Gallery of the Month posts are back! And I am happy to introduce you to Christie Minervini, the creative owner of Gallery Fifty, located in Traverse City, MI. Please enjoy this first half f my interview with Christie...
About the Store...
Q: Why did you decide to open a gallery? How long have you been open?
A: I have a B.A. in Art (Design) from the University of Iowa and spent fifteen years in sales and marketing -- mostly print media -- before finally moving into the gallery business. I have always loved art and it was a life-long goal to open Gallery Fifty. What I hadn't realized during this time is what an asset that a background in sales and marketing would be to my new profession. I'm sure I would have failed miserably if I tried to do this right out of college.
My interest in craft has developed -- mainly as a collector -- over the past twenty years. It started with glass and grew to include ceramics, fiber and then finally paintings and assemblages. Of course, my first love has always been studio jewelry.
Q: Describe your gallery, the work you carry, etc...
A: Our reputation has always been for contemporary or abstract art, but because we're housed in a 125 year-old former insane asylum, I also gravitate toward work that honors or complements the history of the building. Themes of antiquity and mystery, work created with aged materials, "found art" and recycled or repurposed pieces are given special prominence.
I'm opening a new gallery downtown in September and will be offering more refined work there. All of our fine jewelry will be featured there, in addition to higher-end glass, ceramics and fine art.
Q: Are your products exclusively handmade?
A: Yes, I'd say 95% of our work is handcrafted or produced in the artist's studio. The other 5% are items produced by American designers.
Q: Do you represent local or international artist/designers?
A: We named our gallery, "Gallery Fifty" because we represent artists and designers from all fifty states. That being said, we feature mainly local or regional artists with the wall art in the gallery. I also present an exhibition series showcasing local talent bi-monthly.
Q: What is your price range of the products you sell?
We have products starting at $12 all the way up to $10,000. For fine art, our best-selling price range is $300 - $700. For studio jewelry it is $150 - $500. We offer a great selection of gifts in the $45 - $125 range.
Q: Do you have special events? ie: First Friday? Exhibitions/openings? Trunk shows?
A: Like I already mentioned, we present a bi-monthly exhibition series in the show space adjacent to the gallery. With approximately 500 linear feet of wall, it's the biggest exhibition space in northern Michigan. We also host about 5-8 jewelry trunk shows a year.
-What's happening now?
Alex Sepkus Jewelry Trunk Show, August 14 - 15, 2009
"Winds of Change" Fiber Artists Coalition Show from September 1- October 31, 2009
Q: Do you offer special services? ie: wedding/baby/gift registries, shipping, gift wrapping
A: We always offer complimentary gift wrapping and have a "Wish List" gift registry available. We also offer "no hassle" shipping services.
Q: Do you sell online?
A: We don't currently offer a shopping card check out system, but we offer on-line buying through the blog portion of our website. Just call or email to order.
About the Business...
Q: Who is your customer base...Tourists? Locals? Repeat Customers? Collectors?
A: Our business is fairly seasonal, with the majority of sales happening between July and December. We love tourists because they are three times more likely to make a purchase than our year-round "regular" customers. However, over the past five years our local base has really grown. Especially men shopping for their wives or girlfriends. We've also experience an increase of area art collectors.
Q: How do you promote your artists / store?
A: We do a lot of advertising -- spending approximately 8 - 10% of our gross on marketing the gallery. Regular postcard mailings to our customer database, print advertising in regional publications, and underwriting our local National Pubic Radio station. We also spend on our web site, and an occasional ad in American Style or other NICHE magazines of the like.
Q: Where do you find your artists/product?
A: We do a lot of travel -- Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago SOFA and One-of-a-Kind shows. I also travel to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show every year. Even attended an ACRE show in Las Vegas this spring. I spend a lot of time curating for the "50 States" concept. A lot of our artists are now coming to us through word-of-mouth-- especially jewelry. I love the "pick box" idea... often seeing what's the latest and greatest without traveling to a show.
Q: What inspires you to buy a product?
A: Design is always going to be what inspires me to buy. A great design -- even without complex techniques or rare materials -- is what grabs me. A bonus is working with an artist or designer who knows how to self-promote (art statement cards, photography, nice web site, etc.).
Q: What is HOT right now?
A: Small original paintings (4" x 4" or 6" x 6"), inspirational works incorporating text, and our best-selling line of "Fordite" jewelry created from layers of vintage car paint.
Q: What do you think the next "wave or trend" is?
A: For us, it is definitely our move toward offering fine studio jewelry in high-karat gold and gemstones. We're really promoting the designs of Alex Sepkus, Todd Reed and Anne Sportun now and the results starting to pick up.
Q: What changes have been made from when you first opened the business?
A: We've quadrupled the amount of jewelry and the range that we're representing -- currently showing work by 25 designers. It's a huge percentage of our business. We've also continued to offer more "upscale" work in terms of quality and price.
Q: Are you, yourself an artist?
A: I've been making beaded jewelry for over ten years, but I've been getting more into metalworking lately. I've had workshops with Thomas Mann and James Binnion and continue my education when I can.Q: What is your favorite/least favorite part of your business?
A: My favorite part of the business is curating and merchandising the gallery. My least favorite part is managing the 150+ artists that we represent; the bookwork associated with consignment; and following up on orders/ deliveries/ promised ship date, etc.
Q: What is your favorite item you have kept for yourself from your store?
A: Too many to count! I like to own at least one piece from each of the jewelry designers that we represent, and I love getting "first pick" when our fine artists come in with new work.
Q: What do you feel makes you successful / what makes you most proud?
A: I'm especially proud that I've grown the gallery from a $15,000 investment five years ago into two 1,500 sq. ft. locations with a combined value of almost $200,000. I did it by taking 75% of our profits and reinvesting in the gallery, year after year.
Q: List your likes and interests, using only one word each or short phrases...
A: Fine art and original design
Music performed by singer/ songwriters
Independent and foreign film
Time spent with my ten-year-old daughter
Wise words from Christie: "If running a gallery were a science, everyone would be doing it. It's an art and you have to be a creative person to succeed at it."
If you find yourself in Traverse City, Michigan, stop by Gallery Fifity. And no matter where you are, you can visit the website and blog.