• Paradigm Gallery + Studio

Paradigm Gallery + Studio

Paradigm Gallery + Studio provides an artistic space for both the visual and performing arts, with a focus on dedicated, emerging Philadelphia-based artists. We provide artists with individualized attention, strong promotional support, and a transformable gallery space to make their own. Learn more about the Artist Residency Program at http://vimeo.com/69334126 (password: mna) and the artist documentary series at http://vimeo.com/69126151 (password: patrick). We strive to make art accessible to the whole community through free bi-weekly events and support work that welcomes a wide audience.

As a new initiative supported by the Corzo Center and its Wells Fargo Fellows program, we wanted to develop a program that puts our artists on display throughout the local community. We saw this as a way to extend and expand the exposure of our artists’ work as well as generate new revenues for Paradigm Gallery.

During the past year, Paradigm has grown in ways we did not expect and has come up short in areas where we thought we would easily excel. When we started this grant process, we had a vision of adding a strong Resident Artist Program to Paradigm, and through the process, we realized we needed first to use this opportunity to build a strong foundation for the program instead of fully launching it just yet.

In the year of the grant, we learned a number of things:

  • What you do not know can be the very thing that requires you to redesign entire timelines and goals.
  • It is a good idea to listen to others.
  • Nothing goes as planned, and that is okay.
  • Everything takes longer than planned. Even worse than too little money is too little time.
  • Be transparent – to those you work with and to those you do business with.
  • Sometimes being lean is better than being flush: It helps one become efficient, to make the most of profits.

As we moved forwarded, we discovered needs and realities we’d not planned for. We determined that we needed a point of sale system – one we could integrate with an online shop and with our accounting program before we launched new programs, and developed a strong integrated system using Vend, Shopify, and Xero. We also determined that we needed a strong LLC agreement and contracts, developed by a lawyer, which is still be worked on and will be added to our summary this month. We ran into trouble with another aspect of the project, trade marking, but happily received the news recently that we have been approved for pro-bono services to complete this process. Funding also went into hanging supplies and filming the progress of our Resident Artist Program, where we show the work of our artists in local businesses to increases artwork exposure and sales.

Challenges

It was hard to admit that our business – already two and a half years old – had so many points of weakness to address, and it has been even harder to keep our focus on strengthening the foundation before building upon it. Seeing the advantages of preparedness more than ever over the past year has helped us to build that foundation.

The Corzo grant came at such a good time for us in the short history of our business. We learned that we were too headstrong in areas we did not yet understand, and when we recognized our weaknesses, we focused for too long on them. We learned to back up the things we are strong-willed about, and learned the value of seeking a reliable second opinion.

Areas of Development and Lessons Learned

Lesson One. Properly researching the programs that are right for your company is an extremely time-consuming process. One is easily tempted to search for shortcuts to “save time” rather than search for solutions that do the job well. We do not regret spending at least a month or two solely focused on this task, but we became frustrated as what we had planned – hanging artwork in businesses around the community – got delayed. We found that nothing compares to full concentration given to each aspect of a business, one thing at a time, to make sure things pan out correctly, because if you skip some necessary steps, you may find that nothing pans out at all.

This lesson continued to carry over into our plans to launch our Resident Artist Program even after finding the correct POS system, accounting system, and online shop. As we fleshed out what we wanted from the Resident Artist Program, we realized that it was going to take a lot longer than we originally thought – déjà vu – to create a stronger sales structure process that could handle keeping track of sales at multiple locations around the city. Even after it took so long for us to select the appropriate programs, we still needed to give ourselves time to set them up and get used to using them.

Lesson Two. Nothing goes as planned. Always expect the unexpected and be ready to adjust your plan. Recognize that dropping a planned approach is not necessarily a failure. We still believe that the idea for a program that connects artists with the local community is great – in fact, we believe it is necessary if we are to have a sustainable business – we can only phase that it once we have built the framework to support it. Even then, we must be prepared for events that we have no way of predicting, but for which we can only be as prepared as possible.

In our case, this meant when we started our first Paradigm’s Resident Artists Program showing at Moon and Arrow boutique – a good beginning with two pieces sold – there was a fire. Happily, the business had insurance that would have covered the artwork if it had been damaged, but we did not have a plan in place to tell our artists exactly what would happen in the case of a fire. As a result, the artist went through a few days of feeling anxious while we got back to her with a plan for when we would be able to get into the building, etc. Through this, we dealt with quite a bit of uneasiness and doubt ourselves regarding our ability to protect her interests. We now know that we need to have a clear plan mapped out that participating artists are already aware of for a wide range of unpredictable situations upon consigning their work through Paradigm Gallery + Studio. We were confident of our abilities to devise plans in various unpredictable scenarios, but the artist also needs to know that we have this on our minds.

