In the art gallery world, making it to the five-year mark demonstrates the stability and resilience necessary to survive in the competitive trade. As artist and gallery owner Louisa Gould prepares to celebrate her fifth anniversary with an opening of her own work and the creations of Ovid Ward and John Holladay, she has little time to rest on her laurels. By her own reckoning, the fifth year is just the beginning of the journey.
For Ms. Gould, a professional photographer, success has been accompanied by hurdles. Louisa Gould Gallery has received the best fine arts gallery award from Cape Cod Life for three years in a row and was voted second best for arts and crafts in 2008. Amid this acclaim, Ms. Gould has grappled with obstacles and setbacks that have tested her resolve.
After making the move from her Beach street extension space to 54 Main street in Vineyard Haven last year, she watched as water damage from a fire on the third floor of the building ruined her gallery. In the midst of shooting the America’s Cup in Spain, she had to direct the dismantling and demolition of the space she had meticulously designed and decorated. The fire occurred just after Memorial Day Weekend and cost the gallery five weeks of prime summer business. This year, the Fourth of July fire that consumed Café Moxie and The Bunch of Grapes Bookstore dampened foot traffic into the town. Despite these losses and disruptions, Ms. Gould has remained focused on moving forward.
“My motto is, it’s not what happens to you, but how you deal with it,” she says.
One source of her tenacity is the dedication she feels to the artists she shows in her gallery. The roster includes Island Jules Worthington, Lanny McDowell, Denys Wortman, Sr., Traeger Di Pietro and many more.
“I’ve had a lot of curve balls in this space, but I’m determined to keep pushing through,” she says. “I feel I have a responsibility to the artists I show, to give them a home. I not only show good artists, I wholeheartedly believe in the people.”
She cites challenges to running a gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, from the brief 10-week summer season to the uncertain economic climate. Despite these factors, she keeps the gallery open as long as possible throughout the winter. To compensate for the uneven revenue fluctuations throughout the year, she has expanded her business to include photography courses, books and media consulting.
Prior to owning a gallery, Ms. Gould worked in mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street. The experience left her with a commitment to treat her own artists with the respect and compassion missing in the cutthroat business world.
“I believe you can do business and be kind and ethical simultaneously,” she says.
She credits much of her business success to connecting with the customers.
“This is a relationship business,” she says. “I treasure the relationships I have built and like it when families come back to visit summer after summer and get to learn about all the things that have transpired over the winter.”
The theme of making personal connections with clients and artists resonates throughout successful galleries. Mary Etherington, owner of the Etherington Fine Art Gallery, now across and up the street from Louisa Gould’s gallery on Main street, has been in business for 16 years in seven different locations. She currently represents the work of Rez Williams, Dorothea Van Camp, Tom Birkner and other skilled artists in her Vineyard Haven gallery.
“I like the challenge of working one on one with collectors and clients, from the guy who collects images of men in contemporary art to someone coping with the shock of making their first purchase,” she says.
“I am extremely happy with the artists I represent and where I am at the moment,” she adds. “Some of my artists have been with me from the beginning and several are new this year.”
She describes longevity in the business as the result of commitment and flexibility.
“It has to do with what makes sense, to the best of my ability, at any one time, in what I’ve determined to be a complex and arbitrary business,” she says. “I don’t pretend to have answers. I just focus on art and the collector or whoever is standing in front of my desk.”
All are welcome to the Fifth Anniversary Party on Saturday, August 16, from 5 to 8 p.m, with live music, refreshments, on Main street in Vineyard Haven. There is no state sales tax this weekend.