‘Are they really out there?’
I was asked on Twitter by a gallerist recently.
It’s an existential question in the art market today. (At least in the primary market where galleries and artists live).
If no, the end of the art world as we know it — a consequence of the unseemly over-reliance on ageing collectors with full walls.
If yes, renewal and regeneration.
There’s a lot of nervousness and uncertainty — typical of industries experiencing change. And lets face it, the art world doesn’t do change well.
Yes, the next generation of collectors are out there.
We need to bring more people into the art world — the next generation of collectors. They are there, they just don’t feel welcome.
Who are they?
Creatively interested people who engage with culture yet haven’t found a way into contemporary art. Yet. Pre-disposed to do so. Many are actively looking for a way in, or a way to engage more deeply.
They are into culture and ideas, experiences and curiosity.
They are not into feeling intimidated, the lack of transparency, or being made to feel they don’t know enough about art to belong.
Doctors, lawyers, business owners, creatives, IT professionals, marketers, entrepreneurs…
Not exclusively young, although many are millennials.
They are already going to (for example) theatre and cultural festivals. They appreciate architecture and design. Food and wine. Art blockbusters at public museums. Even art fairs! (probably on weekends).
What I’ve seen
When I ran Sydney’s contemporary art festival, Art Month, for 5 years, our purpose was to invite an audience on the periphery to engage further — to either start their art journey or help them further along it. It worked — we brought people into commercial gallery spaces for the first time, creating art events as part of a shared social experience, encouraging literally thousands of people in the city streets for gallery walks, and helped artists and galleries make sales, many to first time buyers. It was an investment in the future.
It’s a journey
Collecting is a journey. In my experience too often the industry is focussed on the big collectors at the end of their journey. The questions we need to ask are: how do we get more people started on that journey? How do we move them along that path faster?
Why does it matter?
Encouraging creativity and culture has so many benefits to society — innovation, diversity, happiness, economic…
It makes for the kind of society we’d like to live in.
Contemporary art at its best can deliver an emotional, intellectual and visceral journey. If you haven’t experienced it yet, or want to go deeper, I say welcome. Welcome to this crazy, wonderful, frustrating, idiosyncratic art world.
I say the art world may be friendlier than you realise. Artists are the most unpretentious people and galleries are predominantly small business owners doing it for the passion. Hear their stories. Start an art conversation and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And if you are in the industry, let’s make the next generation feel welcome by reducing the intimidation factor and understanding that everyone starts somewhere - we just need to help them find a way in.
Originally published on Medium June 2018