CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Informal art galleries are popping up all over Charleston in places you might not expect — like your doctor’s office, lawyer’s office, accountant’s office, tailor’s shop, favorite neighborhood sandwich shop or nightclub.
When art is displayed in nontraditional spaces, it has perks for the business and the artist. Art brings people to the business and makes the space more beautiful and interesting.
The trend helps artists reach a new base of potential buyers who might not otherwise see their work. It also gives them an opportunity to display their art without the commission fee usually associated with a formal art gallery — typically about 50 percent. Plus, getting gallery representation can be difficult, especially for those early in their career who haven’t yet established a following of admirers.
“We display the art for a couple of reasons,” said Dr. David J. Patton, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, in a recent interview from his offices at 1003 Oakhurst Drive. “It’s a nice way to put artwork on our walls, and it’s a great avenue for artists to show their art. It benefits both of us. We get artwork and they get exposure.
“Our local artists do great stuff, and I want to promote that. We don’t take any commission. We’re just happy to have it on our walls,” Patton said of the exhibit by the Allied Artists of West Virginia.
He added that there are a couple of pieces in the collection that have really caught his eye and he is considering purchasing.
Julie Hamilton, a South Charleston dentist and artist, is treasurer of the Allied Artists and orchestrated the informal art gallery in Patton’s offices, with the help of his office manager, Nathan Kelly.
“Nathan went online and found Allied Artists and emailed us. I went there and measured and met with Dr. Patton. We have 15 artists who are participating, and the installation was done in an hour and a half,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said she is grateful for the opportunity to have the art showcased and hopes it will raise awareness about the talent of local artists. She noted that several pieces of art in the exhibit have been sold.
Romano & Associates, 230 Capitol St., has been an informal art gallery in Charleston for five years.
“There are so many artists in our community and so few places for them to display,” Shawn Romano said.
He met Naomi Bays, public art chairwoman for FestivALL and owner of Sprout Strategies, a visual art and public art initiative, after she spoke at a meeting about the need to support the local art movement.
“I said, ‘I’ve got walls. You’ve got art. Let’s do it.’ Naomi does all of the liaison with the artist,” Romano said of his collaboration with Bays as his curator.
“It’s a way for an artist to get their foot in the door and show what they do. As a curator, it’s fun to have a forum for emerging artists,” Bays said.
Artist Gregg Oxley currently has 30 art pieces on exhibit at Romano & Associates. “I’d like to see more venues,” he said. “I’d like to see every little law office open their doors to artists and have more opportunities for new people to come in. Shawn has been so gracious. I can’t give him enough praise. I’ve sold several pieces — and no commission. It’s nice.”
Romano said that over the years, he has made several purchases of art displayed at his firm. “If I don’t want a piece to go, I buy it. I’m a nontraditional art space; I’m not charging a commission. I’m able to provide display space to people who may not have a pedigree yet and be able to show in a gallery,” Romano said.
Paul Greco, owner of Sam’s Uptown Cafe and the Boulevard Tavern, has allowed his businesses at 28 Capitol St. and 806 Kanawha Blvd. to be informal art galleries for several years. He currently features the art of Ian Bode and Dave Thomas. He recently featured artists Newman Jackson and Kelly Bryant.
“I moved to Charleston in March 1992 and I met Dave Thomas on the first day. I admire his art and I admire Ian Bode’s art,” Greco said.
So much so, he said, he has purchased several pieces of the art for his home.
A musician himself, Greco said that he seeks to help the artist community in Charleston and never charges a commission. He sees the art displayed in his businesses as a way to help “create a space that is artist-, musician- and people-friendly.”
Cara Knechtly, administrator at Woomer, Nistendirk & Associates, an accounting firm at 231 Capitol St., said their company enjoys promoting local art.
“We have this prime space on Capitol Street and we are happy to participate in ArtWalk and allow the featured artist to show their art and open our office to them. It’s nice to be able to do something different,” Knechtly said. She said the art frequently stays up long past ArtWalk and is enjoyed by visitors to the firm’s primary conference room.
Similarly, Tony Paranzino, owner of Tony the Tailor, 822 Virginia St., said ArtWalk is how his shop became an informal art gallery.
“I love art and I love giving artists exposure that they may not normally get,” Paranzino said.
Many artists consider nontraditional spaces ideal for showing art.
“As artists, we are trying to find as many venues for artists as possible. These kinds of outlets are sometimes even better venues than art galleries to sell art because some buyers are more open to these different places,” said Sandra King, president of the Allied Artists, a group based in Charleston.
She has personally had great success selling her art in this manner, she added, particularly at Cafe Cimino, an inn and restaurant in Sutton.
Charleston Art Group, which meets weekly at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, frequently shows its artwork in informal art galleries around town.
“We’re always looking for places we can show our art. We have an inventory list and we sign a contract that the artist will not hold the business responsible. If someone is interested in purchasing the art, they tell the manager or owner of the space and they put that person in touch with the artist’s contact person,” said Bernice Deakins, co-founder of Charleston Art Group.
“I wish more people would do it. It’s good for the business and the people visiting the business,” Deakins said.
For additional information about becoming a nontraditional art space for the Allied Artists of West Virginia, call Sandra King at 304-587-2110 or visit alliedartistswv.org.
For additional information about becoming an informal art gallery for the Charleston Art Group, call Bernice Deakins at 304-546-0250.
For additional information about nontraditional art space opportunities through Naomi Bays, project director of TSG Consulting, call 304-345-1161.
Reach Judy E. Hamilton at email@example.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @JudyEHamilton on Twitter.