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James Dozier offers advice to improve Detroit's art scene

James Dozier at Detroit Artists Market with a portrait of him painted by Bryant Tillman.
James Dozier at Detroit Artists Market with a portrait of him painted by Bryant Tillman.
Alonso del Arte

The Detroit art scene is thriving, teeming with events, but there is room for improvement. Renowned art connoisseur and photographer James H. Dozier has some advice, and gallery owners are listening. Dozier compiles a weekly listing of art events in Detroit and going as far out as Flint, Ann Arbor or Monroe, and he manages to shows up at a lot of opening receptions on almost any given Friday or Saturday night. His art collection includes masterpieces like a self-portrait by Prof. Gilda Snowden similar to one held by the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is currently on loan to Whitdel Arts.

Many turn to Dozier for specific advice, but on January 30, 2014, he offered three bits of general advice which could benefit almost any gallery in the metro Detroit area. The first calls for extended exhibition opening times. A very common time span for an opening reception is from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It would hardly help anyone for it to start at 5 p.m., but closing at 12 a.m. would "allow time for … attendees to spend serious time with the galleries' offering," Dozier said, adding that this is of critical importance because "95% of attendance to [shows] occurs on opening night."

The second tip also concerns time. Dozier believes that "coordinated area openings by cultural venues … will enhance the possibility of sharing and attracting visitors to the respective areas." For example, if all galleries in downtown Detroit had their next opening on the very same Friday night, and the next Friday night all the galleries in Birmingham had their openings, someone who lives in Mt. Clemens could go to Detroit the first Friday night and Birmingham the next, instead of potentially having to skip out on a Detroit event on account of having to drive all over the tri-county area each Friday night.

Dozier's third tip concerns money. "It may be time for our cultural venues to reconsider their commission model," he says. Currently, most galleries in Detroit show work on a consignment basis. For example, an artist is accepted to show a large oil painting at a gallery in Mexicantown, and it goes on the wall with a $1,000 price tag. If someone buys it, the gallery takes a 30% or 35% cut (the exact percentage will vary).

Dozier suggests that instead gallery owners "buy the work you wish to show upfront and then offer it for sale in your venue." This would benefit artists, gallery owners and art patrons, though at different stages of the process. First, it would dispel unrealistic market expectations much sooner, and those artists who can come to a realistic agreement would get money for their work sooner as well. The gallery owner would not be locked into a specific price for a given piece, he or she would have the flexibility to change the price if that's what it takes to make a sale. This gives an art patron some room to haggle, as long as they offer to pay something above what the gallery owner paid the artist.