Back in March, like many business owners, Katherine Burke was faced with a sudden and immediate threat to the sustainability of her local gallery, The Annapolis Collection Gallery, because of the coronavirus pandemic. How she quickly and successfully handled that business emergency has allowed her to keep the gallery running and in the black—an online auction.
“On March 13, when the lockdown occurred, I did a quick pivot and had an online art auction go up within the next five days,” she said. “The online auction is what’s keeping the gallery alive.”
The auction has even expanded her business’s reach, if not its total sales. Through it, she has sold pieces to art lovers in Germany, France, England, New Zealand and Australia. Hundreds of pieces have been sold overall, and thousands of viewers have visited during each auction, she said.
“The majority of people are coming from Annapolis, the Eastern Shore, Baltimore, D.C. and Northern Virginia,” she said. “That seems to be the bulk. We have a setup Google Analytics. We were shocked to find (people) from all over the Mother Earth were coming. We’re getting attention from well beyond the States. “
Visitors have gone from pre-coronavirus patrons who used to browse Annapolis Art Collections’ physical location at 55 West Street in the city, to art lovers who view the gallery’s inventory from desktops and cell phone screens throughout the world.
At heart though, The Annapolis Collection Gallery, remains a local business. Burke,71, used to walk the few blocks from her home to her gallery every morning. She laughed.
“If it snowed I had no excuse,” she said.
She said she’s noticed that art she offers the public continues to be impacted by the weather.
The online art auction runs every other week for seven days, offering 40 to 80 pieces , from six master Annapolis artists and six master photographers. Not all days are equal in commerce though. The price range for the artwork have ranged from $45 to $7,000.
“I can tell you on rainy days like today lots of people bid,” Burke said. “When it’s gorgeous and beautiful outside on the weekends, I’m forgotten.”
She said overall, the gallery has sold a lot of art already through the auction, but the change has been a mixed bag of both a sudden business downturn and unexpected opportunity
“The public gallery was ideal,” Burke explained. “But this has definitely kept the gallery alive, kept me in touch with the clients, And we seem to be reaching out. There a lot of people who started coming in the beginning who are still coming back, which is nice. So we're maintaining new contacts and we're getting more and more. The gallery is growing but isn't the same as it used to be.”
April Nyman, executive director of the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, confirmed that many in the local arts community have been facing serious challenges with less foot traffic.
“Being innovative is key to being successful in these changing times,” Nyman wrote in a recent email. “Art provides a pause to life and allows us to reflect. The majority of artists struggle with not being able to have the one-on-one experience with the art patron whether it be through exhibits, galleries and one-on-one exchanges. Hopefully everyone will enjoy the many online galleries and support local artists.”
Burke continues to have some personal interaction with patrons. The gallery is open by appointment only. The auction process allows for buyers to come to her gallery to examine and look at their piece as a step in the transaction.
“What often happens is they see things in the auction, and they call to get a better look at it, and then we meet in the gallery,” she said. “My website takes you straight to the auction. And what's nice about the options that I have set up--you don't don't have to give any information to see everything that's up for bid.” At some point you do have to provide an email address if you decide to bid though.
“Once you do that, then you can bid on anything,” Burke said. “And if you bid, and someone comes behind you and outbids you, you are notified automatically by by that email that you've been outbid and you have the option to bid again.”
The gallery owner is looking toward upcoming events to both help her community and participate in holiday traditions.
Annapolis Elementary School, a Title One school, has lost many of its traditional fundraising outlets because of the coronavirus. Burke and her online auction is stepping in to help.
Between September 3 and 10, proceeds from the online auction will go toward raising money for the school.
“I’m looking forward to being one of the entities supporting it,” Burke said. “The majority of the kids are poor and underprivileged. I’m very excited to be able to help someone mainly from Annapolis.”
She was also looking forward to the annual Midnight Madness downtown Annapolis promotion when shops traditionally stay open until midnight during the holidays. At his point she expects to convert the auction into allowing shoppers to buy gift wrapped holiday gift for the season.
Allowing revelers to shop from the comfort of home in their pajamas with a glass of wine and Christmas music on in the background, may not be the worst turn of events Burke reflected.
She does enjoy being part of the community though, especially working with the masters featured at her gallery.
Included in the gallery collection are black and white negatives of an Annapolis photographer who took photos in the 1940s and 1950s. The granddaughter of that artist has made the images available through the gallery. They have been some of its most popular items for sale.
“We find fascinating images,” Burke said. “For example we have one of kids walking down the bottom of Pinkney Street and walking a dog, People have come in and identified themselves (in the photo). That’s cool. That has happened a number of times with the black and white pictures we have.”
The gallery owner looks forward to the day when she can reopen the West Street location regularly. She has expressed her own creativity in personal work too, but doesn’t feel its up to being displayed in her gallery. She’s more bullish on the work of the masters she helps provide an outlet for.
“I like the background of the art,” she said. “The history of the artist. The background of the subject, what makes them do it. My art that I’ve done is in my bathroom where it belongs.”