How galleries succeed

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Elizabeth Lasley of Asheville, NC, wrote, “I’m amazed that commercial galleries treat their customers as if they’re in a museum. They say “hi” and not much more. They don’t need to act like used car salespeople, but offering information, payment plans and try-out opportunities might help. I think a gallery should be beautiful and exciting and have a welcoming staff and maybe free coffee and tea. What do you think?” Thanks, Elizabeth. Just as there are amateur artists, there are amateur galleries. They can be spotted by their poor marketing, poor sales, bad bookkeeping, borderline art and unreliable payment to artists. Pro artists need pro galleries. That being said, professional galleries may have quite different styles and degrees of aggressiveness. The comfort zone of the dealer plays a part, as do the expectations of clientele. Further, some galleries insist on making it a pretty serious business — others make it look like a lot of fun. Worldwide, gallery manners are dictated by local norms, commercial boundaries and human proxemics — that is, the space people give one another in various cultures. In Honolulu I entered a gallery where three attractive women approached right away and asked wonderful openers like “Have you ever been in an art gallery before?” “It’s a first for me,” I said, and I was soon in the closing room sipping an above-average Bordeaux. In London, England, a striped-suited, square-glassed gentleman gave an audible sneer and quickly turned his attention to something important. To his credit he didn’t make frivolous conversation, giving me an opportunity to look around. In Tokyo, a young gallerista stood so close I was impressed by her cherry-blossom perfume and the moist shine of her golden teeth. A Canadian dealer, no longer with us, was noted for glowering from his great mahogany desk, then quickly rising and engaging intimidated visitors with “If you don’t buy that painting, you’re stupid.” Funnily, he was right, practically everything he offered was carefully vetted through the filter of his considerable taste, and has since gone through the roof. The main job of galleries is to show the work, share the magic, and run a proper business. Other than that, galleries need to be just as creative and intuitive as the artists they serve. Apart from making deliveries, the best way to serve them is to let them be. And be prepared to move on when you determine they aren’t pros. Best regards, Robert PS: “You already have a fair number and you keep them cleverly hidden, since they’re never on display, which in my opinion is a mistake. What’s the point of painting pictures if the public never gets to see them?” (Claude Monet to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel) >Esoterica: Once, in a spirit of helpful concern, I blurted out to one of my dealers, “There are no chairs in this place — nowhere for people to sit.” “Oh,” said the dealer, “We tried chairs. People just come in and sit on them and never leave. With no chairs people keep on moving in front of the paintings and eventually express themselves with their wallets.”   This gallery gives free hugs by Paula Manning-Lewis, Albuquerque, NM, USA  

“Peace and Love”
original painting
by Paula Manning-Lewis

I totally agree with Elizabeth! Snobby gallery owners in Santa Fe, NM were part of the catalyst for opening my own gallery here in Albuquerque, NM. Being an artist myself, I try to be as creative as possible in the gallery when greeting people. EVERYONE, and I mean everyone who walks into Chroma Studios Gallery is greeted warmly. At our most recent opening, “Peace and Love,” we had all the artists including myself and my husband wear “Free Hugs” stickers. Whenever anyone walked in, they were told that tonight was free hug night in honor of the Peace and Love show. It was a huge hit! I had several people email me later to tell me it was the highlight of their week! We don’t want people to feel uncomfortable in our gallery, we want them to enjoy their experience and come back again and again. Not to mention telling all their friends about us! My goal is to be known as the “friendly gallery.” (Chroma Studios Gallery, Albuquerque, NM, USA) There are 5 comments for This gallery gives free hugs by Paula Manning-Lewis
From: Gail — Feb 15, 2010

After reading all the comments listed below; and from my own bad experience with a gallery – how I wish I were in the States, so I could present you with my portfolio!

From: Cay Denise — Feb 16, 2010

If I lived closer, I’d be right over to visit your gallery. It sounds as if you bring a great deal of your own personal creativity to the business process and make browsing for art – a fun and unique experience for your clientele. Go Paula!

From: Nancy Bea Miller — Feb 16, 2010

Fantastic! The gallery that shows my work in Philadelphia is friendly and encouraging, too. They never tried a free hugs night though…I’ll have to suggest it to them! Best wishes.

From: Jan Ross — Feb 16, 2010

What a great idea! Too many times I’ve stepped into galleries without getting as much as a “Hello”. Unfortunately, the ordinary ‘Joe on the street’ who experiences this kind of treatment is very intimidated about visiting galleries, which hurts the exhibiting artists and gallery owner alike. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were able to get at least one hug a day?

From: Paula Manning-Lewis — Feb 16, 2010

Thanks for including my response in the clickback! And for all the lovely comments! Everyone should get at least one hug a day! Imagine what a better world it would be?!

  No coffee or tea at this one by Sharon Wolff, Colorado Springs, CO, USA   Elizabeth’s comment, “I think a gallery should be beautiful and exciting and have a welcoming staff and maybe free coffee and tea. What do you think?” This is most amusing to me, especially the “free coffee and tea.” For the past five years, I have offered and served free wine, food, candy, water, note cards, bent over backwards and more, and did it ever result in a sale? Of course not. Buyers do buy from those they like working with, where there is a connection, but they have no interest in free coffee or tea. Maybe Elizabeth just hasn’t shopped in the better galleries in her home state or country yet. Send her to Colorado, we will show her how we treat our guests — no coffee or tea, sorry. (Hunter-Wolff Gallery, Ltd., Colorado Springs, CO, USA) There are 2 comments for No coffee or tea at this one by Sharon Wolff
From: Reveille Kennedy – Arati Gallery, Colorado Springs — Feb 16, 2010

As for treating our customers well, ditto Sharon Wolfe. We do give out goodies from time to time and always on first Fridays when we have our opening. We are right across the street from Sharon and up a block. We know that people who like our art return over and over, and since we are a co op with 18 members, we have a great variety, great prices, and all original art. Old Colorado City is a great place to shop and you will find friendly faces and helpful attitudes in every gallery here. ( Representing Arati Gallery and all our fine artisans.)

From: Sue Rowe — Feb 17, 2010

As an antiques buyer/seller and an artist I often offer treats, and appreciate shops/galleries having them available. I don’t know if it helps with sales, but it helps with hospitality. Sharon, I have visited your wonderful gallery twice while visiting in Colorado Springs. You and your artists create a spirit-lifting space – caffeine or no caffeine. Thanks!

