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Monaco gallery in St. Louis will use co-op spirit to connect artists with commercial market

The word Monaco is laid out across a photo of a large 1-story brick and glass building.
Provided by Monaco

Fourteen St. Louis artists are opening a gallery that will put them directly in touch with art buyers. The space will be run by the artists and will function somewhat like a co-op.

But instead of seeking non-profit status as artist run spaces  typically do, Monaco will be a commercial gallery. Exhibiting artists keep 100 percent of their proceeds. 

The new space is drawing attention, even before it opens. Multiple galleries throughout the country have contacted organizers to discuss shared exhibits, collaborations or exchanging shows

As the gallery prepares to open its first show, St. Louis Public Radio asked what’s different about this space. 

'Artist run, artist owned and artist centric'

Amanda Bowles, 38, an artist who manages philanthropic communications at the St. Louis Symphony, was invited to participate in Monaco about a year ago. She was interested in opening a space for a long time but wasn’t able to consider it, given that she was working and making her own work. Bowles, who is a sculptor and does performance art, was dubious at first because of the amount of work needed but has been excited by everyone’s willingness to pitch in. She changed her mind when she came to realize everyone involved was trying to support each other.

“I’m even more convinced at this point, six months in, seeing how the group has worked together, how the community has supported it,” Bowles said. “It just feels like a real platform.”

The gallery has raised more than $5,000 for its launch through a gofundme.com campaign. 

Bridging the gap between collectors near and far

A number of local artists have discussed how hard it is to connect with collectors in St. Louis and the country. Some say local collectors are largely focused on established artists and aren’t investing in local talent. Others say there’s no way for most people to learn about collecting art. Monaco’s participating members hope the gallery will be a platform to engage both audiences.

“Most of the time when I exhibit, I’m making work and then it’s going and being shown in different other cities and that’s always a kind of bummer for me because a lot of my work is actually about St. Louis, about the city and its history,” said Sage Dawson, who teaches print making at Washington University.

Art fair access

One way to reach collectors is through art fairs. A significant amount of commercial art business takes place at art fairs and national and international exhibits that galleries attend to highlight their artists and reach national collectors. Artists must be represented by a gallery in order to gain entry to most fairs. 

Monaco creates that vehicle for participating artists and organizers, said sculptor Meghan Grubb, 35, who joined the discussion about developing Monaco about six months ago.

“It’s hard to imagine how I would build relationships to be represented or participate in an art fair in any other way, aside from moving out of St. Louis to L.A. or New York,” Grubb said. 

Growth in the face of closings

The connection between collectors and artists took a blow last year when influential arts spaces Fort Gondo and White Flag Projects both closed. Many artists say that left a lack of galleries interested in challenging viewers and building the local arts community.  

“I think that a lot of artists were feeling that pretty hard and we thought 'OK, we have an opportunity to open a space,'” said Kristin Fleischmann Brewer, who also works Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.  

Tendrils through the arts community

Several of the participating artists are employed by other St. Louis institutions including the Pulitzer, St. Louis Symphony, The Luminary Center for the Arts, and Washington University.  Monaco members hope to leverage these connections into a broader support system for area artists. 

“I was really excited about the potential of banding together with a lot of other artists and how our practices might intersect,” Dawson said. “But also how our own networks both in St. Louis and much more broadly might help each other.”

'Creating Discourse'

Some of the artists behind Monaco hope that its unusual structure helps sparks conversation in the arts community. By relying on a diverse group of artists with diverse tastes who are each given latitude with curatorial decisions, they hope artists from different communities can share their stories and their work. 

“As an artist in this city we’re always looking for ways to find overlaps and create conversations,” Bowles said. “Discourse is the thing that’s essential, but it’s lacking.”

The gallery will host its first show Friday. Although the 14 artists involved know they’re in the midst of an art experiment, they’re already looking to the future.

“I’m actually really interested in other people in St. Louis trying this model or version of this model,” said photographer Tim Portlock. “I would love to see more artists collectives and artist co-ops.”

Gallery founders include Amanda Bowles, Bruce Burton, Sage Dawson, Kristin Fleischmann Brewer, Jose Garza, Meghan Grubb, LAB:D (Lyndon Barrois Jr. and Addoley Dzegede), Allison Lacher, Gregg Louis, Cole Lu, Tim Portlock, and US English. The gallery is located at 2701 Cherokee St., in St. Louis, next to The Luminary Center for the Arts. The founders are also supporting the gallery financially. 

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold

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