Art gentrification

Red Dragonfly closing doors

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After three years of bucking societal shifts in customers’ relationships to art, Peter Messerschmidt and his wife Sarah Nash have decided to close down the Red Dragonfly.

“We have other opportunities to pursue and we just haven’t found the art business to be doing well enough to merit going on,” Messerschmidt said. “We have slowly declining sales and slowly increasing expenses. It is an inevitable equation that marginally works now. When you project it out, it is not pretty.”

The last day of business for Red Dragonfly is June 23. It is located at 211 Taylor St., Suite B2, in Port Townsend.

The couple took over the business, formerly known as the Red Raven Artists’ Cooperative, about three years ago, transforming it to a commissioned gallery. They currently have a couple hundred pieces of art by about 35 separate artists on display, Messerschmidt said.

“Since it is all here on consignment, it is going to go back to the artists.”

“We have a few that are from further afield. They are just going to be receiving back their art by mail.”

Nash said it has been on honor to serve the arts community.

“We recreated the gallery as the Red Dragonfly with the intention to focus on Peter’s Alchemy Stones and we had massive success. In spite of the flood, and the unfortunate timing of road construction just as we were gaining some momentum, I am most of all grateful for the opportunity.”

How art is sold

With ever-increasing competition from low-overhead online art dealers and a change in the purchasing habits of both young and old, the days of local art galleries may soon become extinct, Messerschmidt said.

“Art is gradually moving from being a product more towards being experiential. Part of this has to do with the digital age.”

People still love art, and they come to a brick-and-mortar art store, but are now more inclined to take a photo of the art with their smartphones or perhaps buy a postcard or greeting card showing that art, rather than the original work itself, Messerschmidt said.

“As Millennials and subsequent generations replace their grandparents as consumers you see more and more cyber nomads whose entire world lives in their backpacks as they travel a world in which working simply means a place where there is wi-fi for one of their devices.”

This is a slow but steady phenomenon, he said.

At the same time, aging baby boomers are purchasing less art themselves, Messerschmidt said.

“When I moved here in 2005, the median age in our city was about 45. Just 14 years later, it’s 54.”

For an art gallery, that nine-year spread is the difference between a larger family house with more rooms and empty-nesters who are downsizing.

“When you’re downsizing, you’re less likely to be an art buyer because you just don’t have room,” Messerschmidt said. “If we had a dollar for every person in the gallery who has said Love your art, but we live in a smaller house now and just don’t have room for art anymore,’ we probably wouldn’t be closing.”

But, as it stands, the gallery can’t take the hit from two fronts.

“As we lose two to three percent of product consumers a year at the older end of the scale and replace it with two to three percent experience consumers at the younger end, it gradually ends up having a huge impact,” Messerschmidt said. “Keep in mind that all these people, regardless of age, still love art. They are simply changing how they consume it.”

A third consideration is the growing number of artists who now have their own websites and can sell directly to consumers, Messerschmidt said.

“Their art can be had at what amounts to the same wholesale price they would charge to a gallery. If you were an art buyer, would you spend $200 at a gallery or $125 on an artist’s website?”

The implication for commissioned art galleries is it becomes harder to operate a dedicated for-profit art space, Messerschmidt said.

Hybrid galleries

Another development is the growth of hybrid art spaces, Messerschmidt said.

“Several of our artists have invited us to their new “openings” in Hotel lobbies, dentist’s offices and so on. This all points to a future for art where the art is an adjunct to a different business, rather than the main event.”

For artists, the times are changing too, Messerschmidt said.

“There is a lot of creative energy in Port Townsend. And I think this is a fantastic place to create art. It is perhaps becoming less significant as a place to sell art.”

There are several local artists who are successful financially because they sell their art out of the area, Messerschmidt said.

“They create here because the creative environment is great. It is excellent for that, but if you want to have any commercial success with what you are doing then you go elsewhere whether it is Seattle, Los Angeles or Denver.”

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Marilyn Berry

Awww, I am disappointed in this turn of events both for the gallery itself and for the new turn that the acquisition of art is taking. I love browsing and occasionally buying art from galleries. I will hope hard that this reverses some day as walking through a gallery and observing the works is far more satisfying than visiting online galleries. Such in-person gallery visits are more social as well and that is proving to be a major loss in online browsing and buying. I enjoy chatting with a gallery owner or manager and with the artist if present. I also enjoy browsing while other art lovers and art consumers are browsing where you can feel the appreciation of the works by the other browsers. I prefer the exhiliration of being surrounded by the works of artists, and this was one factor in my wanting to move up to P.T. upon retirement: to surround myself with the beauty and exquisiteness of artistic expression in person at a gallery.

Wednesday, June 12