  Gallery succeeded in putting them off by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

“Rabbit With Cherries”
oil painting
by Louise Francke

We searched for a certain gallery while visiting Orlando. Once there, we had to figure out how to get in! The doors were locked during specified viewing hours and the lights were off. No notice of being closed was evident but there was a man in a suit watching us park and get out but obviously people driving a Honda Element in casual clothes aren’t going to buy so he evasively left by a side door and proceeded to go to lunch. Let me just say — if you judge by people’s clothes or the cars they drive — you are underestimating the gallery-goer. We buy art but I will never return to that gallery! There are 2 comments for Gallery succeeded in putting them off by Louise Francke
From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

Funny to read this just now after just talking about the same thing with my husband the other day. Some galleries are so pretentious. I just had a few pieces show at a small gallery which is NOT like that but it IS very sad that so many are uncomfortable and snobby. It sucks the soul and joy out going…and your comment about judging by someone’s clothes so true! The sweetest people I know are the ones who are not pretentious. They just enjoy being real!

From: Sarah — Feb 16, 2010

It seems to me that the staff/owner of the Orlando gallery demonstrate a total lack of good manners, and from subsequent comments, it seems that lack of manners is not uncommon.

  The value of the chair by Win Dinn, Creston, BC, Canada  

original painting
by Win Dinn

I’m a neophyte gallery owner — coming up to the two year mark. I have one visitor’s chair (both comfortable and beautiful, naturally) in the gallery. It’s most often used by the ‘other half’ who has less interest in looking, and works very well, accordingly. It’s also handy for those seniors who love to appreciate the work, but without the legs to allow them to stand for long periods of time. Although we don’t offer tea and cookies, my regulars know that some kind of treat will be available for most special occasions, and that our space is a treat for the soul at any time.       There are 2 comments for The value of the chair by Win Dinn
From: maureen — Feb 15, 2010

I am lucky to live in Creston BC where Win has opened her gallery… the warmth with which she greets visitors…and the welcome chair even if not used…give a feeling of “I can come here anytime”

From: James McDowell Creston B.C, — Feb 19, 2010

Win Dinn is Super…Her gallery is beautiful,and she is always pleasant to take to…Her and her gallery have been a great improvement to Creston B.C…Check it out if you come through

  Gallery owner determines gallery style by Ted Lederer (Elliott Louis Gallery), Vancouver, BC, Canada   As in most businesses, the art gallery business is driven from the top down. That is to say when you walk into a gallery and the staff are snooty and imperious, guess what the owner is like? If you walk in and people are treated warmly and hospitably, it is absolutely because of the owner. Friendly owners don’t hire and /or tolerate snooty behavior from those that work in the gallery. Snooty staff are at that gallery for a reason, the owner wants them there. Staff are a reflection of management / ownership. So, when an artist chooses a gallery, think about how you interact with the owner and how he and/or his/her staff interacts with those that come into the gallery. It’s one of the least mysterious questions in a mysterious business. (Elliott Louis Gallery, Vancouver, BC, Canada) There are 2 comments for Gallery owner determines gallery style by Ted Lederer (Elliott Louis Gallery)
From: Nancy Bea Miller — Feb 16, 2010

True! I show in four galleries and each of them has a slightly different mood, which as you point out, directly corresponds to the gallery directors’ personalities! I think too that friendly, unpretentious artists will gravitate towards showing in galleries that match their personalities, although of course there is not quite so direct a correlation.

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

Elliott Louis gallery in Vancouver is a stellar example. They even have clear guidelines for artist’s submissions. I regret that our city doesn’t have more galleries that would follow their example. Vancouver has so many good artists, we need more good galleries. Thank you Mr. Lederer.

  Different approaches in galleries by Kay Cox, Seabrook, TX, USA   An experienced gallery owner and staff can read a client’s bent and know whether they want more information or to be left alone. It comes with much experience in going to other galleries and in operating one. I belong to a co-op which is a different sort of venue but has the same challenge. Some artists are so very shy and hide behind the desk. Others can dog the visitor and scare them. Perhaps some training here in how to greet visitors would help but some will always do it better than others. I have found that a simple greeting along with an offer to help if they have questions is usually adequate. If the visitor appears to be interested in a particular painting, I offer a little background on the artist or the subject. There is 1 comment for Different approaches in galleries by Kay Cox
From: Anonymous — Feb 15, 2010

This sounds like a good place to show one’s artwork!

  Nurturing a gallery relationship by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Mustard Gold”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Galleries are ‘artists’ at their trade which is getting a person to buy a painting. Some are very good at it, some not so good, some not good at all. Some galleries have a better location, which helps them be better at what they do. Some galleries make up for a not-so-good location, by providing excellent service and by having an excellent work ethic. Some galleries do a better job of picking their art and artists and by knowing who their buyers are. Running a gallery really is an art form in itself. Each gallery will create the style that fits their customer base and the personality of the gallery director. The artist’s job is to assist their gallery if they are asked and to bring in their best work. Most of the time, the gallery doesn’t need their artists hovering around or making a pest of themselves. It’s a bit of an art form for artists dealing with the galleries that represent them. It’s a relationship, just like a marriage or a friendship. Relationships take work and maintenance! Sometimes a divorce is necessary and we should make it as amicable and respectful as possible. Sometimes artists gripe way too much. Look at Monet. He was not easy to work with. He initially rejected his dealer’s idea of marketing his paintings to America. He griped constantly but his dealers helped make him rich and famous. He needed them and they needed him. That’s how it works. There are 6 comments for Nurturing a gallery relationship by Paul deMarrais
From: Anonymous — Feb 15, 2010

…”the gallery doesn’t need their artists hovering around or making a pest of themselves.” If this is what Galleries think of “their artists” – no wonder galleries are closing down! That’s the type of attitude that sends warning bells ring and sends smart artists to the Internet with their own web page, or go to an on-line gallery!!

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

Amen to that! If artists don’t create, there would be no galleries! Not that I want artists to be bowed and scraped to…but there is no reason to have to grovel and feel intimidated because the galleries rule! It should be a mutual respect situation.

