Enterprising art

Non-Fiction Gallery launches adventurous new business model

The owners of Non-Fiction Gallery: left to right Heather MacRae-Trulson, Sam Bryer, Naimar Ramirez, and Ben Tollefson, in July 2013 at the opening reception of now-represented artist, William Ruller’s thesis exhibition ‘Cayadutta.’

NON-FICTION GALLERY, nestled off Bull Street between 31st and 32nd streets in the burgeoning neighborhood south of Forsyth Park, has made a name for itself by consistently presenting thoughtful and beautiful exhibitions of work by emerging artists.

In June 2013, SCAD MFA alumni, Sam Bryer, Heather MacRae-Trulson, and Ben Tollefson (originally with Naimar Ramirez, who recently left Savannah and her position at Non-Fiction) took ownership of the space.

The trio is now embarking on a bold business venture. They are representing their first artists, William Ruller and Cheralynn Johnston, and devoting the entire month of September to "Veiled Horizons," an exhibition of new works from the artists.

From the start Non-Fiction has been devoted to delivering something professional and new to Savannah.

"From the get-go the idea was that we would offer professional services. We still do a rental price but they get a lot more value out of it. Students can practice having a professionally run show," Bryer said.

Their proposal-based rental packages boast curatorial, marketing, and technical assistance, as well as staffing for openings and regular gallery hours—features many rental spaces do not include.

"You have three very experienced people who are willing to help you put on the show that you want," MacRae-Trulson said.

In addition, Non-Fiction coordinates juried shows that bring local, national, and international artists together. They produce gallery-sponsored special exhibitions and host an annual holiday pop-up shop.

Non-Fiction also launched MAP (Mobile Artist Program) that was fiscally sponsored by non-profit, Art Rise Savannah (of which I serve as Board President) allowing for tax-deductible contributions towards the project. It brought acclaimed eco-conscious painter, Marshall Carbee, to Savannah for an exhibition, reception, artist talk, and workshop this past April.

"The idea behind MAP is for us to get work from local emerging artists out to other areas. Additionally, to bring artists from outside Savannah here, show their work and actively engage the community," MacRae-Trulson explained.

Having produced an impressive 30 exhibitions since opening, the owners are jumping into the exciting, if not somewhat uncertain, business of representing artists.

"We're taking on two artists that we really believe in and want to commit to and invest in," Tollefson said.

As in the past, the gallery is wisely hedging their bets by piloting on a smaller scale. The represented artists are only an addition to their tried and true programming, and initially they are only representing two, Ruller and Johnston—neither of which is a stranger to Non-Fiction.

"We've shown their work before and people have had fantastic responses to their work. I think for the big step to representing, they were good choices because we didn't have to worry about working with them." Tollefson said.

Bryer chimed in, "It doesn't feel risky. It feels exciting. We know how they run their own careers and how vested they are. We know how they work with other galleries. They have done both group shows and solos already. It makes sense."

Thorough investigation went into developing the representation they want to provide.

"When I was researching galleries and thinking about co-ops vs. non-profits vs. rental and vanity spaces, there was no specific category that felt like the one thing we should do. It was taking the best of all those, seeing how they could fit together in the most interesting and well-run way, then subtracting some of the negative situations and relationships," Bryer explained.

From this process came Non Fiction's brand of representation, tailored for emerging artists. It offers a six-month contract with options for renewal. They represent specific pieces of work rather than the artist's entire catalogue and take a 40% commission for their services.

The work is available in an online gallery throughout the six months. The artists also have freedom to sell and exhibit their work elsewhere during the representation period, a right not always included in gallery contracts.

"We want to do it in a way that feels like a mutually beneficial relationship with the artist," Bryer said.

Standing in front of Non-Fiction, looking out on the surrounding neighborhood, MacRae-Trulson smiled and said "the feeling like there is a community that is actively engaged and critically engaged— critically thinking about the work we are putting out there and giving back as much as we are trying to put into it, that's definitely something we are grateful for." cs

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