By Timothy Rawles, October 2020 Issue.
I know very little about the business of art, but I learned some basics from Kraig Foote, owner of the Art One Gallery in Scottsdale. We talked recently about art, youth, and how he helps the two come together in a unique setting in Old Town.
Kraig is a former musician, who was born and raised in Scottsdale. He went to Coronado High School and left higher learning to the scholars. He tells me that during his time in the band he would write ideas down on a chalkboard. One morning he woke up to the words, “open gallery for student artists.”
He didn’t remember writing anything the night before, so he asked his roommate. “I looked at Kent and I said, ‘did you write that?’ and he said ‘no.’ So somewhere in there I must have been thinking about it.”
It makes sense because Kraig was already a part of the Arizona art world.
“I worked at the Arizona Design Center way back when and worked for about nine years with two different companies,” he recalls. “I realized we were selling some artwork in the design center and my roommate — who was actually my husband at the time — his students would come to the house during the summer and some of them were doing art. He taught design but some of them were in art classes so when they would come, they would bring in some of their artwork so it wouldn’t melt in their cars. This girl kept on asking, why don’t you buy some chips and dip, sodas and all that?’ and I thought, ‘Well you have money. You have all these paintings and sculptures — you make all this.’ And she said ‘no, we dumpster-dive. We take what the kids throw out in the dumpsters.’”
That was over 27 years ago and now his Art One Gallery is a place for aspiring artists to showcase their works while learning the ins and outs of the often fickle industry. But it wasn’t any easy sell at first. The students were wary because they had been ripped off in the past. Also, they were unsure about how much to charge for their pieces.
“So I was like, ‘I do. I can help you guys, we can figure this out,” says Kraig. “We did have some complications. There were professors who were absolutely not happy with this model. So we made it a point to let the professors know, ‘listen we don’t do any commission work, students aren’t going to be asked to paint colorful paintings for our designers, but we want the projects when they’re done, and then we’ll sell them to the designers.’ So when I opened the doors I instantly had clientele. I think that’s why some of the newer galleries, when they try and open they think it’s cool, but they don’t know who their buyers are. That was really the main thing that helped us.”
After 17 years another problem arose. That of the space he had been renting which is right next door to his current location.
“It was an issue,” he says. “Our landlord sold the building; our best friend bought it. Our best friend then kicked us out. I have never talked to him since. They still run the business next door. We went from about 3,400 square feet, thanks to them, down to about 920.”
It didn’t matter though. Kraig’s showroom may have shrunk but he still had the support of about 80 local galleries. “What I didn’t realize at the time was the reason that they loved us being here. In a way we were kind of a threat, but in another we stopped all the students going into their galleries and driving them crazy trying to get in. What we offered is: display your work here and let the other gallery owners watch your work until they think it’s time for you to go, then go into their gallery. We don’t hold exclusives so that really helped a lot, in fact quite a few of the galleries over the years took our students over which is fantastic.”
Kraig also went a step further by mentoring the “kids” as he calls them. He would teach them how to prepare portfolios, what to say to gallery owners or just give them confidence to keep up the good work. He wanted them to be prepared. He wants them to succeed.
Still there is the question of what he chooses to display in his own gallery. He doesn’t accept everything but that’s not because of the quality of the work, it’s because he knows his clients too well.
“Before I’ve always had my manager help me pick what art goes in, but because I knew all of the designers and all of the architects, we already had an idea of what sells. We don’t bring in severed heads and bloody body parts and all of that — we just don’t have the clientele for it — we just don’t. What we do, is we go through and pick and say, yes we have clients for this work; we don’t have clients for yours.”
That rejection is all a part of the process. “It’s hard. It is really hard,” says Kraig. “That’s the hardest thing of this gallery is to turn someone away. But we explain to them to continue the road that you’re on because this is what you enjoy doing, we just don’t have clientele for it.”
Enticing potential buyers with pieces that constantly interest them is not only a sale, but a repeat customer. Trends come and go and in the current state of the economy it might be harder to justify buying a piece of art. But Kraig has his finger on the pulse of what buyers want and there is plenty to choose from.
“I think that people want something that’s bright and fun right now,” he explains. “They don’t want the dark. I think what’s happening is as they’re at home they are realizing — especially our clients — realizing how important artwork is. Even a small piece will change your whole entire attitude when you walk into the room and I think they are finding that.”
Art One also has a borrowing program for those who want to experience the art in their homes before they commit to it.
“If you walked into the gallery and saw a piece that you really liked or say three; you can’t decide. We send them home with you for a week. You don’t leave a deposit, you don’t pay for it, all they take is your name and phone number. And they walk out the door and they live with it for a week. That helps because they can actually have it in their home for a week see what it looks like in the morning, in the afternoon, and at nighttime.” Kraig hopes the buyer will answer the internal question, “Does this make us happy?”
Allowing people to take the works home is not just a way to see if it fits, but it starts building a relationship with its creator.
“It gets them to trust the artist,” Kraig explains. “Honestly the rich-rich will always buy the expensive stuff. Our goal is to kinda help those from average income, low income, all the way up and help them start collecting and I think if you can get a couple pieces with them, they get it home then they understand the importance of real art instead of poster art.”
To that end, people always ask Kraig if he knows who the next “big” artist is. Probably because they want some intuitive insider advice to make sure the art they buy grows in value.
“It’s not an investment,” he warns, “What you’re buying is something you love and appreciate and you’re helping a student get through school or helping a non-student pay rent and buy food. Don’t buy it unless you love it.”
The problem is twofold Kraig says. Just as artists are fearful of how to sell their pieces, laymen like myself get anxious to set foot inside something so culturally fancy.
“People are afraid to come into the gallery. ‘Oh, we’re not worthy.’ You know, gallery owners, we’re all the same; we’re all nuts. We all put on our pants the same exact way,” he says. “I look at every single artist who walks through the door. I am absolutely nothing, nor is any gallery owner. We’re not better, we don’t have the talent that the artists do.”
“Another thing I encourage people to do,” he adds, “is take their kids and family. Go, even if it’s the southwestern galleries and they don’t like it. Take them in. Some of those artists are absolutely amazing.”
Kraig has come a long way in the 27 years since Art One moved into 4130 North Marshall Way. It all started on a chalkboard which, if you think about it, could be considered a canvas in itself. But at the core of everything he’s done, there is something that drives him to do even more.
“My job on this earth is to educate people.”