Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Building Sustainable Success in Art Galleries: An Exploratory Study of Adaptive Strategies

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Building Sustainable Success in Art Galleries: An Exploratory Study of Adaptive Strategies

Article excerpt


Historically, art galleries have operated in a cottage industry that placed a premium on building unique relations with artists and clients. Recent economic and technological trends threaten the viability of this model. Art galleries now face a very challenging environment, demanding careful attention to strategy formulation and execution. However, more questions than answers can be found in the literature about management practices, art gallery performance, and factors affecting gallery success. This paper reports findings on these issues from an exploratory survey of Colorado art galleries. Results suggest that art gallery owners and mangers are not overly concerned about external pressures influencing their organizations. This attitude could adversely affect efforts to build sustainable success and value through adaptive strategies.


In order to survive, organizations must create distinct sustainable value for shareholders (Elkington, 1994; Gladwin, Kennelly & Krause, 1995). The key to building shareholder value is found in the careful orchestration of strategy and its execution strategic leadership (Vera & Crossan, 2004). Internal and external factors must be addressed when creating intelligent strategies that move an organization forward from where it is today to where it will be tomorrow (Thompson, 1967). Particularly challenging is the task of leading organizations past their inherent tendencies to become rigid, relative to strategy formulation and execution (Leonard-Barton, 1992; Teece, Pisano & Shuen, 1997).

Many small businesses experience great difficulty in coping with their changing competitive environments. Owners and managers are busy overseeing operations in order to attain sustainable value for their enterprises. Consequently, limited time is available for reviewing strategy and addressing significant shifts emanating from new trends and pressures (Ireland & Hitt, 1999). Small business leaders may also be reluctant to be first-movers in their economic sector because of inherently higher risk associated with first-mover initiatives (Bachmann, 2002).

Art galleries represent a perfect case-inpoint. They exemplify small businesses that face a revolution in how commerce is conducted, yet they are benignly passive in their strategic responsiveness. In this respect, many art galleries seemingly serve as posterchildren for how not to manage strategically. Art galleries continue to operate as though they exist in a cottage industry immune from driving forces such as high technology and consolidation that affect so many other economic sectors (Frankel, 1999).

Details of operating an art gallery tend to drown out, or overwhelm, strategic considerations. Short-term crises cause longer-run projects such as planning, information systems development, and marketing strategy formulation to wait for another day,. In many respects, art galleries appear to resemble other small businesses in their pressing demands and the lack of resources for addressing operating and strategic issues.

This paper reports on a study of external driving forces, adaptive strategy, and performance among 132 art galleries in Colorado using data collected through mail surveys. The art gallery marketplace has many similarities with market environments facing other small businesses; that is, a setting which demands careful attention to competitive trends. Consequently, this research context is fruitful for exploring the association between gallery owners'/ managers' perceptions of external forces and gallery performance and the association between adaptive responses and performance.


The fine arts market is an $18 billion industry with the potential for continued strong growth. There are approximately 5,000 independent art galleries in the U.S., accounting for over 60 percent of the fine art sold (Clarke & Flaherty, 2002). …

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