By Anne O'Connor
SHIRLEY -- Selling art is a tough business. Galleries have to find artists, the artists have to deliver their work on time and someone has to buy the images and objects.
Gallery Sitka, with gallery space in Shirley and Fitchburg, wall space in local businesses and sponsors of pop-up shows around the region, is working to connect artists with consumers.
Art sales complement Tamar Russell Brown's main business, Sitka Creations, a graphic design service.
After the person she shared space with in Shirley moved out, she was not sure what to do with all the room that she loved.
"What am I going to do with this space?" she asked her husband.
"My husband said, 'Take the lease,'" she said.
Opening a gallery was a natural step for a woman who had shown her own work in other galleries.
The business space is airy and bright, but there is no foot traffic.
Art show openings were not well attended. She approached the Bull Run Restaurant about showing her artists in a hallway.
Now, the 41-year-old entrepreneur rotates the pieces monthly. Not only does the restaurant get regular changes in appearance, Brown learns about the artists.
"It gives me practice with the artists to see how they'll work out," she said.
Brown learned the importance of knowing how an artist might behave the hard way. One artist scheduled for a show in Fitchburg backed out at the last minute and she was left scrambling.
The Fitchburg gallery gets more foot traffic than in Shirley and more people go to the openings. However, sales are not what she hoped for.
Sitka Gallery West, which opened in July 2016, has not broken even yet. She chose the location based on the surrounding buildings in the city.
Opening the Fitchburg location had costs she did not face when she opened in Shirley.
The building inspector's requirements meant hiring an architect to do a drawing. It took months to get everything settled.
Her landlord, Shack's Clothing, was a big help, she said. A microloan, perhaps the first issued through the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, made the opening the second location financially feasible.
Part-time employees help keep things running.
Brown keeps things fresh for her main business, too. The Shirley space recently added a mechanical letterpress, thanks to her dad.
"There's a lot going on," she said. "The artists are all marketing themselves."
Changes may be in store. "I'm not selling much," Brown said.
She gets the same message from other gallery owners. One New York gallery she knows of spent $50,000 mounting and promoting a show and did not make one sale.
Sitka Gallery West, 454 Main St., Fitchburg, is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.