Gallery owner Bobbi Walker says that the COVID-19 pandemic is the third economic downturn that her gallery has weathered in the eighteen years she's been in the art business. Because it's survived economic crises before, she is confident that Walker Fine Art will make it through this one.
"It’s not an easy road to manage this business in good times," she points out.
While many galleries have had to shift their sales from brick-and-mortar shops to the web in recent weeks, Walker was already involved in the online marketplace and has a good sense of what works — and what doesn't.
For three years, she marketed her gallery's mid-career artists on online marketplace Artsy, but that effort broke even only the first year. As a result, Walker recently decided to leave the platform and start selling all of her artists' work on the gallery's website.
"Every single piece is available," she explains. "The thing that’s new that we rolled out is a small-works marketplace, which is art under $2,000, which is a new initiative related to the times. You’re giving people a way to support you that is a low-cost entry."
Walker sells to a variety of customers: private residential collectors, corporations, interior designers. She also works with her artists on applications for public-art commissions — one of the mainstays in Denver's art marketplace — though she does not make a profit from that. And lately, her team, which has been working from home, has been sending information on financial resources to artists who've had exhibitions canceled.
"We’re in this for the artists," says Walker. To help drum up online sales, the gallery's website has been publishing videos of Walker and the gallery manager talking up work they had planned to show. It's also showing digital tours of the studios of artists who are slated for gallery shows, including Inner Voyages, which was scheduled to be up through May 16. And Walker Fine Art will host a virtual Final Friday on April 24.
"It's a way of bringing the client into the gallery and the gallery to the client," Walker explains. "We’re trying to take our current program and present it digitally."
While Walker is happy to have tools in place to keep sales going during stay-at-home orders and a large-scale shutdown of business, she is steadfast in her belief that brick-and-mortar galleries are critical for all but the most renowned artists, who are well represented in museums. Spaces like hers give clients a chance to see work in person. "Art is not a widget," she notes. "You can’t just look at it flat on the site, unless you’ve seen it before."
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As with many galleries, the value of Walker Fine Art extends far beyond selling work for artists, she adds: It creates a dialogue between artists and the community. "That community can engage with the artists behind the work is what makes it an emotional and intellectual experience," she explains.
As a result of the hard work of local galleries, Denver has a thriving community of collectors and has become better known as a culture town than a sports town, Walker says: "We’ve established ourselves as a very strong art market through the number of mid-career galleries that we have that are showing really strong exhibitions."
And that, she promises, will continue through the closures.
For more information about Walker Fine Art's online offerings, go to walkerfineart.com.