With a partner who holds an M.F.A., I have spent a number of years in galleries looking at art, assisting with hanging shows, and hovering awkwardly at openings. I have seen firsthand the life of a picture travel from idea, through creation and exhibition and on to sale and, we hope, a beloved life in someone’s home.
As a librarian, when my library was renovated, I was excited to plan open wall space that could be dedicated as gallery area. Given my past, I believed I was well prepared. Prior to our first show, I prepared a policy that outlined everyone’s responsibilities and liabilities. I researched various hanging systems and chose one that appeared easy to use and would not mar walls. I even received several suggestions for artists to contact.
Our gallery space has now completed three cycles. My library board and the public love the space; they are thrilled to see original art work in the library. However, I am now learning that I was not as prepared as I believed.
While our hanging system certainly prevents nail holes in our walls, it does not prevent the walls from minor damage. It has become clear that a repainting schedule is going to need to be implemented and not on the time frame of decades like our past experience. Frames and hanging wires brush against the paint, causing scratches and wear. The removable labels that identify our artist’s work, do remove with relative efficiency, but while they do not remove patches of paint or worse, wall board, they are not removed without signs of wear.
While it is stated up front, that artists show their work at their own risk, I cannot help but worry. I see our young adults throw themselves into chairs near the wall. I see unaware adults stroll past, brushing the walls as they travel. Worse, I see the curious and the admirers reaching to touch. Thankfully, we have had no ‘accidents,’ but I am well aware that should one occur the costs, both financial and to good will would be great.
Last, I had always imagined an ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach to the showing of art work. I believed that of course, artists, upon hearing of an opportunity would seize the chance. What I did not anticipate was that artists are no different than any other group of humans. They forget. They procrastinate. They change their mind. Thankfully our gallery space operates on a quarterly showing basis or I would spend half of my job engaging in the administration of this one program.
Ultimately, is the gallery space worth it? I think it is. It certainly makes our library prettier. By the end of their shows, our artists always appear grateful. Some have even gotten sales as a result. But before anyone ventures into this task, I would advise them to remember, like a garden, gallery space is something that must be tended to, not planted and forgotten!