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Interview with an Art Consultant

Lynn Basa

Lisa Boumstein-Smalley, art consultant

Lisa Boumstein-Smalley is an artist with both her BFA and MFA from SAIC in Fiber and Material Studies. By day, she is the gallery director for Chicago Art Source where she manages 6 full-time art consultants and curates exhibits in their gallery at 1871 N. Clybourn. I asked her to tell artists specifically what they need to know to increase their chances of working with art consultants.

Artists need to reach out to me as much as I need to reach out to them. It’s a mutually-beneficial two-way street. Artists should educate themselves before making an approach. Look at the web site. Come into the gallery. Call me. My day is about interruptions. I’m always going to take the call and look at their work. Don’t pop in. I don’t want to sound like I’m cold, popping in is the worst. We’re so busy.

E-mail me a link to your web site! Don’t be weird. Just get it in front of me. The more familiar I am with the work, the more likely I am to suggest it to a client. If you don’t hear back from me, give it a couple of months. Either e-mail or call one more time. No more than that because then it’s nagging. If I don’t get back to you, that probably means I’m not interested.

Chicago Art Source Gallery

Our art consultants work hard to get appointments with decision-makers (designers, corporate clients, individual collectors). They go to the site, talk to the client, take photos. We talk about what they want to achieve with art and strategize about what artwork to put in their place, giving them good, better, best scenarios. By “good” I mean limited edition prints, prints-on-demand, more economical mediums. “Better” is a combination of prints and originals. “Best” would be all originals. Depending on the client, we will give them one or more directions. We’re not doing art to match the couch. Interior designers and architects consider every single thing. We’re helping them facilitate the completion of their space. It’s a collaborative process. It’s not slapping artwork on the wall. It’s far more considered and belabored than that.

I absolutely will not work with assholes or artists who don’t buy in to our positioning. In other words, we sell a lot of art work, but Art Forum is not going to come in here and do a review. We are not a capital “G” gallery. We are not pretentious. We’re client-driven as opposed to art-driven. That’s not to say we don’t have a cohesive aesthetic, we do. But that has been tailored to the responses we get from our clients.

Chicago Art Source Gallery

End users are intimidated by galleries. And why shouldn’t they be, the way the current system is set up? Our job is to make sure people feel comfortable and that they’re not outside of an inside joke. Sometimes that means that the artwork is ‘easy” but the better, more interesting projects are ones where they’re not. I trust that people want to use their brains, be exposed to new things, and have an experience.

We have several ways we work with artists. First, we run a gallery as a normal gallery in most senses of the word, featuring a core group of 20 or so artists that we’ve worked with for many years. We have 4-5 thematically-based exhibitions a year. There’s always one solo per year but usually we do group shows because that gets the most eyeballs on the work. To get considered for the gallery, just follow the submission instructions on the web site.

“Resource artists” are people I keep in my favorites. They show in the gallery but aren’t in core group. This is an ever-changing number. Artists will move from resource artists to being represented artists. We’re always open to fresher, newer work.

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Lynn Basa is a full-time artist living in Chicago. She teaches in the Sculpture Department at SAIC and is the author of The Artist’s Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions.