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Q and A with Larry Elder

by Emily Williams

October 8,2009

Larry Elder is the owner of Elder Art Gallery, located at 1427 South Blvd in South End. The Elder Art Gallery displays a unique selection of fine contemporary American art, as well as a collection of vintage art from the 1800’s through the 1970’s. He is a member of Preservation North Carolina and has served on the board of Historic SouthEnd District. 

How did you get started in the art business?

It's a pretty much a story of passion. I have always loved to paint and had associations with many artists in the Southeast. I also had a corporate job for most of my career and was fortunate that this prepared me for starting my own business. I was involved in a couple of dot-com startup companies back in the mid 90's and enjoyed the excitement of creating something new and different. I picked up good business skills and enjoyed entrepreneurial success. Then the technology bubble burst. It was at that stage in my life that I decided to go into something that I really wanted to do, so I left the corporate world and decided to open an art gallery in early 2001. I found a location, signed the lease and got the wheels in motion. On September 11th, 2001, my wife and I were vacationing in Portugal, seeing everything unfold on CNN. Aside from obviously feeling horrified by what was happening, I also realized that I had an art business to start up in a few weeks. We opened as planned in November of that year and were pleasantly surprised at how things turned out. It's taken off from there, with a lot of support from the local community.

Your gallery functions on many levels. In what way particular way do you think The Elder Gallery stands out?

When I opened the gallery, I wanted it to be unique from several standpoints. My main objective was to offer a broad selection of high-quality artwork at affordable pricing. At the same time I wanted visitors to feel welcome and to be able to visit without feeling pressure to purchase something. I feel that I’m in a unique position to influence the way people look at art. I try to share information about the artists that I represent and discuss the process they use in their creations. The better educated people are in art, the more likely they will expand their viewpoint and be more inclined to become a customer.

The aesthetics of Elder Gallery is somewhat different in that it was designed to create a feeling of intimacy with the artwork being shown. I wanted a location where there was a storefront window so that traffic and people passing by could see what we were all about. We get 30,000+ cars a day passing the gallery [on South Blvd.], and we face the street, so passersby can always get a glimpse. We also have a lot of intimate areas throughout the gallery; we create little niches where we can highlight a particular artist.

What ideas do you have on how leaders in the arts community can jumpstart the process of creating more interest in your industry?

I think it's definitely possible, albeit on a long term basis, and it all gets back to education and awareness. When we compare the appreciation we have for visual art in the United States with most European countries, you'll find in most cases the stronger interest and support rests in Europe. They have an understanding, a passion and a seemingly natural grasp for the arts. They also appreciate more cutting-edge work.

One thing we need to focus on in the U.S. is the education of our young people in the visual arts, and that begins in elementary school through high school. We definitely need to build visual arts into the curriculum in a permanent way. Understanding the background of artists and their work helps create acceptance and appreciation of the work they produce.

Making art accessible to the masses is also critical in the advancement of our industry. The addition of the new museums in Charlotte can have a profound effect on how people look at art. Their leadership in bringing challenging and sometimes controversial exhibitions can play a significant role to increase awareness of art in our region. Charlotte could use a good dose of excitement when it comes to the visual arts.

What is your forecast for the way art will be sold or exhibited in the future?

There's a tremendous amount of shifting in the visual arts as we speak. This past summer, it was reported that from January through June, the Chelsea area in New York City had over thirty galleries close their doors. When you consider the fact that New York City is often perceived as one of the centers of the Art Universe, and that some of these galleries have been in business for over twenty years, that's a sobering thought.

Elder Gallery has recently taken on a monumental task with our Carolina’s Got Art! project. We are stepping outside the standard boundaries of our gallery space and have partnered with the owner of Atherton Mills to present a much larger art event than I would normally be capable of presenting.

I believe that if you can manage your operational costs, your chances of staying in business increase significantly. I think using a website effectively is a great tool. With our website, we're able to communicate information quickly and efficiently to interested parties around the country and the world. To be even more effective, we need to become more proficient with our use of current and future technologies.

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