How to open and run an art gallery

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How to open and run an art gallery

The art scene in South Africa is booming at the moment and there are art events happening all over the country to get the world excited about African art. That’s why it’s not a bad time to open and run an art gallery of your own and be a part of the hype.

So, what do you need to do to successfully open and run an art gallery in South Africa? You’re about to find out.


Just like any business

The first thing you need to understand is that opening an art gallery will undergo the same process as starting a business. You will need capital, a business model and an effective business plan. You’ll need to be knowledgeable about the art industry that your business is in and, ideally, enjoy being in that industry. If you can, try to get experience in the art gallery business before you start your own venture. It will give you first-hand insight and inspiration for your own business.

You will need to decide on the type of art you will open your gallery to and use that exclusivity to reach a niche art market and develop a brand reputation. Start the business, choose your art style, decide on your market, find a location and watch the business-ball start to roll.


Artists to showcase

When you’ve decided on an art style, whether that’s limited to established or emerging artists in the realm of specific or all art styles, you’re going to need a compile a list of artists before you open.

You need to know what are the big names with regards to local, national and international artists and see who you can get hold of to exhibit in your gallery. Once you have an idea of the types of art and artists out there, you’ll need to reign in a select few. Remember, you’re just starting out and you’re going to need some amazing pieces to draw attention and traffic through your doors.

A few top names in the African art community include:

  • Athi Patra-Ruga
  • Daniella Mooney
  • Dineo Sheshee Bopape
  • Georgina Gratrix
  • Fabrice Monteiro
  • Osborne Macharia
  • Siwa Mgoboza



But artists aren’t the only list of people you’ll need to network with when you open and run your art gallery. Should you choose to be a commercial gallery, you’ll need to know art collectors in the area as well. Otherwise, you’ll be opening up a gallery and have no customers to start generating profit off of. The same goes for critics, art dealers and fellow gallerists.

Networking is crucial in the art industry and can put your gallery in the running to be part of exclusive and honorary art events and festivals. The more people you know, the more marketing will happen for your gallery. Word-of-mouth is a valuable advertising method in the art industry, it’s all about names and the where the who’s who of the industry spend their time and energy.


Art “districts” in South Africa

Location is also extremely important when opening an art gallery. You need to be in the area of other galleries if you’re going to want to attract attention. Reason being that is where all the art-lovers are during the week. You don’t want to be too far from the action when people enjoy the experience of walking from gallery to gallery.

A few of the art districts in South Africa, where you should consider opening your gallery, include:

  • Western Cape: Cape Town is home to many of the popular art scenes in the country, specifically in the Southern Suburbs. Woodstock has almost 20 art galleries just outside of the city and the city centre itself has a variety of galleries as well. Cape Town is where the creatives live and entertain themselves. Definitely not a bad place to start up an art gallery and become part of the First Thursday craze.
  • Gauteng: Johannesburg, the City of Gold, is home to the majority of Gauteng’s art scene. Renowned art galleries all around the city that also have the First Thursdays event and draw in all the right attention.

Cape Town and Johannesburg are probably your best bets in terms of finding a location for your art gallery. They are also the more popular provinces with tourists, in which case you can cater to that audience as well and introduce them to what African art truly is. Just make sure your location is buzzing with foot traffic and ideal for hosting events.


Effective security measures

Owning an art gallery will not only cost you money up front, but it will also be worth a lot of money whilst it’s running. You, more than anyone, will know the value of a single artwork and to have an entire gallery full of valuable art can be a nerve-wracking concept. You’ll need to install security measures to protect the art while it’s being viewed, as well as after hours.

These are your assets and your business and you won’t be able to afford the loss of either. Security guards (preferably around the clock security), security cameras and alarm systems should be installed for the safekeeping of your gallery.  

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