INDIAN SHORES — The most uncommon aspect of the art gallery that debuted here recently may not be its high, wide, postcard perfect views of Gulf Boulevard, the beach and beyond, but that this new spot for purchasing paintings is in Town Hall.
The arrangement is mutually beneficial for the town and Sara Mullins, the Clearwater artist hired to manage the gallery, said Mayor James Lawrence. While the town doesn't expect to make much money from the project, "the aesthetic value is very strong," Lawrence said. "These walls were bare." And it won't cost the town anything, he added.
Indian Shores will collect a 10 percent commission on each sale. Mullins covered the investment in rails to hang pieces, about $1,200, she said, and the grand opening celebration that included wine, food and harp music. Mullins charges contributing artists $30 per month for a 2-by-4-foot column of wall space.
"I hope it's a model that works, for a variety of reasons," Mullins said. She has reason to think it will. Four paintings were sold before the gallery opened.
For one, it appeals to her desire for small government and strong community. Art and culture are important, she said, but that doesn't mean tax money needs to be spent to subsidize the arts. Private investment can be used to beautify public buildings. By operating a sales gallery in Town Hall, it also means there will be a constant flow of new work. Mullins expects to rotate out paintings every two months.
When Lawrence discussed the project at the last meeting of the Barrier Islands Government Council, three other city officials wanted Mullins' number, he said.
After being laid off as sales and marketing director for a large retirement community company in 2010, Mullins decided to leave the corporate world and pursue her passion as an artist. Now, she applies her analytical skills to sell art. She has sold 30 of her own pieces in three months, she said.
"I'm continually amazed when people say, 'Art isn't selling,' " she said. "I'm selling art." Most artists fail to monetize their talents, she said, not because of a lack of skill but because "artists, on the whole, spend so much time on their artwork that they don't build a business" or learn to respond to market demands.
An example: People living in small houses and apartments don't have the wall space to hang large paintings, so Mullins encourages other artists to create smaller pieces that are easier to fit into smaller homes and easier for tourists to transport. "I'd rather sell two small ones than no big ones," she said.
Through the co-op gallery Studio 1212 in Clearwater, Mullins teaches artists basic marketing and networking skills. The best artists don't sell the most pieces in the local market, which she said has a "glut" of available work. Instead, it's the artists who make a personal connection with buyers.
Mullins hopes the gallery provides a way forward for talented but underexposed local artists. Exposure can be a rare commodity for someone who first steps away from the easel to sell paintings, she said.
As dozens of grand opening guests perused tables filled with illustrations, prints and photos, 10-year veteran artist Suzanne Johnson said she was happy to be at a show with an actual clientele. "Artists don't usually buy other artists' work," she said.
In addition to paintings hanging on the wall, patrons looked through stacks of unframed pieces, the bread and butter of her sales, she says. "That pays for me to be here," she said after one sale. Still, she shies away from allowing the market to determine how she spends her work time. "You can't look at it from a seller's point of view." She sees creative work as personal, and cathartic. Since the death of her husband, "it'd be hard to wake up every morning without some work to do."
At the end of the night, buyers, sellers, supporters and town officials applauded Mullins' opening effort. The crowd, the sales and the reception "proved what I had to say," Mullins said. "And the residents loved it."