A Conversation with Amy Stock of Kennedy Grace Gallery

Tell us about the gallery, the program, what you do.

When I initially decided to start my own gallery, my initial thought was to open a traditional brick and mortar and start from there. Unfortunately, the financing that was in place fell through and I didn’t want to wait until I found additional funding. So pop ups were starting to really become a thing, they were popular and working, so I started looking into that model. So that’s how I started, popping up outside of other people’s businesses. Fortunately, Long Beach is so great, because so many businesses have started that way that now have brick and mortars, so they’re all very supportive in allowing others to pop up.

So how many places are you in?

So right now, I’m in four places. The pop ups kind of morphed into more, hanging artwork on businesses’ walls instead of me popping up outside of them. Which is nice, because it is a lot of work when you’re moving art around. It’s easier to move small pieces than big pieces. I’ll still do pop ups. There are a few that are worthwhile. But for the most part now, I focus on the walls that I have in other people’s businesses.

And is it working well?

Yeah, it’s a great model, because I don’t have to pay rent. So, the overhead is very low. Financially, it’s very feasible. The downside is all of these spaces have their own look.  So there’s a lot of artists I’d love to work with, but their artwork just doesn’t work in those spaces.

It doesn’t fit…size as well as style?

Yeah, I mean mostly style is the biggest thing.

You can’t do 3-dimensional?

Correct, that as well.

So, is your commission the same as a gallery?

Yeah, so outside of not having my own walls I run my business as a gallery. You know, contracts with the artists. Yeah, everything’s run exactly as if it was my own gallery using other people’s walls.

Do the stores/businesses get a cut?

Yeah they get a percentage of my cut.

It’s working well then?

You know, it’s different. Art openings and closings are always a struggle in general, I know from my end and the artists’ as well. We have a list of people we always contact, but whether they’re available to come that day or not, you don’t know. There could be some shows and no one shows up because everyone’s busy.

But the place could be packed with patrons?

Correct, District Wine is my flagship space. Yeah, it’s great because there’s already a built-in audience there. Moving into 2020 I’m working with the owner more and really programming the night of the art walk when we do our openings and closings, so it makes sense for her business as well as what I’m doing. So, we’ll have some more ambient music the nights of openings and closings, as it does bring people in, and it will be easier to have conversations.

We’ve noticed when we are at places and they have artwork on the walls, it is difficult to walk up and look at it when there are people sitting at a table. People are hesitant about that.

I feel like District Wine’s atmosphere is more casual. There are some coffee shops where I’ll walk in and look at the art and everyone’s looking at me wondering what I’m doing.

Or it’s hung in a way that’s difficult to see.

I will pop in just to make sure everything is looking good. Yes, I try to make sure the size of the art makes sense for any tight corners or just not put any art in a space that could be awkward for viewing.

Do you find that different places reflect different pricing? As far as what can sell and not sell. Do you see a ceiling? As opposed to a gallery where you can price stuff in the thousands, but would thousands sell?

I do have some larger pieces that tend to by more expensive typically that I do hang at District Wine just because they have some large walls. Again, there are some artists that I would love to work with, but I don’t feel comfortable having art that expensive on a wall and me not being there on a daily basis to talk about that art to sell it. You get to a certain price point and most likely someone is not going to buy it without a conversation with someone that knows about that piece of art.

How many artists do you represent? Do you keep a set number?

Not necessarily. It just kind of ebbs and flows, I probably have around 20 right now. A lot of times when I bring an artist on for one specific show, if I really enjoy working with them and I really like their art, I’ll continue keeping them on and selling their artwork.

For you the relationship is more important than whether it’s a successful show… in terms of the sales?

I think it’s a matter of who I enjoy working with. With every relationship it’s a matter of good communication. If it’s artwork that I really like and believe in, and it doesn’t sell in one space that doesn’t mean I don’t want to continue selling their art… some of my spaces sell better than others. I keep pushing their artwork until I get other opportunities. That’s when the pop ups can be nice too. Because I can show a bunch of the art that I really like that I may not have a venue at that particular moment where I can put it on a wall.

What’s your perception of the art in Long Beach, as far as not only quality of the artist, the quantity of the artist, but as far as the buying public themselves?

Yeah that’s been the biggest learning curve. Prior to this I did manage an art gallery at the Hyatt in Huntington Beach, and that was prior to the economy crashing years ago. So obviously the market was very different. Even what people buy and are interested in Huntington Beach, even though it’s two towns south of here, is completely different. So, learning the types of art people here in Long Beach were interested in was one thing that was a learning curve. And then pricing as well. Long Beach in general—I love Long Beach, it’s a place that makes me feel like I’m home but people tend to not spend as much money here as they do in some other markets. So, that’s been a bit of a challenge. It took a while to get sales going. Once it got going, now it’s good.

Do you feel you have a following?

I feel like there is this education that is happening right now. Everybody says they support the arts, which is awesome, but it’s now realizing that supporting the arts doesn’t mean going to a show or liking art. Supporting the arts means you’re spending money so the actual artists can make a living. We’re starting to get to that point that people realize that’s what supporting the arts means.

Do you see the art scene on the upswing here in Long Beach as far as the buying part?

Yes, I do.

As far the existing artists, the number of artists, we think Long Beach has a deep pool.

It does, and that’s why I decided to do what I was doing. I started going to all the open studio tours that there are. I live downtown and I was here when they were doing the Phantom Galleries, so I was seeing a lot of art. But it wasn’t anything that excited me, so I just assumed that was the type of art that was being made here. So, when I started going out to all of these open studio tours, I realized there are some amazing artists in this city and every type of genre and medium. Everything is there. And that made me realize that there is not a good platform for these artists to be seen here. Some of them are fairly well known and I don’t know if people in Long Beach even know that there are some fairly well-known artists living and creating in this city. But how do they know? Because there is not a place where they can show their art. So that’s one of my goals is to get to that point where they have that trust that I can sell those artists artwork here in this city.

In your own space?

Yeah in my own space.

Do you have a timeline for that?

Initially, I’m getting to that point where financing it will be possible. But now I’m realizing I want to be picky about the location. Art galleries have enough issues in trying to stay open. I want to make sure it’s a really good location.

You need foot traffic, part of the Arts Walk.

Downtown is a definite. I want a spot with good foot traffic. The gallery that I managed before was at a hotel. So, the majority of the artwork I sold was people visiting. So, I know that’s a really good audience. When you’re visiting a place, you tend to spend money.

You mentioned that Kennedy Grace is in District Wine, did you want to tell us the other places you are in?

Sure, the other three locations I’m currently working with are: MAKE Collectives, they’re on First Street between Elm and Linden; District Wine is at Broadway and Linden; and Blackbird Cafe which is at Orange and Wardlow. And then I have the Studio O and they’re on Second Street in Naples. It’s a hair salon.

Do you have anything you want to add?

Yeah, the thing that I have not announced yet is that I have just become a partner with Artsy.net. I am now slowly adding our collection of art onto the site, I probably won’t have all the art I have on hand on that website. This site is going to allow an international audience to see local artists that I think deserve to be seen everywhere and not just here locally.


For more with Amy, our own Dave Conrey sat down with her for the Art Lessons Podcast to talk more about what it means to be a gallerist in 2020.

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