By Danielle Duggan
Clinton County Chatter
A business whose employees are solely volunteers and whose products come with a low price tag sounds like a recipe for closing down. Clinton County Arts Council, a St. Johns non-profit art gallery that survives primarily on grants, is proof that this business method works.
Marta Giesecke, a worker at the art gallery, located at 320 N. Clinton Ave., said that this gallery hires only volunteers.
These volunteers are well-educated on the artists of the pieces displayed in the store and can share stories about these artists.
According to Michigan State University business expert Bonnie Knutson, volunteers can be valuable because of this knowledge of the art.
“Often times in non-profits they have a docent, someone who has been trained so they know the local artist,” said Knutson. “They can tell a story about the artist or about the piece which makes the piece more valuable or more interesting.”
According to Giesecke, the director of the gallery finds artists and obtains the art that is displayed there through this process. A price is set on this piece and a customer can buy it.
According to Jenn Yoell, another volunteer at the art gallery, the non-profit relies on grants provided to them by various cultural organizations. The funds from these grants, along with the profits made by the art pieces in the gallery, keep the gallery functioning.
“[The gallery relies on] grants. And any visitor that comes in, we ask to sign the guest book because when it’s time to file for a grant we count our visitors. This way, the government knows that we are existing,” said Giesecke.
According to Yoell, the attendance per day varies.
“It could be 10 and then there could be none,” said Yoell.
The guest book on a Tuesday in March included about five names.
According to Knutson, non-profit organizations that draw money through these methods have positives and negatives.
“A grant guarantees that you can keep the lights on and doors open,” said Knutson.
Giesecke said that this method of business works well because all of the employees are passionate about their work and enjoy what they’re doing.
According to Giesecke, the majority of art sold in the shop come from local artists. Most small non-profits draw merchandise from the local area.
“Most [artists] come from the area and the surrounding areas,” said Giesecke. “We’re closed every Sunday except the first Sunday of the month. That’s the time we feature an artist. We make a special display. We have snacks and the artist is here and they can invite their family and friends.”
Yoell said these items are priced “anywhere from $5 or $8 up to a couple hundred (dollars).”
According to Knutson, a local artist doesn’t have the promotion attractiveness for a wide market. The art gallery won’t become a destination market that most large cities have. St. Johns’ small size also prevents the store from attracting much attention from customers walking down the street.
“Without a name artist that can draw from a wide market and demand higher prices, they must rely more on smaller sales than bigger sales,” said Knutson. “In that case, they probably have to supplement the revenue they get from selling pieces.”