DeWITT — When Peter Svoboda opened an art gallery in ShoppingTown Mall, he only expected to be around for a few weeks.
“I went a month, and then I went another month,” says Svoboda, the director and owner of CNY Artists in the mall. “And then I made a commitment.”
Svoboda actually made his commitment in December, eight months after first opening the gallery in its 2,700-square-foot storefront. He now plans to keep CNY Artists open indefinitely.
The gallery is an extension of an online art community Svoboda founded in 2010. That community — known as CNY Artists, Crafters, and Creators — was made up of 98 people by the end of that year, and in April 2011 Svoboda set up a show of its artists’ work at the Fayetteville Free Library.
The show went well, leading Svoboda to look for a location where it could be extended. And he landed in leased space at ShoppingTown Mall.
“I realized I had a great audience going by my door,” Svoboda says. “It’s convenient for people. It’s easily accessible. And parking is easy.”
Svoboda wants to use the gallery to get new buyers interested in art. And he plans to talk inexperienced shoppers through the process of making a purchase.
He also aims to make the gallery a hub for local artists. At least 95 percent of its contents are from local artists, he estimates.
The gallery includes a variety of framed art such as paintings and drawings, and also jewelry, antiques, and collectibles. About 100 artists’ works are showing at any one time, Svoboda says. Pieces typically range from $200 to $800, although a few cost more.
“It’s very eclectic,” he says. “I let it grow organically.”
To have works considered for the gallery, an artist must join the CNY Artists, Crafters, and Creators online community for $35 per year — higher than the community’s non-gallery membership rate of $20 per year. If the gallery sells an artist’s work, that artist takes home 60 percent of the sales proceeds. The gallery collects the rest.
Svoboda is the gallery’s only employee, but artists volunteer their time to set up displays and keep the storefront running. About 30 volunteers regularly pitch in, Svoboda says.
The gallery can be more to artists than simply a place to sell paintings, according to Svoboda.
“This is kind of a gallery, but it’s also kind of an incubator,” he says. “People are really getting energized because, instead of sitting at home facing four walls, they get energy from being down here.”
Svoboda says he’s been an art collector for years, but he also has experience in the business field. He taught at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management from 1998 to 2008, and before that he was assistant director at the Small Business Development Center at Onondaga Community College.
Currently, he is trying to run CNY Artists based on a cooperative model, he says.
“I try to do sideways management,” he says. “We all listen to each other. I have to make the final decisions because I have to pay the rent.”
He wants to expand the gallery’s offerings in the future with themed shows and reach out to coordinate educational programs with area high schools and colleges. And he is considering branching out to sell gallery artwork online.
CNY Artists has already been commissioned to create several works, Svoboda says. Artists in the gallery have been working on about four different commissions at a time for the last month, he says. Commissions have ranged from portraits of individuals to a painting of a company’s headquarters.
Svoboda could not provide revenue totals, but estimates growth of 20 percent in 2012.
“The only slightly hard part we face is to get more people to know about us,” he says.