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

I’d guess the above has to be from a gallerist, clearly with an inflated opinion of his own importance. Your artists are not “pests”, they are the people who CREATE what it is you have to sell. If artists are “pests”, then bad gallery owners are leeches and parasites. Monet may have needed his dealers, but he didn’t need one who regarded him as a “pest”

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

There is no question that many artists ARE pests. Poor at business, unorganized and having an inflated ego about themselves and their work, can be the cause of a gallery owner’s reluctance at establishing a relationship. Not all are like this, but MANY are! It takes a lot of time sorting the wheat from the chaff and we’re not even discussing good artwork yet!

From: Holly Quan, Turner Valley, AB, Canada — Feb 16, 2010

I absolutely support what Paul says — artists hovering in galleries are akin to authors lurking in bookstores — just reach for one of their books and they’ll be all over you, telling you every tiny detail about the book. A gallery is a business; the artist’s presence, from time to time, can be a useful tool to help promote both the gallery and the artist. The key to success for both sides is collaboration and respect.

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

I was in contact with an owner of a gallery which seems to be selling well and is a pleasant place to be. The owner always sounded very confused, she lost my portfolio, asked strange meaningless questions until I lost patience and gave up. Then I heard from a friend artists represented by them, that there are couple “leading” artists in that gallery that constantly hang around, boss around and call all the shots. Only their work sells, nothing of the remaining mix (which does seem inconsistent in quality, style and theme). Apparently the leading artists have the say in who gets accepted for representation. The gallery owner is threatened that they will leave if such and such is not done in such and such way. Needless to say I won’t get near that gallery knowing this. The two leading artists are prolific and they are very good, so they can probably carry the business, but what a disappointment for the hopeful young artists who get accepted just to be the wallpapers.

  Unpleasant experience in gallery by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

acrylic painting
by John Ferrie

I was with a gallery once and went in to see my work. The gallery owner wasn’t there, but the assistant was. I had dealt with this woman over the phone for many months but had never met her. While I spent the better part of twenty minutes in the gallery without so much as a nod, let alone a greeting. I finally asked if she carried the work of John Ferrie. Without a word, she shook her head no. I was puzzled as I had been with this gallery for six months and I knew they had a good dozen pieces of my work. I asked again for my bright colourful paintings. She was getting aggressive with me and finally asked me to leave. Just then the gallery owner walked in and said “Hello there John Ferrie!” The woman went white as a ghost. I asked for my work and took it home with me that day. I was in tears. I know of many artists who have had to sue galleries to get paid. Sadly, this is a regular thing with galleries. People don’t seem to know that the paintings are there on consignment. The artist often has to pay a membership fee for a less than commercial space. And those artist run gallery spaces rarely get a big buyer. There are 5 comments for Unpleasant experience in gallery by John Ferrie
From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

It seems to me a shame that you broke up with that gallery, as the problem lay with the assistant (who needed firing) rather than with the owner (except insofar as he/she failed to realise the assistant needed to be fired).

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

The problem lies with the gallery owner as well as the assistant. After all, the artist walked through the gallery and could not find his art on display!

From: John Ferrie — Feb 18, 2010

Oh, Listen to you two and your sage advice! You can’t even put your name to your comments! ANY Gallery who is not aware of their inventory and is not selling your work with enthusiasm is a gallery not worth being with! Like I said in my letter, I was in the gallery asking specifically for my work for over 20 minutes. The gallery owner left this bimbette holding the reigns and she dropped the ball. She would be at fault, but so was the gallery owner. I no longer pin my hopes on galleries. They are just a stepping stone between the artist and the buyer. But in this case it was a GIANT LEAP!

From: Anon also, just incase John comes after me…eeeek — Feb 19, 2010

“Sage advice” is a smartass ironic comment that’s made when someone says something completely obvious. (excerpt from online dictionary). JOHN you are coming across as a rather unpleasant human being. Anon 1 and 2 seemed to have good intentions. I take it you just wanted to tell your story fullstop. It’s a forum John a forum!!!!!!

From: Darla Tagrin — Feb 19, 2010

Why would anyone stay with a gallery that (1) did not display their work, and (2) treated visitors AND artists that way? This might possibly have been salvaged by the owner, but she had a lot of explaining to do; how could you trust the gallery after that? When you get treated with such an utter lack of consideration or respect, staying with them would be like saying that it didn’t matter how they treated you.

  Another disappearing artist by Karen VanDam Michmerhuizen, Holland, MI, USA   Currently my work is carried by five galleries. Three are in my home state of Michigan and I keep contact with them. Two are within easy driving distance for delivering work and personal contact. The third is a four hour drive, but I still get there twice a year. Also, in spite of Michigan’s economy I was pleased with ’09 sales. The other two are sister galleries in Florida and Rhode Island. In the past four years I have sold three total from them. I haven’t been back to the Florida gallery nor have I ever been to RI. This past weekend my daughter stopped into the RI gallery. When she could not find my work (six pieces sent last summer) she asked the two saleswomen. While both were friendly and my daughter liked the layout, neither knew my name nor could they find my work. My daughter also mentioned that there were several pieces stacked up against walls in places. My gut feeling is that I should ask for my paintings and get out. Can anyone help me with this decision? There are 4 comments for Another disappearing artist by Karen VanDam Michmerhuizen
From: Karen Wong — Feb 15, 2010

Congratulations on being in so many galleries. The RI gallery sounds really iffy to me. If the saleswomen cannot find your work, are you sure it is still there? I had a piece once that disappeared when the shop owner was evicted for non payment of rent. Be careful.

From: Edie Pfeifer — Feb 15, 2010

your work could have been sold, and they are holding out on payment. You should get on the phone with the owner right away. If he/she seems to be beating around the bush, or making lame excuses, demand your work back immediately.

From: ri artist — Feb 16, 2010

The gallery in RI is actually a high-end contemporary gallery located in one of the more desirable places in Newport, RI – with a major focus on artists of the region. Perhaps a visit to a gallery first is the best way to know if your work fits and the staff is sufficiently excited about your work relative to others they represent. I do not show at this gallery, even though it’s close by, because it doesn’t fit my needs. However, it does a good job for the artists it does represent. Maybe the gallery’s only fault is that it shows too many artists and has a very limited space to show their work. Good luck.

