Artist Cooperatives – Are They Right For You?

One of the interesting choices you may have as an artist is to join an artist cooperative, especially if you are just starting out. An artist cooperative is an arrangement where you pool your resources with other artists to obtain studio space and possibly gallery and retail space as well.

Joining a cooperative is not a free ride. Typically, in addition to money you will have to do your part and put in time for the joint effort. A few examples of these duties could be: helping maintain the facility, assisting with shows, helping with marketing, helping with general business activities such as accounting, and attending meetings.

What is an artist’s cooperative?

An artist cooperative is an arts organization such as a gallery, workspace, or educational facility that is jointly owned and controlled by its members. It will most likely have some form of legal organization such as a non-profit corporation or even a for-profit corporation. A cooperative is governed by its directors under the rules and bylaws which its members have agreed to – democracy rules!

Advantages of a cooperative

  • A source of learning, inspiration and motivation
  • Exposure when you are just starting out or even if you have an existing studio
  • Artistic freedom that may not be available in the current traditional gallery environment
  • A way to expand your market exposure and customer base
  • The ability to split the costs of the facility, equipment and operating expenses
  • The coop may be able to secure a better space than you could as an individual
  • There may be joint marketing opportunities which reduce your marketing costs
  • A cooperative may be held in higher esteem by customers and the public
  • You will be with other artists and have a chance to network and learn
  • You will be exposed to new potential customers
  • Gallery openings and shows are simplified at the facility
  • You should be able to spend more time creating art and less on maintaining a facility
  • It can be a lot of fun being in a creative environment with other artists
  • If the cooperative is incorporated it may have a perpetual existence that outlasts its members while limiting the personal liabilities of its individual members

Disadvantages of a cooperative

  • It may be challenging to attract and retain members
  • The coop may lack direction as a group
  • The coop may lack business and marketing acumen as a group
  • The coop members may not get along
  • You may end up doing more than your share
  • You may only be able to exhibit your work in the gallery space a few weeks a year depending on coop policies and the number of members
  • For many cooperatives there is an application and acceptance procedure – you may not be accepted

The bottom line(s)…

Check out artist cooperatives and the benefits they offer even if you already have a studio facility. Like with any location decision you need to do your homework. Investigate a coop before you decide to join. Talk to other coop members and get a feel for their experience and ask them how the coop has benefited them art and their business. If you would like to learn more about building your art business and selling more art I invite you to check out my book – The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox. Good Luck!


Neil McKenzie is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver where he teaches “Marketing the Arts”.

Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto

One thought on “Artist Cooperatives – Are They Right For You?

  1. David Randall

    All of your points are very true. Each co-op works in it’s own way. Years ago I helped create and establish a co-op which was good for a time. We started out of a life drawing group I ran for several years and grew to a point where we felt something more could be done. We had a very large cheap loft space covering two floors. We held new shows every month with openings, kept up the life drawing group meeting every week, sponsored performances including the Boston traveling ballet at our local high School.

    It was wonderful except then some of our best artists made a move to NYC to try the scene in the Big Apple and some others had ideas of how we should proceed. I finally burned out on it in part because I was running a retail business and could not keep up with all the effort it took to help run both businesses.

    It is a business after all and it takes a lot of work to make a go of it. I finally left the running of it to others who needed to take a stab at running it. I just got tired of working seven long days a week. I was young.

    Years later I joined another group but again found I could not keep up a 7 days a week schedule and still paint too. Both groups became 501c 3 non profits. One is still running after over 20 years the other died after a few years.
    Very few arts groups have the knowledge and business experience needed to run very effectively and (sell art) from my experience. So in a sense they are not unlike the vanity gallery. You pay to have wall exhibit and space, exposure but the sales staff are often untrained, unprofessional at sales unless it’s their own.

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