Building Bridges between Art Business and Small Business

Rhode Island is home to over 70 art galleries. Dotted throughout the state, these spaces range in scale and specialty, but together they represent a great draw for local, regional, and national tourists. The visual arts provide a valuable leisure and entertainment resource to the community and there are a myriad of ways to channel their impact to benefit the local businesses that surround the many galleries and artist studios across the state. Utilizing the visual arts as a means to promote local small business starts with promoting galleries and building connections between art business and the broader community.

Rhode Island has a few examples of highly effective gallery partnerships that have helped to raise awareness for local art dealers as well as the neighborhoods that surround them. For example, on the third Thursday of each month the galleries of Providence come together to open up to the community in tandem. With many retail galleries and several large institutions, including the RISD Museum, taking part, Gallery Night Providence is a citywide event with a wide circle of influence. It encourages new visitors to travel through the city and brings them to neighborhoods they may not have visited otherwise.

The towns of Bristol and Warren host a similar event called Art Night in which visitors are invited to visit local galleries and open studios. Like Gallery Night in Providence, Bristol-Warren Art Night offers free transportation in the form of a trolley and provides guides that inform art tourists about all the spots included in the event. Art Night has built a special relationship between the flourishing art communities of two towns and, like Gallery Night, has established a singular art attraction out of a collection of small- and medium-sized art galleries. While Gallery Night and Art Night certainly provide great opportunities for galleries to find new customers, the value to surrounding businesses should not be overlooked.

These programs can be very impactful, both as promotional events for purveyors of the visual arts and as an economic booster to their neighbor businesses. In order for businesses to tap into the excitement generated by art venues, they must make an effort to reach out to artists and gallery owners. By building relationships with the individuals at the center of the burgeoning art world in Rhode Island, local businesses can get the attention of the important and growing demographic of art tourists.

With an added focus on the special programming around gallery nights, restaurants and shops that add specials and sales on these days can hope to gain traction with new visitors brought to their neighborhood on art tours. They can go further by establishing professional relationships with their neighborhood galleries to build word of mouth about their services.  By establishing meaningful relationships with local galleries and artists, businesses can network to build interest in their products and services that will be effective throughout the year, and not on these gallery nights alone. As the business of art becomes more integrated with the general economy of small businesses, its effect will be magnified, and the artistic ability to bring new interest to local towns and cities can be harnessed to impact everyone for the better.


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