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

I once traveled to another city to start working with a gallery and they asked that I bring in some paintings right away. When I got there, the owner wasn’t there, had to leave early, wasn’t feeling well. The assistent was pleasant and took 2 paintings. I never heard a word back from the owner despite leaving few messages. One artist later told me that they never report sales and you have to go there to find out if something sold and to claim your share. I am doing an experiment – I took the paintings to them in early 2007 and never heard back. I decided to forget about those paintings and see if I will ever hear back.

  The warning bell for galleries by Anonymous   I currently have four galleries representing me. I also have a premium link on this site and my own dedicated website. Gallery-client-artist relationships are changing. Clients are much more willing these days to go directly to the artists. The Internet has sounded a warning bell for galleries. It’s not that clients are trying to get a better deal, though some are, it’s that they have come to realize that the enormous markups taken by galleries are unsustainable. Stock brokers and realtors would not continue to survive if markups were so out of range. While I have always been in favor of the gallery system, I am paying more attention to the direct inquiries that are coming from the four corners of the world. It is not just galleries that have built me, but my own hard work, personal integrity and attention to quality.   Difficulties dealing with galleries by Carol Hama, Edmonton, AB, Canada  

“Lazy creek in summer (unfinished)”
original painting
by Carol Hama

Most galleries are professional, but some fly-by-night types try to scam me. Everything from non-payment, closing their galleries and absconding with my stuff to even demanding my entire patron list complete with their e-mail addresses, street addresses and phone numbers. I felt like they wanted to “mortgage my entire art career” and strip me of my resource (patron list) and my money by the time I walked out of that office! They wanted 50% commission (which means I actually get less than them because I not only have to pay for the framing and expensive art supplies), I also have to pay for the reception costs, mailing, printing. Some galleries wouldn’t hang my stuff unless I had it framed by them (for which I would get a measly 10% discount off their greatly inflated prices). As struggling galleries pass on their expenses to us artists (increasing commission, sharing opening reception costs, sharing their rent, etc) so, too, are more of us seeking ways of avoiding all these expenses and more of us are resorting to marketing our own stuff at trade shows, gallery walks, art-in-the-parks, privately and from our own studios and do away with the galleries. This is a pity because this trend is forcing many professional galleries to close their doors. There are 2 comments for Difficulties dealing with galleries by Carol Hama
From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

I had a gallery tell me that they would frame my work for me and I would get a small portion back on the sales…actually,when push came to shove, I would have had to pay them for their vastly inflated framing fees, in essence giving away my work for free!

From: Jan Ross — Feb 16, 2010

Your painting is beautiful, and it is a shame you’ve had to sacrifice so much at the mercy of these shoddy galleries. Sounds like selling your work on your own is the best way to go. Good luck!

  [fbcomments url=””]    woa  

Winter Birch

acrylic painting by Brian LaSaga

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Elizabeth Lasley of Asheville, NC, USA, who wrote, “The gallery I’m with now — 310 ART — is fantastic. The gallery owner, Fleta Monaghan, is an amazing, supportive and talented artist herself. She wears many hats — artist, teacher, gallery owner. She does this with a smile and greets visitors to her gallery with a sincere welcome. She’s eager to explain the art, promote the artists, but at the same time she is sensitive to letting people explore the works of art on their own.” And also Scott Kahn of Old Lyme, CT, USA, who wrote, “The art business is a rarified business, and appeals to an audience capable of spending money on a luxury. Too often the atmosphere in a gallery borders on snobbishness.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for How galleries succeed

From: Ron Unruh — Feb 11, 2010

I have been in countless galleries as a browser through the years and not once as an artist, yet I noted successful galleries where the reception was genuine and winsome, and I recall galleries that closed because the clerks stayed hidden and proprieters looked discouraged and sullen. I will stick with my current Open House Art Shows, because my last one moved ten of my 27 paintings shown. The formula is simple: use three large rooms on the main level in our home to display my pieces; send colourful internet invitations; invite people who know me and have expressed interest in my art; my wife and I move around to converse and assist; she transacts the business and I keep talking it up; people find our food and a comfortable seat. And later we take inventory and jump up and down for joy. And I didn’t give anyone 40%-50%.

From: Richard Smith — Feb 11, 2010

It also depends on who’s behind the desk. I re-visited the same gallery, here in Victoria, where I had the pleasure of viewing Roberts work firsthand, and got treated like I was trying to panhandle change for a cheap bottle of cooking wine. A couple of young, I’m too cool to bother with you, types were messing about on a computer and the concept of smiling seemed to be way beyond them. And normally the staff in that gallery are very pleasant. Everyone once and awhile you just run into someone who should NOT be in customer service. I quickly beat a hasty retreat into the street.

From: John Ferrie — Feb 11, 2010

Dear Robert, It is letters like this that really rub me the wrong way. Galleries are a business and simply put, a stepping stone between the artist and the buyer. It has been my experience the artist does more for the gallery than the gallery does for the artist. All these places with their shingle hanging out and a carefully placed “Gallerina’s at the front tucked behind their laptop doing something important. They usually have bad wine and dry cheese and along with that a veritable mish-mash of inventory the gallery dictates will sell. It is one thing to go into one of these galleries as a customer, it is another to deal with them as an artist. Art is a luxury item and is the last thing people buy. I had a friend who was building a house with her husband. A rather snooty gallery owner told them at the opening of an up and coming artist that they should “build their house around the art”. They never returned. I was with a gallery once and went in to see my work. The gallery owner wasn’t there, but the assistant was. I had dealt with this women over the phone for many months but had never met her. While I spent the better part of twenty minutes in the gallery without so much as a nod, let alone a greeting. I finally asked if she carried the work of John Ferrie. Without a word, she shook her head no. I was puzzled as I had been with this gallery for six months and I knew they had a good dozen pieces of my work. I asked again and again for my bright colourful paintings. She was getting aggressive with me and finally asked me to leave. Just then the gallery owner walked in and said “Hello there John Ferrie!”. The woman went white as a ghost. I asked for my work and took it home with me that day. I was in tears. I know of many artists who have had to sue galleries to get paid. Sadly, this is a regular thing with galleries. People don’t seem to know that the paintings are there on consignment. The artist often has to pay a membership fee for a less than commercial space. And those artist run gallery spaces rarely get a big buyer. I take my hat off to anyone who can sell a painting in this day and age and the worst economy in Canadian history. But what I have trouble with is artists who yet again are pinning their hopes on a gallery to move their work and make them rich and famous. Then again, that is just me. John Ferrie

From: Eric — Feb 11, 2010
From: Cheryl Renee Long — Feb 11, 2010

I am with Ron on the open house in home concept. I too have had good luck with this format every 3 years or so. I find that there are many venues for selling art that do not require a 50/50 split. Galleries are as individual as people in any profession. I am amazed that they have gotten away with treating people poorly and I am glad to see a major trend to make that unacceptable.

