What about exclusivity?

Exclusivity is an agreement between an artist and a gallery. The artist agrees not to sell similar work to other galleries within a specific geographic area, and the gallery commits to specific investment in promotion of the artist’s work, generating a specific level of sales annually. Exclusivity is the artist’s right to grant or withhold.

Each aspect of the agreement is negotiable. Time period - typically one year. Geographic area - one zip code area, or perhaps the city limits within which the gallery is located. The size of the area should be related to the volume of sales - the greater the area, the greater the sales. Often, the sales will not be specified in dollars, but will be an agreement in principle. The agreement should be reviewed periodically to insure that the arrangement benefits both parties. Specifying a limited term to the agreement implies review before renewal. This may serve as a motivational aid, encouraging consistent effort and ongoing commitment to selling the work.

Too often, artists do not take the time, or realize that they are in a position, to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Galleries typically ask for exclusivity ‘in their area’ and an artist answers ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ All this, without discussing what that area is, what other galleries (that the artist might have wanted to work with) are in that area, and how much work the gallery expects to be able to sell on a regular basis.

It is possible to negotiate occasional exceptions to already existing exclusivity agreement. Sometimes, a second gallery within an exclusive area wants to carry a line of work by the artist, which the first gallery does not carry, and is not planning to carry. This is reasonable to request. The artist should check it with the primary gallery first.

Sometimes, without realizing it, an artist will sell to a gallery just across the street from one that he already works with. Admit the error, apologize, and be willing to buy back work sold to the second gallery. It is a good general rule, when discussing the possibility of working with a new gallery, to ask if there are others in the area that could be a possible conflict.

Generally, small inexpensive work is less of an issue, being more of a beautiful product than a unique expression of artistic vision. Exclusivity is sometimes not given for production work. The purpose of production work is to sell as much of it as possible. Limiting the number of galleries that can carry the work will naturally serve to limit the amount of work sold.

The larger, more complex, unique and expensive the work becomes, the smaller the number of galleries are needed to represent the work. Exclusivity makes much more sense for one-of-a-kind work. The quantity of this type of work that can be produced will be much smaller, leading the artist to seek out a very few, very fine galleries to represent the work.

Larger, more significant works will typically be consigned, a significant investment on the part of the artist. The gallery should commit to having a minimum number of the artist’s works on display. It would be unfair of the gallery to require exclusivity but not display the work.

An agreement of exclusivity should include the following:
• Specifics of geographical area.
• Specific work controlled by agreement.
• Projected annual sales.
• Gallery promotional activity.
• Specific payment terms.
• Number of pieces or display space committed to artist’s work.
• Time period of agreement.

Review the agreement prior to expiration and before renewal. Deal with problem areas. Make adjustments as appropriate.

A well-structured exclusivity agreement clarifies the commitments that an artist and gallery make to each other. It should be a foundation on which they will be able to work more closely toward the mutual goal of making, showing and selling better work.

This FAQ was excerpted from the chapter on Working With Galleries from Milon Townsend's new book entitled Making & Marketing Better Artwork. It is available here.


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