Lesson Three. The fire made clear that we did not yet know how to communicate with our artists. In fact, we learned that we did not yet know how to communicate with each other. How were we going to take on the responsibilities of the unexpected? What did we assume about how we spent money in support of the routine as well as the unexpected? How can we properly communicate outside of our – Jason and my – working relationship how we match artists to businesses, come up with suggested prices, and work out consignment percentages?

That requires an effort to be transparent and transparency requires work. That effort often seemed like a diversion, taking us away from the reason we started our business. Still, we discovered, it is critical work. The grant process and our accountability for the money we received made it clear that such transparency was important since we needed to be able to explain how we expected to accomplish things, to discuss why we felt it necessary, and to document our work with clarity.

The fire and our responsibilities to our resident artists meant that we needed to be able to explain how we planned to protect their work, and to openly communicate what risk – though rare, still possible – an artist or a business might be taking by participating in the program. We were not fully prepared to do this and still have much growing to do in this category.

Lesson Four. You cannot do it all. This is very similar to “lesson one” in the way that success comes from giving the correct amount of focus as needed, but this time from an even more personal view. Through this grant process my partner, Jason, and I were taking on way too much between running Paradigm and our full and part-time jobs. To clarify, we both were working full AND part-time jobs. When I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia over the winter, which turned into two months sick leave from my job, we actually saw an increase in online activity and sales at Paradigm. I found myself in bed dedicating most of the time that I was not resting or sleeping – which I spent most of my time doing by far – to doing anything I could do from a computer in bed for Paradigm. Seeing the immediate results of those extra hours and full concentration on Paradigm helped me to make an important decision: if we want this business to succeed, I cannot go back to working full time. I am still figuring out how to make ends meet sometimes due to the sudden and unplanned large drop in income, but there is no doubt in my mind that struggling a little bit now to make this work in the long run was the right decision. If you are going to do something, then actually go for it.

Difficulties

We had trouble sticking to plans to protect ourselves legally because we wanted to put the money into our business rather than into lawyers. As long as things went well, that made sense. As we faced our challenges, we began to wonder whether our agreements were enough. While it seemed like the smart thing to use our grant to get agreements that protected our partners and us, we saw the grant money quickly fade away so we had to develop new strategies, with less money to do what we wanted to do.

Aside from the issue of funds, we faced the problem of time. We had not spent enough time and research on trade marking or LLC agreements to be able to determine exactly what we needed. We have now concluded that we need revised contracts if we are to have a strong foundation, but it is hard not to wish that we could put all of the grant money into increasing our sales and making our business run more efficiently.

What We Learned

We know how to get things done, but in our way, which can leave others in the dark a bit. We understand our business more than anyone else on the outside, but, if we want it to grow, we need clear systems in place that easily show how we operate,

The fact that we used the grant monies to cover legal services and not to develop our sales campaign had a surprising upside. It required us to work lean. As a result, we found ways to run our business and increase sales slightly on a much lower budget than originally planned, which will be very helpful when we do not have grant money to factor into our operating budget.

Series: Investing in Local Artists and Businesses

We have found over the past few years that, in general, Philadelphia’s art market could use a bit of strengthening. Over the next year, we hope to contribute to helping increase awareness of the importance and value of purchasing original artwork and do our best to help increase the demand for it. This may sound like an overly ambitious endeavor, but we have a few thoughts as to how to start small to help our contribution spread.

Art Buying Video Series

For each artist that participates in our Resident Artist Program, we plan to create a video short to promote the artist and the business where his/her work will be showing. Please watch the following from our time hanging the artwork of Jason Chen and Caitlin McCormack at Moon and Arrow boutique for an overview of the program: http://vimeo.com/69334126 (password: mna).

The future videos documenting the program will show the process of how each artist makes work and will show a sort of tally of the time, supplies, and skills that go in to each work of art, as well as very quick overview of the artist’s career so far. We are still working on the exact format for the videos, but they will be geared to what we see as our potential customer in these locations, and will serve the purpose of explaining how work is made by highlighting the value of the work and stressing the importance of investing in local artists. These videos can then also be shown as part of future classes/seminars we plan to develop. Here is an example of the rough cut of the first video we have been working on with upcoming Paradigm artist, Patrick Blake: http://vimeo.com/69126151 (password: patrick).

