“The easier we can make it for people to buy, the more art can be sold and the more artists supported.” This was the consensus view of the artists, gallerists, collectors and business people who took part in the Guardian’s live chat last Friday 22 March. Initiatives like Arts Council England (ACE)’s Own Art scheme, through which galleries offer buyers interest-free loans to enable payment in monthly instalments are leading the way in making collecting more accessible: “Let’s reclaim the term ‘art collector’ from the minority,” wrote Contemporary Art Society’s Rebecca Morrill.

Indeed, Own Art have tried not to use the term ‘collector’ on their marketing materials at all, preferring to use the word ‘buyer’ in the majority of instances. “This was to try and break down some of these myths and barriers to who’s eligible to own art,” wrote Helen Bonar, one of ACE’s Own Art officers. And with prints and drawings available through the scheme for as little as £10 per month, it’s clear that the process of collecting need not, anymore, be the preserve of the very wealthy.


But, the panellists agreed, many galleries still have much to learn from the commercial sector in terms of developing their business planning and skills: “focusing on the consumer”, “forging relationships with your clientele” and “offering convenient payment systems” are as important for purveyors of fine art and craft as those of furniture, white goods or cars. “Perhaps more partnership is needed between the public and private sectors to help with this,” suggested Julia Alvarez, Director of BEARSPACE in South London.


Art world’s changing landscape

Demystifying the process of making art is also key in encouraging people to collect, and online tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can be very useful for both artists and gallerists: “Social media has been hugely transformational. It has really changed the landscape of the art world to make it increasingly democratic,” wrote London-based entrepreneur Susan Mumford.

Sustaining your ‘brand’ across online accounts and being generous and responsive in your posts can help nurture new audiences – and potential buyers: “We’ve definitely found that individuals are fascinated by process,” wrote Bonar, “and that this really helps them to engage in their appreciation of the work.”

The pros and cons of Internet sales was a hot topic for discussion. “Customers are prepared to spend more online than ever before,” wrote Brighton-based art collector turned gallerist James Woodward. But success can depend on the type of work on offer, and whether or not the buyer is familiar with the artist and their practice. “Online gives a partial view of any work, especially for contemporary fine craft where you can’t appreciate how, say, the light reflects off the glass or silver until it is in your hand,” wrote founder of Craft Finder Janet Paske. “Research tells us potential customers want to see the work for real before buying.”


Most contributors to the discussion felt that there is no substitute for “real-life encounters” when it comes to fostering relationships with collectors. The Internet is a great back up and can make the transaction easier, but all the cultivation and networking is about the real world and I don’t see that changing,” wrote Morrill. The role of the gallerist can be critical here, making contact with collectors at art fairs and openings, acting as negotiator between artists and buyers.Face-to-face is the way,” she concluded, “it’s hard graft, but it works.”


Read the full discussion at guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network

More on a-n.co.uk:

Gallery deals – Art dealer René Gimpel considers the relationship between artists and galleries, including contracts, gallery responsibilities and what commercial galleries do for artists. One of five short films, by Artquest’s ArtlawTV channel.

Social media: Twitter – Katy Beale and Charlotte Frost discuss micro-blogging with particular reference to Twitter and how it can be used for research, marketing and collaboration

Markets – What is the commercial climate for fine and applied arts? How important are galleries, corporate collectors and art fairs?

Selling initiatives – curator Jeni Walwin looks at issues relating to selling work and examines a number of different ways artists can engage with the art world on a commercial basis.