How do you get people excited about the visual arts and, even better, get them to open their checkbooks and support the Atlanta art economy by buying a painting or sculpture?
One Atlanta gallery director thinks she may have the answer. Making its debut this October, Atlanta Gallery Week is meant to inspire that kind of engagement with the city’s gallery scene and encourage collecting. The event runs Oct. 1-6, and was created by Robin Bernat, an artist and director of westside gallery Poem 88.
The event originated when “several galleries, including Poem 88, felt that the importance of the commercial galleries was being overlooked and perhaps we should meet to discuss ways to improve our visibility,” Bernat said.
Atlanta Gallery Week features art spaces ranging from the scrappy, tiny Poncey Highland storefront Beep Beep Gallery, which focuses on emerging artists, to Buckhead stalwart Alan Avery Art Co., known for exhibiting blue-chip artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Nevelson.
During the week the 17 participating galleries will feature traditional openings — with gallery director tours, refreshments and hushed conversation — but also more inventive, performance-based experiences, including spontaneous drawings done by artists at Castleberry’s Marcia Wood Gallery Oct. 1. The week of gallery offerings culminates Oct. 5 with Flux Night, a public art event held since 2010 in Castleberry Hill that’s known for attracting large, diverse crowds.
Bernat and Alan Avery, owner of Alan Avery Art Co., said that without a real arts district like New York’s Chelsea or the Dallas Arts District, the impetus has been for galleries spread from the westside to Buckhead to find a way to address a common cause: getting bodies — especially collectors — through the door.
With Atlanta’s great geographical divide in art venues, it helps “any time there is an opportunity for the galleries and organizations to work together, cross-advertise and cross-populate our audiences,” Avery said. “I think that this makes our visual arts scene more vibrant. Working together helps to educate the collecting public on just how strong and diverse the offerings really are in our great city.”
Bernat said a rash of gallery closings over the past few years — from newer galleries like Emily Amy and Twin Kittens — to more established spaces such as Saltworks, Kiang and Solomon Projects — has made it even more important to band together to bolster the commercial art scene.
Atlanta’s commercial galleries also have struggled with being overshadowed by the city’s growing number of temporary art events, which can draw big crowds of spectators but don’t emphasize collecting or necessarily pay long-term economic dividends. From the temporary exhibition Art on the BeltLine to the summertime street art festival Living Walls and Flux Night — which last year drew an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 people — those events tend to focus on experience and spectacle.
“There was something of a feeling that … we needed to find a mechanism for capturing some of that enthusiasm and great attendance to support locally owned galleries and a wider body of local artists,” Bernat said. “We are hoping to ride on the coattails, so to speak, of the enthusiasm around Flux Night.”
While those temporary event-based art experiences often can capture buzz and attendance, keeping and holding the interest of audiences can be a bigger challenge for Atlanta galleries.
“Many Atlantans who do manage to attend a number of the citywide arts events are completely unfamiliar with the number of galleries and the diversity of work in each of the galleries,” Bernat said.
Sometimes, she said, the challenge is just educating visitors about what exactly a gallery is. “I know I am not alone when I tell you how many times someone comes into Poem 88 and asks ‘What is this place?’ or they ask if they need to pay admission to come in. Many, many people are not familiar with art galleries at all.”
Bernet said the hope is that Atlanta Gallery Week will become an annual event, scheduled around Flux Night, “to attract “collectors, out-of-town collectors, curators and art enthusiasts.”
Atlanta Gallery Week
October 1-6. Free. atlantagalleryweek.com