Ever come up to a busy intersection on a road you’re trying to turn onto? Real busy and congested, to a point where you know you’ll get in, eventually, but a clear path isn’t really open yet, or you have to creep in slowly. You’re just looking for that moment — that point of entry. While that scenario is commonplace for most on a daily rush hour drive to and back from work, it’s also a process that most business ventures go through at their formation and carry on through their lifespan. In the art world, in particular, galleries and museums have the same concerns that every restaurant, manufacturer, or shop encounters of how one ought to bring in total strangers and persuade them to patronize and support their operation. They’re all pieces on the same game board, playing by the same rules: everyone has got to pay the bills.

Entering the art world, notwithstanding, presents a unique set of challenges on how to become an artist or art aficionado that can live on the earnings their work produces, and be able to do it full-time. There are no temp agencies, no collected classifieds, and no artist job fairs, with no easy entrance. An artist, curator, or someone who wants to exist in that community, has their ideas, their social skills, and their work. Similar to pulling up to that ramp on the freeway, bumper-to-bumper traffic with everyone else on their way, where does one enter? Someone will be nice enough to yield, right?

In any field it seems daunting. It can look from a distance like a sheer climb up a cliff. Luckily, people pull it off every day, and they do it well. And it’s not due to good fortune alone. Art entrepreneurs and gallery owners across the world sharpen their already keen instincts in the art market through past knowledge and experience. For someone looking to break into the scene as a producer or exhibitor of great artwork, the complexity of the problem can often overshadow the simplicities of getting started the right way. Even after a quarter-century, the best in the business realize the finest strategy is to keep things simple, and to never forget the basics or the constant nurturing and growth of one’s network connections.

“A gallery is a retail store that sells fine art, a fact many people seem to be confused by,” says Barbara Gazdik, owner of Mars Gallery in Chicago, Illinois. Started in 1988 as a continuation and expansion of selling art, Mars was the completion of a plan to establish a venture that is both sustainable and an operation that doesn’t shy from the intent of exhibiting and showing artwork.  Gazdik, for a while, has been showcasing contemporary local artists in the Chicago area, such as Joey Africa, Peter Mars, and Karen Parisian in hope of enticing a particular crowd that enjoys local forms of art, not just those renowned.

“There are many concerns one has to overcome, an important thing to note is the problem of longevity when one gets started,” Gazdik said. “Everyone’s products are unique in this world and people may not see the credibility of a new place.”

It’s a perfect snapshot in framing human nature. Not everyone is as forthcoming to new things, no matter what particular, and people have a natural tendency to move toward “things that are well established,” according to Gazdik. “Ultimately, you have to know exactly who your customers are and what they’re looking for.”

Other types of gallery operators are the artists themselves, featuring their own work and helping newcomers enter into a sphere of influence. Often the gallery or small rental space is the most logical destination in a crazy trajectory for an artist’s wanderlust for opportunity; an opportunity that most museums do not bestow upon those who are just starting out.

Michael Mulley, curator of Queen City and College Street Galleries in Buffalo, New York describes the calming effect, not the deceleration, of finding a space to exhibit work. Beginning as a music photojournalist for independent zines in the early ’90s, Mulley illustrates a career break that was part chance, part calculation, in an attempt to gain more stability and control over his career and work.

“I knew people, I knew music, knew art, and there was this old tiny space that used to be a barber shop and the landlord offered me a criminally low rent,” Mulley said, referring to a rental space he was able to procure without major difficulty due to his diverse connections.

Mulley opened College Street Gallery in 1997, and continues working there to this day with a monthly co-op which features amateur painters and photographers that started in 2008.

“It’s important that I curate people more than art, and in the end I wouldn’t phrase it as ‘we’re in the art world.’ We are people who make art, and I think that’s a big difference, we’re not about boards and endowments,” he said.

It’s certainly important for amateurs to get a start somewhere, and start fast. According to a report by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), college educated artists earn almost $6,000 less annually than others with a similar level of education. Dancers, for example, can earn as low as $15,000 per year. Women remain severely underrepresented in artistic occupations, with two-thirds of musicians, producers, and photographers being men. On a brighter note, to complement the more independent nature of the artist, they are almost four times more likely to be self-employed.

The competition, with more applicants than job openings and the fact that smaller galleries are often started or run by experienced artists or curators to begin with can make a big difference in earning power. Curators and gallery directors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, have a median income of $48,450 as of May 2010, with a range of $19,363 to $70,467 as of October 2011.

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