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Sharing the art business

Stewart Mosberg

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series by Art Seen columnist Stew Mosberg about the impact of art shows and special events on local town revenue.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen has spent a great deal of time on issues that drive retail and how to get more people to come to the town.

“Events are a big part of that (plan). What (people) do when they are here is not (in our control),” Gagen said. “It’s important for merchants to take advantage of any event in town.”

He went on to say that in spite of competition from art shows or food festivals, businesses should have a commercial tie-in of some sort. Does it makes sense to do a promotional tie-in to bring customers into a gallery when interest is high in viewing and buying artwork?

In Breckenridge, where more than a dozen art emporiums share the town’s retail makeup, does it makes sense for the galleries to try once again to have an art walk of their own, such as those held in Denver, Vail, Aspen or Salida?

Gary Freese, a longtime resident and Breckenridge Art Gallery owner, has seen several attempts to organize art dealers. Freese believes that because the galleries are independent operations, without a single voice, the town doesn’t pay enough attention to the effects of art shows on their respective businesses.

As to developing some sort of promotional tie-in when the art shows are in town, Freese said: “I don’t see any sense in perpetuating a bad situation by doing something in conjunction with the shows.”

According to Freese, the idea of having outside vendors, whether their product is food or art, does little to promote the health of local merchants. Independent artists, who have no overhead, come in, undersell the retailers and then leave.

From Freese’s perspective, why not have events in town to promote attendance when the season is slow, not during the July Fourth to Labor Day period?

The problem appears to be compounded by the number of similar events. Three al fresco art exhibitions in one town might be one too many. Yet, it doesn’t look like the Breckenridge Town Council is about to let up on events as a basis for attracting tourism. In fact, Gagen said the town will “not do away with events – good events that have extensive draw power. Events on public land is our job.”

Given the ability of these programs to reap tax revenues, enhance tourism and provide funding for nonprofits, it probably is prudent to seek more of them.

But as longtime Breckenridge photographer and Colorado Scenics gallery owner Steve Tohari muses, “You need to share. Making it easy for the artists (at the shows) is not a level playing field (for the galleries). The town needs to realize, if you hurt the merchants, it affects the (shopping) experience.”

Terri McGrath of Hibberd, McGrath Gallery pointed to the loss of parking spaces in Breckenridge when the art and antique shows are held on the Watson and Sawmill lots.

Parking is a major problem in Summit County. If people cannot park they will not stay. If events are held at one end of town, will people venture to the other end? If Main Street is closed to traffic and booths and tents line the center thoroughfare, how do customers access the retail shops on either side?

One thing is clear: Event planners must take all the issues into consideration. A variety of events promotes return visits and will help create a better balance for the retail community. By bringing events to town that are beneficial to one type of retailer, it will likely impact negatively on another. But it becomes obvious that the number of similar types of events – such as three art shows in the same season – should be curtailed.

Stew Mosberg writes about the art market for local and national publications. He visits art shows, galleries and museums on a regular basis and can be reached at stewmosberg@aol.com.


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