Here is an interesting interview by the East Bay Express, highlighting 19 business owners in the Easy Bay, including the Abrams Claghorn Gallery owner, Robert Abrams.

For the full article click here.

Art local

Robert Abrams

owner, Abrams Claghorn Gallery, an art gallery with monthly themed exhibits, plus solo and group shows (1251 Solano Avenue, Albany;

Explain what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.

The Abrams Claghorn Gallery opened April 2015. Monthly themed exhibits, both solo and group shows, feature Bay Area artists. In the gallery store, we carry only Bay Area art and craft.

One priority of the gallery is to support underrepresented groups, women and minority artists.

This month, we are featuring the advanced placement art students from Albany High. Overall our primary focus is supporting the local art community and showing work by artists who have honed their craft and want to create social change by showing and making art.

Describe one of the most critical challenges facing the East Bay economy. How does your organization or business help?

With the world at everyone’s fingertips our challenge is to keep our community focused on their artist and small business neighbors. I think the East Bay has always been home to one of the country’s heaviest concentrations of artisans/makers/artists. The challenge is for them to get their products noticed, and for the consumer to understand the value of their work. It’s difficult to get noticed on a broader scale, or to compete against large online companies that sell similar, factory made items for below the cost for local artisans.

What does your organization do specifically to help out locals?

Everything sold in our shop, and everything shown in the gallery, is made by local artisans and artists. As a long-standing participant in the art community, I showcase some of my established cohort / network of artists. I see the gallery’s location and promotion efforts as a way to keep these artists at the forefront. We also love to show artists with little or no professional experience and help them develop a product line and professional portfolio. This includes providing free space to work in the studio in the back for ceramic artists learning the trade. We are also working with Albany parents and teachers to start a nonprofit that will help fund visual arts in the Albany public schools, k thru 12.

If you were mayor, what one thing would you do to improve the local economy?

I want people to know and love walking down Solano Ave. I think I would look for ways to improve the visibility and reputation of the main shopping areas. Which may mean finding ways  to fill all the empty storefronts on Solano Ave., improve the community’s awareness of new businesses and events. Easier said than done, I know, but every ounce of effort that gets people into our space means that we get to stay a thriving and community-oriented business.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your organization’s goals?

Artists spend a long time on their work. Sometimes years! From concept to fabrication to show — we have to communicate to the customers the difference between hand-made and factory made, and why the price ranges are so different. We  sell items at prices that allow the artists to make a living so they can continue to bring their work, either for its beauty or for its social impact, to the public.

What keeps you passionate about your work?

A few years ago I realized I should open my own gallery. I enjoy making my own art and mentoring young students, but I knew that if I wanted to make a real impact on what people were seeing and artist’s livelihood, I would have to be the curator and facilitator. Overall, I run this business from the perspective of the artist and I enjoy all the aspects of working with the artists. I know I cannot do all the work myself, the artists deserve better. I have a staff of 3, as well as paid consultants, to make sure the artworks, promotions, and all the smallest details are handled properly.

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

Over  the last year and a half we hosted 14 great art shows (yes, that’s once a month or more!), with very well attended receptions, and we have sold a lot of art. We are accomplishing our goals as a gallery and are already planning well into 2017. e With everything involved to get people in the door and host events, the greatest accomplishment is that we are more than just a gallery, we are a contributing member of the local community. I think this was always the goal, but seeing it come to fruition is really exciting.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

It will be more difficult to survive on art sales alone. We may have to find ways to curate shows online that still convey the message as well as what we can do in person. The online community is strong and it is an effective channel to get people to come to us in person. People crave interpersonal connection and I hope that the next decade will give us both the technology to keep our name in-front of new eyes and a dedicated group of people who want to participate in artist talks, workshops, and events. We’re banking on the human connection along with the power of promotion.

What is your biggest fear? Describe the most exciting possibility for your industry.

This is more of a big picture fear, rather than a day to day business fear. I worry about losing art sales to companies like Amazon and Ikea. I fear the local gallery becoming irrelevant in an online shopping world. On the other hand, it would be great to get Ikea (or other large chains that sell art/wall decoration) to carry artwork made by artists local to each location. It’s our job to help the artist communicate the value of their hard work and help the customer see the value of making an investment in their home via art.

How can we cultivate the next generation to keep caring and spending their dollars locally?

Education. Make sure every generation learns the value of a well-rounded education that includes art and craft making. Parents and teachers can show the value of walking a few doors down from a big chain cafe to a local roastery, or dedicate their weekend to going to museums rather than big budget movies. A slower pace, an understanding of community and those who make it all work. Teach how supply chains work.

What other local businesses do you love to support?

We sell chocolate by Xocolate Bar, soaps by Juniper Tree. I shop at Berkeley Bowl. I buy my art supplies at Leslie Ceramics, and local recycling places, such as Urban Ore. Then there’s Past Time Hardware, Truitt & White, Berkeley Hardware. For haircuts, Grove Salon, for breakfast, Guerilla Café. There’s Mr. Mopps toys and 5 Little Monkeys toys. I buy all my cut flowers from Golden Poppy, party supplies from Paper Plus. And then there’s Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, The Cactus Jungle, Flowerland nursery. I have a long list of restaurants, none of them large chains, all of them locally owned.