Galleries leave established spaces, flock to Miami Circle as neighborhoods change
September Gray felt the same about the changing character of Bennett Street, his former home. When she established her gallery there in 2016, the area had antique shops, carpet stores and various small businesses.
She was thrilled to be at TULA, an arts-centric building at the end of the street anchored by the Georgia Museum of Contemporary Art. But in recent years, often loud clubs had started to dominate the area. “It wasn’t the right atmosphere,” she says. “It was less cultural and more focused on entertainment.”
When MOCA GA announced her intention to move to the goat farm, TULA became even less desirable to her. She was ready to listen when Mark Karelson, owner of Mason Fine Art, invited her and Wood to join a cooperative business. The trio now share a former 9,000 square foot auto show with high ceilings and concrete floors at the end of Miami Circle.
Karelson says his decision was in part precipitated by the pandemic economy. Its former 21,000 square foot space on Armor Circle had doubled as event space. “When the pandemic put the kibosh on large social gatherings, I had to re-evaluate my business model,” he says. He is enthusiastic about the marketing possibilities of a triple. As he puts it, “Proximity is good for cross-pollination.
The potential synergy of like-minded neighbors also drew Carr Cuiston of Signature Shop, who chose a location next to two other galleries halfway down the street. Even with the frustrations of the pandemic, she is encouraged by the energy and camaraderie between the stores and the galleries.
“I don’t feel like I’m sitting on a desert island. Even though I was in the middle of Buckhead, it was isolated. And business is booming. “I have new clients, many of them from out of town, who are on the streets buying their homes,” Cuiston explains.
Ed Reinike, whose eponymous gallery has been on Miami Circle since 1993, always makes a point of directing visitors to other galleries and is happy that others do the same. “It’s important that we all share the visibility,” he says.
Are we seeing the beginnings of a new arts district? It’s too early to answer that question, but Miami Circle has good bones. It offers affordable rent, ample parking, and related services, such as two auction houses, framing stores, and a few restaurants. The buildings are privately owned, which some nomads see as protection against massive development and eviction. It has pedestrian potential: as a dead end, it is less frequented and its sidewalks, although currently discontinuous and requiring special attention, encourage pedestrians.
And now he has numbers. “It’s all so spread out,” says Reinike. “I think we have the greatest concentration of galleries in Atlanta. Art dealer Thomas Deans believes the potential is there. “There are so many possibilities. It will be up to the owners of the building as well as the galleries that rent the space ‘to achieve this.
But one thing is clear. These gallery owners are committed to managing a physical space, even though online art sales have grown exponentially during the pandemic. Emily West, owner of Anne Irwin Fine Art, says online sales now represent 80% of her business, which has expanded to national and international customers. “But artists always want a place to show, and I think people should see the art in person,” she says.
Gallery exhibitions are important tools to help build artists’ careers in a way that is not purely transactional, says Karelson. An exhibition is of a different order from an online sale. It is a validation for an artist, an important line on the CV. It could get a review and increase the reputation of an artist, attract a wider audience. It is important to have a physical space to attract curators and collectors, and to interact with them in a richer way.
Gallery owners also recognize the civic role that their company can play. “I recognize that not everyone who comes in will acquire art,” says Gray, “but there should be an opportunity for people to see the work.”
Other Miami Circle galleries and related businesses include Alan Avery Art Company, Bill Lowe Gallery, Maune Contemporary, Pryor Fine Art, and Balance Fine Art and Framing.