From: Michael Cardosa — Feb 12, 2010

I think there is an unfortunate factor in all this. First let me say that we all know that there are thousands of galleries out there, some good, some bad. The unfortunate part comes when an artist is accepted in a gallery and the thrill of it overcomes any basic business sense. Due diligence should not be limited to names of galleries that might accept your work. It should also extend to discovering what the gallery is like to work with from the artist’s perspective. It might not always be easy and not all fellow artists are going to be forthcoming and helpful with insight into their relationship with a gallery but a little homework upfront could possible preclude any problems later on. What’s the point in being in a gallery, one that might even sell some of your paintings if it takes you forever to get paid or at all? People ask for references or do Google searches for all types of things in their lives, this should be no different. The only galleries that would be offended by an artist asking around about this are probably ones with something to hide and places you’re probably better off not working with no matter how disappointing it might be to turn them down. At least that is my opinion. Michael

From: LePage — Feb 12, 2010

Galleries can become winners by intimidating people; they can also win by being friends with and giving service.

From: Raney Rogers — Feb 12, 2010

I am a professional artist with a flair for the dramatic and opened an art gallery nineteen years ago in a very depressed county where my husband and I moved in North Carolina. I painted it purple and yellow, we turned the grass into gardens with a pond and fountain. I hung my art, welcomed visitors with chocolate acorns as the name of my gallery is “Acorn Gallery” and a warm smile. On gallery crawls I dress up as various characters and am active in my community in many venues. People describe my gallery as fun, inspiring and they like my art, which I offer in different mediums – tiles, mini-prints and cards as well as originals. In short, my gallery reflects my personality and those who buy my art many times become my friends.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 12, 2010

It all comes back to the “judging a book by its cover” thing. Any gallery owner/rep who dismisses a patron by their looks is a fool. Elitism doesn’t sell art work. Rarely does anyone frequent a gallery for free coffee, wine, or cheese. They come because they admire and love art. Many are buyers, but in their price range. I have shunned galleries for a long time for just such negative experiences as has been noted above. But, I recently had the fine privilege of visiting a gallery where I was greeted with respect, a professional demeanor, and a genuine desire to develop a reciprocal relationship before they knew if I was a buyer, patron, or just browsing. When I introduced myself as an artist (and showed my work online) there was no change in attitude. The difference in this gallery verses most was so against type I am considering representation again. I might add the gallery had paintings and sculptures in every price range from a few hundred dollars up to six figures, all displayed beautifully to the piece’s best advantage. Now that’s an art gallery! No wonder they’ve been around for decades.

From: Pam — Feb 12, 2010

Only a few weeks I while on holiday in Australia my husband and I wandered into a gallery of a well known artist. We were greeted to the extent that the woman was a pain in the bum. All we wanted to do was take our time and view the work, but this woman was in our faces and in our ear blar blar blaring to the extent that I just wanted the nearest exit. As an artist myself, I like to be greeted and acknowleged, but I dont need a running comentary by an over enthusiastic sales person who doesnt know when to shut up. To me art is something you really want and something you fall in love with when you see it, I dont need anyone to sell it to me, leave me alone to view it, and if I want to purchase it, Im a big girl, I have a mouth and I can ask for help if I wish to know something more or if I wish to buy a piece. I do not need a sales person running round making me cups of tea or holding my hand the entire visit. What I do expect is that when I do ask a question or want to purchase the art, that the person selling is skilled up enough to answer my questions.

From: Anonymous — Feb 12, 2010

I find that potential customers entering a gallery are like feeding deer. You say “have you been in the gallery before”? (while throwing out some corn). Let them wander a bit and become comfortable before you say (for instance) we carry a wide variety of artists, some local and some national (while throwing out some more corn). Backing off each time to read their response or comfort zone. As something sparks their interest you can go closer and engage in informative conversation. There is nothing worse than someone hovering over you as you are perusing the gallery. A comfortable, informative and enjoyable time in the gallery will make that person a possible client.

From: Leah — Feb 12, 2010

On of the odd experiences I had as a gallery visitor was when I fell in love with a painting done by an artist I knew. It was a large piece and I couldn’t afford it so I asked the gallery owner if she had similar but smaller works by the same artist. This was a large graphite drawing on canvas. The owner steered me to another wall with paintings by another artist which were entirely different – some strange half-finished acrylic paintings, sort of like paintings by numbers where some areas were just outlined and some were painted in with flat color. I said that I didn’t see how those paintings had any similarity with the one I liked and that I didn’t relate to them and again asked to see more works by the first artist. The owner kept talking about the acrylics and how they were “the latest and most interesting” works by a very “cool” artist. After a while I got annoyed and left. I am still debating about telling this artist how the owner practically prevented me from purchasing her painting.

From: anon — Feb 12, 2010

I don’t know why so many gallery hosts can’t figure this out. I like it when I enter a gallery to be asked if I need help or if I am happy on my own. Some ask this question but don’t respect the answer and do the opposite. This must go back to the general lack of common sense or to be frank – intelligence.

From: Karalee Krueger — Feb 12, 2010

Many years ago, I spent an evening exploring the galleries along the boardwalk in San Francisco. I was dressed in jeans a sweater and athletic shoes. Clearly of modest means. Most of the galleries were pleasant experiences, or at least not unpleasant in their treatment of me. In one, I was dumbstruck by the display of bronze pieces by Erté. This young woman came up to me and started telling me about them, their history, his history, how and why they were made, etc. She was eloquent and made them even more fascinating. She clearly loved the subject, and she was dressed much better than was I. I started feeling guilty at taking up so much of her time since there was no way I could possibly afford one and I told her this. She said “Never mind. I love showing these and who knows…maybe someday you will have enough money, remember this experience, and come back to see me.” I was blown away. She even put me on their Erté mailing list and for years I received the most beautiful portfolios with full color photographs. She set the bar high on how a gallery should be and I’ve never seen the equal since. I had no doubts about the success of the gallery she represented.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 13, 2010

“Have you ever been in a gallery before?” has to be the most pretentious question ever asked. I’m amazed.

