Growing Long Island art market sees new businesses enter fray

The Shelf, an artisan store in Port Jefferson looking to sell the work of local artists and entrepreneurs, will open in April.

By Josh Spitz and Alex Bakirdan

The Shelf, an artisan store in downtown Port Jefferson, will open in mid-April and will be selling the art of 32 local artists and entrepreneurs after originally planning to hold only twenty.

It took store owner Diana Walker less than 60 days to find the 32 artists looking to sell their work.

These artists face several difficulties that come with being in a mass-produced economy, Jasmine Scarlatos, a St. James-based artisan, said.

A big problem with getting noticed is basic supply and demand,” Scarlatos said. “In theory, it’s not the industry. But their consumers generally don’t want to pay for artisan-made goods.”

The Long Island art market is difficult for young new artists to break into, with many having difficulty finding places to sell their work. “You can [sell] A piece, you find if you work really hard,” Diana Walker, owner of The Shelf, said.

Many art events on Long Island, such as the Art Walk that takes place in May in St. James, require an entry fee of $25 to $50, sometimes even more. The fee comes with no guarantee that the artist will actually sell their work.

The art market is growing, Judith Leavy, Executive Director of Gallery North in Setauket said. But, there are still not many options for artists to showcase and sell their work.

“I would say that there are a limited number of options right now, however we’ve recognized that and we have made efforts to change that,” Leavy said.

The main goal of the store, Walker said, is to give opportunity and space to young artists at a time where their work might be overlooked. The plan is to have a “revolving contract.” Every 90 days, the inventory in the store will be cycled to give time and space to each artist.

Rather than having the contract connected to the artist, it will be connected to the inventory. This means that artists will write a new contract with the store every time their inventory sells out.  

Not paying for art has become so common that a subgroup on the website reddit, called /r/choosingbeggars makes fun of stingy consumers reluctant to pay for goods or services.

“If it’s online a lot of the time [the customer] will be very agreeable at first and then when it comes time to pay they’ll delay payment or they’ll say ‘do you think it’s really worth THAT much?’ Even if you’ve lowballed it a bit to begin with,” Morgan Richard, another Long Island-based artist involved with The Shelf, said.

Scarlatos and Richard are not the only artists interested in the store’s business model, which originally planned to showcase 20 artists upon opening. Walker said that she will find a way to display all those who are interested.

The art business and consumers have become obsessed with the “traditional,” Walker said.

“Most places don’t want the current-day creative minds,” she said. “They want the picture of the sailboat, or the picture of the sunflower.”

That’s why artists like Scarlatos are struggling to find ways to get their art noticed and purchased. She says that consumers are weighing the difference between quality and price, and in most cases, they decide that lower prices are more important than higher quality art.

But, Scarlatos says, she does not necessarily disagree with the consumer’s point of view.

“It’s less the industry’s fault, and more that of consumers who are willing to sacrifice quality for price. And I can’t blame them.”

About Josh Spitz 2 Articles
Josh Spitz is a sophomore journalism major at Stony Brook University. He has a main interest in sports reporting along with media law, with the goal of working in television, radio or any type of multimedia. Spitz enjoys rooting for bad sports teams, the beach and spending time with family. He was the sports editor for his high school newspaper, The Anchor, writing feature pieces for each issue.