Many gallery-goers, I think, have once of twice experienced this feeling: a gallery that contains fascinating art, an amazing lineup of artists and…a lukewarm welcome. Nodding awkwardly at the gallery assistant, picking up one of the last press releases and ambling around the exhibition space in silence before shuffling our of the door again is not the most glamorous experience. While many galleries do encourage more interaction with visitors, this is a feeling that is most familiar in France, and particularly Paris. Even during opening nights, the atmosphere can feel a bit subdued for people that are not directly part of the art world.
Of course, gallery owners conduct a business and it is natural for them to engage mostly with public or private collections. Yet in most galleries, the exhibitions are open access and free: anyone can wander in and admire the works. And hidden within this wandering crowd that is not catered to are the future art collectors on which small galleries can survive. It is therefore in galleries’ wider interests to open up to a wider audience, both culturally and economically. This is the main idea behind Jeudis Arty: what if certain evenings during the year created the opportunity for an entire network of galleries to open their doors after hours and interact more closely with their visitors?
Alice Lebredonchel is the main creator of the Jeudis Arty and leader of the project, with the help of Caroline Turpin as the communications and marketing manager and Laure Cazaubon, responsible for relations with the galleries. Their idea is not ‘new’ as such on an international level. It is inspired directly from Alice’s experiences of London’s art scene. “First Thursdays” occuring once a month, involve galleries in the City organizing evening events and performances…galleries that have a friendlier and more open reputation than their Parisian counterparts.
The decision to emulate this type of event in the 3ème arrondissement of Paris launched a year of planning and communication with galleries. For Alice, it was often a case of finding the galleries that would already have an open, friendly viewpoint through their past events, open to new ideas. These galleries already have an innovative and participative spirit, even suggesting other galeries that would be enthusiastic about the idea, in a word-of-mouth system that was useful to the trio, helped by twenty or so volunteers from different cultural or marketing backgrounds. Any “art fair” competitivity, for Alice, was set aside to create an event around the Marais that allowed people to amble from gallery to gallery on different informal tours: opening nights, performances, or meetings with artists. There is also a possibility to pay 30 euros in order to join a private tour led by an art historian, as well as a goodie bag access to the afterparty – all sold out.
I therefore decide to remain with the free tour to meet the artists. The meeting in front of the first gallery shows a diverse array of people. Most of them are students, young professional art amateurs and gallery-goers in their spare time. They seem to confirm Alice’s expectations when I ask her what type of crowd she has been aiming for. The partnership with TimeOut and extensive use of social media confirm the main ‘target’: young, active professionals in their early twenties, dynamic and connected, that could become future collectors within galleries that offer works at affordable prices.
One Jeudis Arty enthusiast who paid for the VIP treatment described above shows me the contents of her goodie bag, the ArtyBag that contains several little gifts and perks. Our guide volunteer explains to us that they have managed to strike a great deal of partnerships with companies allowing them both to finance the entire event and these jam-packed goodie bags…as well as providing presents for the winners of their pictures competition on Instagram (#Défis Arty). Why Instagram in particular? For Alice, it is more image based than Twitter and more aesthetic, more trendy with the young audience they are attracting. It is further proof of the interactive nature of social media that could change the way we walk around exhibitions…either in galleries, or museums.
I did want to participate in this hashtag-and-filter fest…but I end up having my fair share of live interaction, as our two volunteers lead us around five or six galleries, all very diverse in their artists and approaches, from Galerie Claudine Papillon to School Gallery, passing by Gallery Polaris. A large amount of them were unknown to me and it was a pleasant discovery, complemented by the mini-guide on my programme that presented the thirty participating galleries and their individual particularities.
We meet the artists and gallery owners that give us a unique insight into their work and exhibition choices. I firstly fear an encounter with the dry and static short presentation format…but we steer far from it. The group asks questions, infers, suggests. Ideas and names are exchanged in a warm and intimate atmosphere. On our way to another gallery, we drop by another that was not on the Jeudis Arty list yet seemed interesting – and we are welcomed warmly all the same. The sense of initiative and dynamism is almost contagious, it seems, and the guides are very good at chanelling this energy while keeping us on track. The event is informal, but not messy in the slightest, with a professional sense of coordination and extensive preparation behind the scenes.
Too much in a short amount of time? I certainly feel frustrated that I have not seen all of it by the end of the evening and need to wait till the next event during the year but that is less because of the organisation and more because of the sheer amount of galleries to cover in a few hours – about thirty. And when my only complaint is wanting more of the same, more frequently…it’s usually a good sign. My only suggestion for next time would be a slightly more visible mapping system; despite the map on the programme we were frequently lost, which may have been amended with a few large signs or a more extensive knowledge of the itinerary by our guides (I can hardly claim I am better at it: I get lost in the Marais on a regular basis).
This first Jeudis Arty event was enthusiastic and ambitious. It managed to keep its promises and attract its key audience, sparking interaction and interest successfully. More than a adapted “First Thursdays” it managed to cater to a specific Parisian art world and audience, with innovative and flexible ideas. With four events a year, Jeudis Arty is still testing what it is capable of…and considering where it can expand its activities. The next edition shall most likely remain in the same area, due to the strong connections they have established there and the close proximity of the galleries to each other. In any case, I shall be there. And if you are in Paris looking for a vibrant taste of its gallery culture, you should join me next time.