Should You Consider Joining a Co-Op Art Gallery?

The 7th in our art business series with artist and art business expert, Crista Cloutier, who has been coaching other artists around the world on all aspects of their business via her program: The Working Artist.

The Working Artist

An artist’s life is a balancing act.  

Managing finances for the art studio, honing one’s artistic skills, finding the right platform to showcase works of art, thinking of social promotion, and investing time within your local art community are challenging for every artist. Participation in art fairs is also a promotional strategy that needs equal focus.  

Does a working artist really have the time and expertise to take on all these roles? Especially when, in the background, lurks the fear that the money you invest may never come back in sales. 

The truth is that artists often struggle in times of economic crisis. There isn’t a safety net for most of us. Financial support and economic backing are constant pressure points affecting our dedication and creativity. Even emergency grants and mutual aid are just short-term solutions.  

However, when artists share their resources in what we call a ‘cooperative movement’ you may find protection and support for your work. Here’s some information about how a co-op art gallery may benefit you, as opposed to pay-for-display or vanity galleries.

Traditional Art Galleries vs Cooperative Art Galleries

Stepping into the world of contemporary art may create a mixed bag of emotions. You love to create art but putting up your art for sale requires a business mind. There are two channels I want to discuss for reaching out to art consumers and collectors–art galleries for artists and cooperative art galleries. 

A traditional fine-art gallery has an established clientele. Its pre-planned marketing and promotional efforts bring credibility to your work and reputation. The gallery’s status can elevate and endorse an artists’ work. It’s a powerful way to build your name within the art community.  

But as an artist, you may not have complete control over the display of your work in the gallery exhibition. Your success may entirely depend on the gallery’s overall marketing plan and the commissions the gallery has set. It’s common for the art gallery’s commission to be between 40% to 50% of the sale price of your artwork – sometimes more. Be prepared to bear the downside of non-negotiable pricing while selling your art in traditional art galleries.  

Co-Op Art Gallery

A co-op art gallery or an art cooperative is a group of artists working together. They make joint decisions as a shared collective. A co-op gallery’s ownership and decision-making are far more democratic than that of an art gallery. In an artist cooperative, you will have a better say on various details, whether art making, sales, or advertising. You can also keep more of your work’s sale price.  

Working in a co-op art gallery stipulates each artist to devote fixed hours working in the gallery. In exchange, the percentage sharing of the ultimate price of your work gets reduced. Each art co-op has its shared responsibilities, work hours, and commissions. 

These shared managerial skills are the beauty of a co-op art gallery. The co-op members discuss and agree upon every aspect of the group–from gathering office supplies, making work schedules, art display space allocation, marketing, even housekeeping. There is no top-down approach in a co-op art gallery, but hands-on sharing with more interaction and cooperation. A co-op art gallery almost redefines how to be an artist. 

Benefits Of Working In A Co-op Art Gallery

Most major cities have cooperative art galleries. Here is how a co-op gallery delivers: 

  • Becoming a member-artist in a co-op gallery can be a good way for new and upcoming artists to get exposure from the arts community and from the media. A co-op gallery works on community membership principles, not profit alone. So, young budding artists who do not have the experience and skillset to market their art can join a co-op gallery to hone their craft and grow their reputation, unlike a commercial gallery that may not accommodate your shortcomings.
  • Working in a co-op gallery helps you learn about costs and logistics. You share the revenues with fellow co-op members. This type of experience will also help you make your mark in your profession as you will learn to understand the taste and expectations of local art buyers. 
  • There is a sense of community within a co-op gallery. You will collaborate with other artists and exchange thoughts on topics such as participation in upcoming art fairs.  
  • Getting associated with well-established co-op galleries will help you polish your art selling skills. You’ll learn the fundamentals of the art business. 

During challenges such as the recent pandemic, artists’ resources are often stretched. Emergency grants are limited, and government funding policies may not be enough. Building an arts ecosystem through a co-op gallery can bring artists, curators, art galleries, and freelancers to a level playing field and even help build collective power to improve the working conditions of artists.

Challenges Ahead

The co-op art galleries provide a broad canvas to promote a range of artists. But one cannot rule out the visible gaps in work culture and sales, as a co-op art gallery will most likely have seasoned both artists and newbies. Add to that, the co-op gallery’s demand for volunteering may eat up on your art studio time. 

Because of the sales staff rotation at co-operative art galleries, prospective buyers may not get consistent service and follow-up to generate strong sales. Artists’ egos get hurt and there may be personality conflicts.

Final Thoughts on Cooperative Art Galleries

Though these challenges exist, I believe that joining a co-operative art gallery can be a powerful experience for any artist. But you must be a team player, and a generous one at that, in order to reap the rewards.


Crista Cloutier

Guest Author: Crista Cloutier

Crista Cloutier has been actively involved in the contemporary art world throughout her career. Having worked as an international art dealer, curator, and gallerist, Crista is now the founder of The Working Artist, an online business school for visual artists. 

Honored as an “Influencer in the Contemporary Art World” by LinkedIn, Crista’s work has helped artists in over 80 different countries to exhibit and sell more art.


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