Last week we shared some news about another beloved Fort Collins art gallery closing. It prompted a number of deeply insightful comments from Fort Collins artists and art patrons. Entertaining Fort Collins will continue to bring you more on the subject as the conversation continues at large. Today’s post focuses on one of the most heated discussions on the topic of evaporating art galleries right now — the efficacy of a gallery giving away free beer.
“I have always tried to present the coolest art I could find for Fort Collins in a fun environment and I don’t regret doing so. This town comes out in huge numbers and it creates a lot of great energy. But the truth is as much as we appreciate people coming out to show their support, without the sales there is simply no way to stay open. In February, after a month of finding artists and writing contracts and hanging art and a line out the door to view said art we didn’t sell a single piece. We did however give a way lots of free beer and what we got instead of sales were a lot of complaints when the beer ran out.” – Opiate Gallery Owner & Professional Photographer, Darren Mahuron
From my perspective of being the former owner of Rendition I have found that the beer is not enough to draw people in. Or at least the right type of people who will buy art. To stay open a gallery must make sales like any business. At Rendition we decided to go without the free beer and still attracted an amazing crowd of people. It seems that the people who do frequent the first Friday showings are not the big art buyers that the galleries need.
Is the booze culture choking the art culture?
I think that the two cultures need to be separate. Drawing people into a gallery setting with booze creates a type of party atmosphere which is very fun and I do enjoy partaking in it but it takes the focus away from the artwork.
What do you say to people who argue they just “like to have beer when I’m out and about?”
People should be coming to a gallery show with the focus on seeing artwork and engaging in discussion. People should feel enriched, moved or inspired by what they see to make for a successful night.
Is free beer leading me to purchase art?
Well from the days of the gallery underground the beer does loose some pockets but mostly on impulse buys and not enough to make a difference.
How do you convince people that they need to focus on the art?
New exciting shows that people look forward to are ways to have them focus on art. Just put on a great show for the crowd and they will come.
Do you have anything coming up that readers should check out?
Well my favorite place for art in town is the Center for Fine Art Photography. They always put together very interesting shows and really shows the potential of art that Fort Collins could have.
Brandton Manshell is founder and general manager of GNU: Experience Gallery in Old Town Square.
How does GNU: Experience Gallery stay open when other popular galleries like Rendition and Opiate close?
We don’t sell ourselves as just an art gallery because we don’t see that as a sustainable business here and now. I think the reason we last like this, is that we try to ask for help. And that we try to do a variety of stuff that appeals to the most people.
I notice that you didn’t mention giving away beer as an integral part of your operation.
Scene just did that article about Michael Kirkpatrick at Equinox, and how great it is to combine art and beer. So, I just think that if there was a general poll, most people from Fort Collins would want booze available at all art venues and events. But it’s the bureaucracy and outrageous financial burden that keeps us (the little guy / art galleries / one-off events) from being able to cash in on that desire. We have to buy the beer and give it away if we want to participate in the beer culture as a gallery.
Entertaining Fort Collins is beyond curious to hear your take on Fort Collins’ preference for craft beer (an art in its own right) over visual arts and crafts. What role does free beer play in your appreciation of local art galleries and in your purchasing of art?