, I am a fighter, I soldier on . But I still felt like a loser. Why? I still had this voice in my head telling me I was useless, cant make nothing work. So I left the island and traveled hiking and climbing, biking in England, Germany, Italy and Mallorca. As I had never climbed before and had a fear of heights in adulthood, (though not in childhood), it was very wonderfully therapeutic for me to regain a sense of achievement.

It wasn't until I thought more deeply about it my gallery, I realized I was not giving up, Times were hard but at least I had shown some balls. I learnt that sometimes, the thing you try to avoid the most, is the best thing that can happen to you. I gave into and accepted change. I learnt some lessons, grown a bit more and arrived at a time, where I have more freedom to work on, transform and develop my art beyond a level I have never attempted before. I am depressed no more, I am excited about my artwork once again.