San Diego Business Journal

Jae Kim opened CJ Art Gallery more than three years ago in the Gaslamp Quarter to take advantage of what was then the beginnings of a revitalized downtown.

"I saw the change and I decided to come downtown," said Kim, who owns the gallery with her husband, Chang Kim. "We get a lot of tourists, conventioneers and San Diego residents."

She continues to run Artworks Inc. at the Grossmont Center shopping mall in La Mesa, a 30-year-old business that attracts a completely different market, said Kim.

"In La Mesa, I am used to the same people, the routine," she said. "Now, here, everything is brand new. This is absolutely an international clientele."

The art that Kim offers at the two venues also is different.

"La Mesa is very traditional, and the paintings are totally different," said Kim, who describes the work as being more decorative than cutting-edge.

But the downtown venue is exclusively contemporary, showcasing Asian art, and featuring internationally known artists, such as Singapore's Goh Beng Kwan, whose work will be exhibited from Sept. 1-14.

No velvet Elvis art of big-eyed children in the lot.

For some galleries, it's all a matter of staying edgy and attracting the hip young crowds, with money to spread around. How do they do it?

Cultivating Collectors

Art walks that combine culture with food, drink and socializing are one way that galleries have been trying to stimulate business. Venues such as North Park's Ray at Night, and Little Italy's Kettner Nights, as well as the Thursday Night Thing , TNT , hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, are all designed to draw out a younger crowd.

Hugh M. Davies, the David C. Copley director of MCASD, considers these venues to be a boon to the art scene.

"I love it," he said. "Building new and younger audiences is absolutely vital to the growth and survival of cultural organizations, and I pity the arts organizations that don't have that."

The museum's TNT program is good business, said Davies.

"We are investing a lot in that audience with the hope that they will generate loyalty," he said.

Davies acknowledges that, with the smaller, independent dealers, it can be a pricey investment.

"If I was a private art dealer, and I had an opening celebration for my artist's show, and 100 people show up to drink my wine and socialize, but only 10 are serious clients, it would be hard to subsidize that as a private owner. But as a nonprofit, it is our mandate. I like to think that we are helping private galleries by growing clients for them."

Davies was a pioneer in finding ways to cultivate new collectors in the community.

"Now, almost 25 years later, we are starting to reap some of the benefits of that activity," he said. "Seventy-five percent of works come to museums by gifts, not purchases. If you don't have great artworks in your community, it won't trickle up to the museums."

Ray Of Hope

A moving force behind the six-year-old Ray at Night is Gustaf Rooth, who owns Planet Rooth Studios, where he designs and builds high-end furniture.

"For local artists it has been a huge plus," he said. "It motivates them to produce more work and get more professional."

According to North Park Main Street's Web site, Ray at Night, held the second Saturday of every month, draws more than 1,500 people, showcases everything from paintings, sculptures and ceramics, to blown glass and jewelry, and taps into two dozen businesses.

Hillcrest-based art appraiser Joan Seifried said that she has observed "a terrific change" in San Diego's gallery scene in the past five years, and credits efforts such as these. But, she cautions, "It can be a double-edged sword. There is a fine line between a party and an actual art-buying excursion, and it's kind of a challenge for all the galleries involved."

But, it's likely to pay off in the long run, said Seifried, who owns San Diego-based Angel Appraisers.

"Collectors are spending more, and there are more collectors, and more visible artists on all levels," she said. "All of this is recognizing the importance of training and developing young collectors."

Still, Seifried, a board member of the International Society of Appraisers, conceded, "It's not easy running a gallery. San Diego has a reputation of being very conservative and this is a challenge."

While selling art for $100 to $200 is a fairly easy sale in San Diego, she observed, "You can't make a living selling those price points of art."

"The hopes are that people who start out paying $200 will keep the interest in these artists and purchase works for them in the thousands," said Seifried. "You start off with a lesser work and move up to a greater work. As a rule, a collector has to start somewhere, and usually they start with not a lot of money."