From: Rod Morgan — Feb 14, 2010

The Rolling Stones’ Rolls-Royce experience is the classic. In their youth, but by which time they had made a fortune, their visual image was pretty bad: worn-out, dirty clothes complimented by unruly hair and more. Apparently, one of them (likely Jagger) decided he wanted a Rolls and went into the Oxford Street Rolls office. You may know that at that time it had a large mahogany desk near the corner with two potted plants beside. The rest of the space was for a high-society dressed sales person or secretary type of person and a single Rolls carefully placed in a large show room. On this occasion, it was the salesman who shared the potted plants from behind the desk. The Rolling Stone character got the same bums rush based on appearance that you have indicated happens in art gallery sales offices. The Rolling Stones come back in at another time and refuse to deal with him. I have been told that they paid cash and purchased several “Silver Cloud” models at that single visit. I suspect that they wanted to make a point, too.

From: Ibrahim Ghazala — Feb 14, 2010

Thanks too much! How might we cooperate?

From: Anonymous — Feb 14, 2010

Representation in a gallery is a slippery slope. “If you have viewed our web site & feel your work will be a good fit, we look forward to seeing your submission:” Ok, so I look at what you have on your web site, is it current?, & how would I know, if my work (which I think is certainly worth carrying) would be, in the eyes of the gallery , a good fit? If my work is worthy, is your gallery, worthy? Is your web site current? Are you making a concentrated effort to sell the art you already have? Are you offering deep dish discounts, the minute a designer walks in the door, to make a sale? Do you care, if the artist actually makes any money? Do you try to keep your artists informed of pieces going out on spec., or even being sold? Are you trying at all, to make me feel wanted? Are you going to relinquish the names of notable or corporate buyers, so I can upgrade my resume’, to upgrade my value? If a sale is actually made, should I as an artist have to hound the gallery for my share? Often writing or calling 3 or more times, to get payment, or to know whether a piece has in fact, even been sold? If galleries want out state artists, such as myself in their stable, then we should be treated with respect. If that’s not the case, then stick to regional people, who can make visits & exchange work frequently& call it a day. As a business woman, I think it should all be a 2 way street, one hand washing the other to get the sales, & working together to raise the value of that work, thereby increasing interest & value. If your work is not on the walls, is mistreated, neglected for the local artists, & then being discounted so heavily to designers & the like, what’s the point? If you work so hard to produce quality paintings, & try to sell at competitive prices, only to be told that you shouldn’t raise your prices…(I thought the value of the work, would be important) what’s the point of any of it? Buy a van, sit on a corner & sell to passers by. I rack my brain every day, trying to come up with other ways to sell, bypassing galleries. Many of my fellow artists feel the same way, have similar stories & are tired of this whole situation. A gallery that actually works for & with their artist, is a rare thing & very hard to find. Most locations , I feel, are mom& pop businesses, with their own rules & no set standards.

From: Jenifer Crowell — Feb 14, 2010

I was exhibiting some paintings along with some other artists in a restaurant in this small, very small coastal town…..sold several there and they took a slight commission…….then when the Big Wine event came to town, they shuttled me off and put in that POSTER artist, with the comment to please follow up again…….and eventually, I did. The owner, a week ago, told me to call her assistant and hang some paintings. Well we were doing just that when the owner appeared and screamed “What are you doing?” Commented on how she disliked a couple of my paintings ( in a RATHER mean way) then screamed at me that I had not communicated and walked into the kitchen with dark glasses on the whole f’n time. And the assistant and I took the paintings down. I went home. I , the baby dancer, cried. For some reason, it hit hard. Maybe I’m too fragile. Maybe I’m just not ballsy enough. But then, I remind myself that my sensitivities are what make me able to do my art and my acting and clowning. I’ve sold my work repeatedly. I’m not the go getter I should be. And I have 2 parents who are perfectionists and have knocked me down about my creativity my whole life- ” You’re the best, but you can’t do it” about my acting, as far as my art, they are in dissagrement, and they are divorced. Well, just another venting soul for you, Robert…………I still enjoy acting, and do get paid here and there, and I still enjoy painting, and I still do sell, though not as much as I’d like lately. I need to get over and through the hurdle.

From: Ben — Feb 14, 2010

Since the Internet, we have more honourable galleries. Because everything is out there, they are forced to maintain consistency in pricing and equal or exceed the service provided by competing galleries.

From: Rob Pitzer — Feb 14, 2010

I have been in the retail art business for nearly 32 years now; and I find your comments to be right on. I see good galleries as being as individual as the artists they represent. We had a gallery in Carmel, CA for about 13 years, which was in the midst of 100 other galleries, all located within one square mile. We did well. And I attribute that success to many of the things you mentioned. We had good artists. Unique to the area. And we had excellent, but not too pushy, salespeople. The gallery experience can be intimidating for many; and it is up to the gallery to turn that into a good experience. Wimberley, TX

From: Tae Suk Chung — Feb 14, 2010

All collectibles are now on more level field. In a world-wide marketing where everyone now searches, researches, compares and invests, the last remaining borderline players remain offline in the hope that no one will check them out.

From: Gordon Sonmor — Feb 14, 2010

The answer to “Have you ever been in a gallery before?” should be: “Yes, frequently, have you ever worked in one before?” Next, the inexpert customer service personnel should be reported to the employer … whose reaction to polite but legitimate complaint dictates whether one wastes more time or moves on. Top commercial galleries are unfailingly polite and helpful to all who walk in the door. They assume nothing but are able to assess buyer potential with a few questions and polite sales lead ins usually couched in terms of ‘investments and collections’, informing that they take all major cards and offer layaway or deferred payment plans as well. Hey, Karalee … That San Francisco Erte gallery also gave us blue jeaned tourists the same polite treatment 22 years ago … and we have never forgotten the fun experience.

