Arts Business

Voices in Our Community

(Left) Anrika Rupp, artist. (Above) Galaxy in a Box, #24. Anrika Rupp, artist

Owning a Small Business in Uncertain Times

By Gary Culbertson

Asheville is a diverse community consisting of individuals who are here for many reasons: nature, climate, opportunity, connection, culture and commerce. My husband Francisco and I, owners of Contemporaneo Asheville, moved here five years ago for all of these reasons. Asheville is a city that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging the pursuit of dreams that might not be as attainable in other locations. We are constantly inspired by the people in our town taking risks, creating plans and bringing ideas to fruition. This is what drew us to Asheville, and this is why we remain here.

Gary Culbertson, left, and Francisco Troconis

Our mission at Contemporaneo Asheville is to present contemporary artists from all over the world who embrace innovation, creativity and imagination in all aspects of their work. Art is a truly human expression that challenges, inspires and elevates individuals in times of plenty and times of struggle. In this unprecedented time, it behooves all of us to reflect on our priorities. As business owners and as members of the Asheville community, we must embrace the unknown—though it shakes us to our core—and we must be prepared to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

We have recently been faced with a choice: to close our doors for good and fold in the face of this struggle, or to adapt. When our brick-and-mortar gallery closed over a month ago, we were devastated by the idea that Contemporaneo might not survive. The blood, sweat and tears that we poured into our three-year-old business seemed to be evaporating right before our eyes. We had developed an amazing base of foot traffic, repeat customers and recognition within the community. As with the entire community of business owners and employees, we were in shock. While surviving this bizarre reality seemed impossible at first, compassion and understanding have prevailed. As the new road appeared before us, it was a wake-up call, inviting us to implement several new practices that will allow our business to not only survive but thrive.

Getting Social
We realized quickly that our social media presence was unevenly balanced with our focus on the physical gallery space. We have found an equilibrium now, using Instagram and Facebook to host live gallery tours; to present remote interviews and conversations with artists and collectors; and to engage our followers with daily updates and articles. These accounts have grown markedly and the level of engagement is encouraging us to continue to develop more innovative content and access.

Engaging Collectors Via Video Chat
Zoom is a wonderful platform that has allowed us to reach out personally to our regular collectors. Through this medium, we are able to provide individual showcases of artwork and consult with potential buyers.

Reframing “The Sale”
As gallery owners, we recognize our responsibility to the artists we represent. Our success is their success, and their success is our success. They are dependent on galleries to showcase and sell their work and we are conscious of our role in ensuring their continued ability to create and inspire. We have worked with our artists to provide incentives for potential buyers such as free or discounted shipping and installation; lay-away; and percentage discounts. This mutual cooperation has allowed us more negotiating power with potential buyers, increasing the likelihood that a sale can finalize. Our goal is for satisfaction between artist, customer and gallery.

As a gallery for visual art, we are just realizing the potential of audio media like podcasts. It is exciting to provide artists with a platform for showcasing their expertise and experience with conversation and commentary, which is just as vital to the creative world as the visual experience of art.

We approach this new path with curiosity, open-mindedness and a deep commitment to the art community. Strong relationships are the key to ensuring that the independent businesses that define Asheville can survive this crisis. Our deepest appreciation goes out to our fellow residents of Asheville, this wonderful community which we are so proud to be a part of.

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