We also interviewed Christopher Sharrock, Dean of the College of Art, Media, and Design at The University of the Arts, for this video to get a different point of view from someone with more experience than an emerging artist and an emerging art gallery. Our goal is to continue to interview knowledgeable voices in the art world, such as Dean Sharrock, for these videos to give a more analytical point of view to keep true to the value of this program, rather than developing something that comes off as mere advertisement for our artists. We also want to add tips for buyers to each video of things to look for when purchasing artwork, and why it does and does not make sense to purchase artwork in Philadelphia.

Typical artist interview questions:

  1. Hi! What is your name?
  2. Where are you from originally?
  3. Where did you go to school? (high school / college / grad school - whichever point you reached) What did you study?
  4. What medium(s) have you worked in? What medium(s) do you work in now? Do you have a favorite? Why?
  5. How long have you been making artwork?
  6. How long have you been making artwork professionally?
  7. Where have you shown your work over the past few years?
  8. Where does the magic happen?
  9. Do you have a typical price range for your artwork?
  10. From original idea to buying supplies to the hours spent working on a piece to bringing it to a gallery - please walk us through your process verbally. (please mention the costs of various steps of the process in your explanation)
  11. Would you mind visually walking us through your process as well?
  12. How do you price your work based on that process?
  13. How would you like to price your work based on that process?
  14. What is your favorite piece that you have purchased from another artist? How much was that piece?
  15. Do you wish that you could personally buy more original artwork?
  16. To you, what is the significance of buying / owning original artwork?
  17. Is there added significance to purchasing locally made artwork to you?

Optional:

  1. How much was the first piece you ever sold?
  2. What is the most expensive piece you've ever sold?
  3. Have you ever kicked yourself for pricing a piece far too low when you've sold it?
  4. Is there a piece that you can think of that you feel you priced "just right"? Why?

For our interview with the dean, we concentrated on our previous interview with Patrick Blake, seeing his take on Patrick's answers to the questions, as well as talking to him about a framed piece of artwork by Patrick that we brought with us to the interview. We discussed the value of the work, what he saw as strengths and areas for improvement with Patrick's pricing and presentation processes, as well as general discussions on buying art and Philadelphia’s art market compared to other cities.

We will also be adding an interview with someone who has purchased Patrick's work from us at the gallery to the final video. We will start including testimonials from “Supporters of the Arts” in our newsletters, as well as add a page of various locations and sites that our followers have deemed their “Favorite Places to Buy Local, Original Artwork”. We believe including Paradigm in a larger list of place for people to buy local artwork, rather than only addressing purchasing artwork through Paradigm, will help our site become a destination for people to learn more about where and how to buy local, ultimately leading to more sales for us and other local places to purchase artwork.

One another note that still falls under the category of increasing sales and figuring out our market in Philadelphia, we would also like to find out more about the various types of house tours that happen in the city and just outside of it. I think groups that host and attend Queen Village house tours might be a great group to target some advertising towards from a specific angle. We are very interested in keeping in contact with the Corzo Center going forward as all of these ideas develop.

Testimonial for “Art Buying Education” examples:

There is something so special and unique about buying art directly from an artist or gallery. I enjoy knowing that what I hang on my walls or give as presents have stories behind them- that someone studied a craft and poured their time, heart, and essentially life into them and that I've been able to give back to that artist directly instead of a large corporation. I like to support local- to me that means visiting galleries, buying one of a kind art, talking to artists and knowing that the art I own has gone from the artist and gallery straight to me. I myself am an artist- and for me when I've sold my art in the past it was one of the most rewarding experiences.-Harmony Hansen, Supporter of the Arts

Everyone everywhere should get in the habit of buying art. Once a year, once a month! Whatever works!-Erin M. Riley, Supporter of the Arts

Paradigm Gallery + Studio Online Store

ParadigmArts.org was developed using Shopify, which integrates with Vend Point of Sale System and Xero accounting. I would highly recommend all of these programs based on our experience with them so far. For businesses just starting up through the Corzo Center that might not quite know what they need through a POS system yet, I highly recommend using Square and taking advantage of all of its newly launched online shop and POS system capabilities for the first year or so.