From: Leslee — Feb 15, 2010

There’s so much mark-up on Erte reproductions that the galleries can afford to bring in professors of fine art or marching bands if need be.

From: Jay Pastore — Feb 15, 2010

One thing I have found to be helpful is to have a low level of non-intrusive music playing in the gallery, As my gallery is what I would call ‘urban contemporary’ (for no better term) I have found it helpful to play some ambient electronic music. (btw, the system is a professionally installed system- not just music coming from a computer). I have read that people tend to linger 30% more time if there is music playing in a retail space. I think it helps if the music correlates with the art (e.g. playing classical music in my gallery would be incongruent with the work). Having a gallery that is small (1400 sq ft), it also gives clients a ‘comfort zone’, giving them a chance to discus works that they find interesting with some privacy. It also helps to add an energy during receptions. If a gallery has a MAC as their computer, i-radio has a good selection of stations that are commercial free and free to use. Gallery 50, Rehboth Beach, DE

From: Fay Lee — Feb 15, 2010

I belong to two co-op galleries, one in AL and one in NH. They both have two bank accounts, one for gallery business and the other for sales. When you make sales, the checks are out between the 10th and 15th of the month. It’s the only way to do business.

From: Julie Hollis — Feb 16, 2010

I am in the process of renovating a Victorian butcher’s shop into a gallery for my work and for invited guests, so all of your comments are very interesting to me. I had in mind some comfy chairs for viewers to sit at and gentle music playing in the background and an ever full coffee pot in the corner. But my selling point, I hope, is that mine will also have a working studio where customers (please let they be that!) can watch me painting. Any advice would be appreciated though!

From: Patsy — Feb 16, 2010

I was also caught by the “Have you ever been in a gallery before?”, thinking, how patronising! Then I re-read it – it says THE gallery. Still an irrelevant question, but in the salesperson’s defence, she must have meant that particular gallery.

From: Paul deMarrais — Feb 16, 2010

reading these gallery experiences seems like dating and romance in general. Many enter with grand illusions are let down in a huge way. Many have terribly grim encounters that linger on in memory vaults. Others have better luck, better choices in partners or learn to be more realistic in their expectations. Some find the magic in a tricky game. In love, art and art galleries, hanging in there is important to improving the odds in your favor.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Feb 16, 2010

I read the comments with interest, about galleries and the relationship with artists (or non-relationship, in some cases!). I know of several galleries here in Halifax, one of which was started a few years’ back by a young woman who has an ethic of helping folks in the community. She uses the gallery as a venue for occasional fundraisers for charities or for individuals, one of whom had herself been a big supporter of artists and crafts people here in Nova Scotia, and had medical issues. She (the gallery owner) drew the community together to help this person by raising money for her, but who sadly died recently. But the idea of the gallery has a member of the community and doing things to benefit it, is very nice and deserving I think of support. It is one way to have profile in the region, too! Emails go out for events, and there are lunches with talks, and so on, and you can come and just be part of the event without feeling the need to buy (or be harassed). It is a nice place! There are lots of newer galleries here, too, and they are enjoying varying degrees of success. A gallery I am now at has talks too on many things, including promoting your art, and shared shows, which bring in a lot of folks. They are new but very creative in bringing in traffic. They are eager it seems to help the artists to connect with other artists and promote each other. A stellar idea! I think the old style of snooty gallery owners who treat everyone as if they should be prepared to pop for thousands for a painting, is going out of style. It isn’t those people perhaps who will be the bread and butter any more. And the galleries will have to adapt to this reality and also, help educate the public to what art is about and why they should buy!

From: Brigitte Nowak — Feb 16, 2010

Relationships between artists, galleries and clients, like all relationships, vary as to their value, intensity, benefits to one or the other party, fruitfulness, etc. Ideally, it should be a mutually beneficial arrangement: artists provide galleries with the best work they create, galleries have product for their walls, and visitors are exposed to quality artwork that needs a new home. The best galleries may see the potential in an artist, and educate them in the business practices that galleries need in order to make the business thrive. I believe that galleries earn (usually) every cent of their commission: As an artist whose work is in several galleries, I don’t sell work that is sitting in storage in my basement; I don’t pay rent for a high-priced retail location, nor do I pay for the utilities, insurance, staffing, business taxes, etc. By having my work in galleries, I don’t have to spend my weekends at outdoor shows, fairs, etc. I don’t have to negotiate with clients trying to get a bargain. I can spend my time doing what I feel I do best, which is painting. I’ve watched professional gallerists in action: it’s not easy selling art, and the best gallerists do it with style, knowledge and professionalism.

From: Dianne Bugash — Feb 16, 2010

While understanding and appreciating the fact that you are a sophisticated artist who has had many wonderful and quirky gallery experiences, I come at this issue from another angle. I am also a professional artist who teaches, lectures, and has presented art to the public for the Hirshhorn Museum. I have found, over the years, that the general public, while sophisticated in many respects, and able ,eager music, theatre and movie lovers, are “babes in the woods” when it comes to looking at or caring about art. The general consensus among artist I have spoken to is that at social gatherings, the “what do you do” question comes up, and if you say you are an artist, eyes glaze over. It is my belief that gallerists have an opportunity to make their visitors welcomed and comfortable so that they can look at artwork without fear and discomfort. Galleries are the connections between the public and artists. Why not use the opportunity to talk to visitors about the art – the making of art – the world of art – rather than the snobbery and elitism, which I so often encounter when I walk into many galleries. Amazingly to me, a gallery I visited in Florence, Italy had the exactly the same air of “cold shoulder” that I sense when I walk into galleries when visiting some U.S. cities. It is a shame. I would love for more non artists to be able to partake in the joy I feel from being part of the visual arts. Maybe, if the associations of gallery owners were better equipped, and more willing to be inclusive , perhaps the fine arts could become part of the vitality of this country instead of existing on the edges as a black sheep of the culture. Dianne Bugash

From: Jaytees Art — Feb 16, 2010

Like Julie Hollis I am also renovating what was once a shop, a fishmongers and then cafe’s and restaurants, into a small gallery for my own and other’s work……there will be regular ‘solo’ exhibitions, regular mixed displays by local artists and classes, workshops, demonstrations etc once it gets going and a library of art books to browse…… there will be a visible ‘painting’ space for me or whoever is manning it. It’s in a good spot in a small market town on the English/Welsh borders that gets plenty of visitors…. though more likely ramblers than Rolls Royce owners! Fortunately there are many very talented local artists! The ‘locals’ love the idea that the building is to come to life again (its been empty for 6 years) and I’m hoping it will attract browsers, artists, buyers and learners equally…. … ..but I am being totally indecisive as to how to ‘charge’ for the hanging space …. for want of better terminology! I am in the fortunate position of having a retirement pension….. so don’t need to make massive profits. …but do need to make it pay for itself! Its not a co-operative as I own the premises and am already on too many committees !. Have any of your readers done something similar and can offer advice ? Perhaps, Robert, it is a fresh topic altogether ? Your letters are always stimulating…..but its a measure of my total commitment to this project that its the first time I’ve replied to one !

From: June Raabe — Feb 16, 2010

I found the many comments on galleries most interesting since I work in a gallery as a volunteer. I am a bit shy about accosting customers, remembering that nothing chases me faster out of a store than an over zealous clerk. I am supposed to greet people, sometimes I forget. However I remain friendly and approachable, answer questions (often about other stores in the mall!) We are an Arts Council gallery, “working ” members can hang several paintings all the time. A limit of 3 months encourages us to keep painting and produce new work. As to commission it varies on the amount of hours a person “sits’ in the gallery. Even with no hours the commission is reasonable. We don’t sell frames . The level of our art varies, from a beginners to a professionals. People mostly ask if the paintings are “local” which they all are. Payment to the artist who sells, is once a month, because we are all volunteers except for our office manageress. Last week a lady went around with her friend, then stopped at the desk, pointed to two nice small watercolours behind me and said”I’ll take both of those”. Twice I have been astonished by someone walking in and saying “I will have THAT one AND that one”! I wonder if it was because the artist had put the price and then “or two for $$$” . People love a bargain. If someone admires something and says they cannot afford it, I try to (gently) suggest it is often possible to buy on a lay a way plan. We have one or two chairs for people who want to sit. Recently another gallery came into the mall, I hope the competition will be good for us. The other is a Co-op gallery run by the artists, many of them are our friends. So I plan to refer people to them as well. As a clerk I must be friendly and approachable all the time. I have my own work hanging as well but do not mention that unless the person asks if I paint and where my pictures are. As an arts council we also support other arts , dance, music, literary. If we have show openings we do serve coffee and nibbles, and a chance to meet the artist, or watch the award winners get their prizes (nice certificate and a small amount of money) I realize this type of gallery doesn’t suit everyone. It suits me because age and poor health discourage me from aggressively approaching commercial galleries. My work does sell. I think the openhouse concept a great idea (but not for me! I have a tiny cluttered house) It is interesting reading the many different ideas and opinions on the subject. The downside of our gallery is that we are at the mall’s mercy so to speak. We cannot afford large rents, so we take the left over spaces currently standing empty. We keep track of how many customers we have, this helps the mall know the traffic patterns. As for people interested in one particular artist, we are not allowed to give out the contact information, however we can offer to contact the artists and give them the potential customer’s phone number. Like all commercial enterprises we expect our commission, for anything sold in the gallery, or later.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 16, 2010

Galleries are like a pair of shoes. Some fit very well, some don’t. Galleries are in business to make money. If blue is the flavor of the month, they sell blue. If, by some unfortunate chance, you’re painting is green your out of luck…until green is the flavor of the month. I’ve honestly come to believe there are good galleries just bad owners. What gets me in any discussion with gallery owners is their open mistrust they think we have for them. They really believe artists are out to cheat them at every opportunity. I say here and now and openly I’m looking for an honest relationship with a gallery that I can trust and who trusts me to do the right thing by them. I believe most artists feel the same way.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 16, 2010

There are too many beginners mixed in with experienced quality artists out there and too many local galleries willing to show work of little or low quality from these inexperienced artists. Unfortunately art isn’t based on a master’s degree or an art education. Even with little or no entry school level education on art history, some can still identify quality art because it feels right and moves them, while others only like what they like without any rhyme or reason. Galleries and art mongers trade on this ignorance and dictate what art is. Add to the fact that no one can clearly identify what art is, only adds to this confusion. Some can see quality, technique and masterful coloring and composition and call this art, but generally art today can be a paper cup or wad of gum if the intellegencia says its art, further muddying the waters. What art is; apart from the obvious techniques, placement, color harmony, or discord; is impossible to pin down. The work of Monet, Picasso, Sargent or Bouguereau is brilliant to one while trash to another. Galleries at one time were at the forefront of art and I believe interested in quality artists and work. They had a pedigree of sorts. Art was in their blood. They believed in it. But art in general has been relegated to the back seat of society. Many gallery owners have little or no art training or knowledge. Many galleries, in order to survive, now exhibit non art items just to make ends meet, confusing the public even more. Because art is so ethereal and hard to nail down takes an experienced eye, someone who can recognize art and have the courage to display it and not pander to the money machine that fuels sales. Galleries need to reinvest in artists again and nurture the good ones, the ones who exhibit talent and have something to contribute to the world of art. Until that happens anyone with a lease can open a gallery.

From: anon — Feb 17, 2010

Having “too many” beginners out there mixed with experienced artists is a good thing for the beginners, not so much for the experienced artists. Not so long ago there were too many beginner Americans , beginner settlers, beginner pioneers and so it goes on. It’s just a natural progression. The first who arive anywhere don’t get to keep the status without constantly fighting for their space under the sun. They always see faults in the newcomers, nothing is “up to the standards” of the firstcomers, but that doesn’t matter any more. Time is running over everyone quickly and newer newcomers will be here soon. Who knows what kind of standards they will bring. No doubt there will be good and bad in it all. That’s the reality. Intimidation is unavoidable.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 17, 2010

Dear Anon – You must be a beginner from your tone. I’m not opposed to beginners, I just hope they get a chance to learn to be experienced. Only time, study and understanding, as with everthing in life, makes you better. All youth, myself included, wanted to jump the initial steps and start running. Those are lost years all beginners will lose who think this way. It’s when you gain experience is when you appreciate the difference

From: anon — Feb 18, 2010

yes, I always a beginner at something, experienced at something else. And I will always lose something and gain something else. I love the journey, I love diferences and I love reading about them.


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