Gallery Interview: Cowley Fine Art

Artist and gallery owner Jane Cowley of Cowley Fine Art in South Haven, Michigan speaks about the challenges of owning a resort gallery today, and what artists should know.


Custom Wood Furniture

Gallery offerings include custom wood furniture by Steve Thomas and Chuck Dant


AS:  You are an artist who bought an art gallery. What have you learned from owning it?

JC:  The one thing I did learn was to trust my instincts concerning the business of the gallery. Running a gallery is very much like creating art. You start with a vision and as you progress, the vision changes and evolves. It requires creativity, talent and a willingness to be fluid. I’ve learned not to follow a rigid formula, but to listen and follow my inner voice.

AS:  Are there any special challenges in running a resort gallery?

JC:  The main challenge is that resort towns depend on seasonal traffic. The main season for us is summer which really is only June, July and a little bit of August. Kids go back to school in August and September and with them go the parents and their disposable income. You have to plan for the leaner months, which are many, and think outside the box to keep the gallery viable.


Paintings by artist Sara Strong on display

Paintings by artist Sara Strong on display


AS:  What are the most important things artists need to do to help their galleries sell?

JC:  This needs repeating, even though most artists have already heard this.

  • Do your research. Make sure you are a good fit for the gallery.
  • Make sure your work is ready for the gallery. Framed, ready to hang, etc.
  • Make sure you promote yourself and the gallery as much as possible.
  • Open your mouth at artist receptions. People want to hear from you and learn a little about you and your work.

It really does make a difference.


Cowley Fine Art Gallery

More than 100 regional artists are represented


AS:  What are the main characteristics of successful artists?

JC:  Successful artists never stop creating. They don’t let rejection or criticism discourage them. They also pay attention to the business side of being an artist, keeping track of inventory, pricing, correspondence, etc. And they keep active in the art community and they promote themselves through galleries, private showings, juried shows and the like.

AS:  Are there any trends that are popular at your gallery right now?

JC:  Plein air is very popular, especially around here where the landscapes are so beautiful. The lake, the dunes and the forests all serve as a mecca for the plein air artist. Trends change. A few years ago, outsider art was very popular. That has waned. As far as price points, the trend around here is between $150.00 to $400.00 and those are mostly landscapes of the surrounding area.


Cowley Fine Art Interior

Custom jewelry designs are popular items at the gallery.


AS:  What message would you like to share with art buyers today?

JC:  Please remember art is essential to our lives. You might not agree, but if you look around, it is everywhere, a part of our human psyche. In these economic times it is important to support the arts and the artists. Artists contribute so much to our culture and to our progress as a nation and a people. I don’t think people want to buy art from the big box stores and have them dictating our cultural heritage, and they will if people don’t economically support our creative people.


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  1. Jane~ wonderful pictures of your gallery space.. really do enjoy that there is so much to discover! Thank YOU for your message “art is essential to our lives.”
    It is. Art heals us, saves us, protects our soul in so many ways~

  2. Wow – great interview, but especially loved what Jane Cowley stated in the last paragraph. Art IS essential to our being. I hope art buyers (and the rest of the public) feels this way too, and that there is a shift toward supporting meaningful and authentic art for the soul.

  3. Nice interview – good to hear a real voice in the art business. True words – if we do not support artists in our community then art will not be advanced in our community either. Buy original art – it does make a difference.

  4. I enjoyed seeing this perspective and article.

    i’d be curious about the question of ‘quality’ of the art today that is being sold/purchased.

    It seems to me that art has commoditized a lot and there’s a huge supply. I’m just curious about your views on whether buyers are really looking for mastery, technique, etc., or if it’s more commoditized now and consumers just want a fair product?

    Like the poster who says above, I agree that the community needs to support the arts. But it seems as if the community of people are losing the value for fine art, moving towards more crafty works.


    • Hi Robert,

      I don’t think the customer and their taste have changed over the years. I still find a range of art buyers. Some are more sophisticated than others. I do think the economy has limited their ability to indulge in the pursuit of their esthetic.

  5. Jane, I gotta admire you for taking on a gallery with 100 artists! Kudos, woman. I run a small gallery in a working WATERTOWER in a resort town, a romantic place on the Northern California coast, and a place where people come to beat the heat, propose, marry, honeymoon, and celebrate any number of events in their lives. Selling art is difficult enough in this economy, but having a short season makes it even more challenging. I sell mostly my own art, but have another artist showing here so they can sit the gallery and give me a few days off every month so I don’t go crazy. The biggest challenge for me is to stay pleasant when people come in just because of this unique building, and not because of my art. Aargh with a smile. I teach a drop-in 90 minute drawing class to visitors, and sell prints and cards and my original pastels. has my regular art… The waves at are kinda separate. I would love to chat with you about your business and what you do to pull in people off the street and get them to buy art. Ay tips you can share would be welcome!

    • Hi Suzi,

      Thank you for your comments. I would welcome any correspondence and sharing of ideas. I like the idea of a 90 minute class. Great idea!
      I wish you much success.

      • I finally created a note offering the art seeker a horn to toot for the artist, and a suggestion that they look through a book about WATERTOWERS if they are only interested in the building. Without being rude, this gives me a chance to get more work done. I also offer a $20 tour of the tower should anyone want to pay for my time, and though few do, this seems to be working. Sales are slow but enough to pay the rent. Any suggestions?

        • Hi Suzi,
          It sounds like you are doing everything you can.
          I think expanding on your idea of 90 minute classes and making them an event that people are excited to attend and pay for would really help in these difficult times, i.e. lectures, visiting artists, demonstrations,salons etc. You seem to have a lot of enthusiasm, which helps. People gravitate towards artists who are passionate.

  6. it is a challenge to sell art in any economy…but you have even more limitations with tourist season! i was just in Laguna Beach at the art festivals…hardly anyone there….10 years ago that place was packed to the gills. your last statement is so right on…art is very essential to our lives! everyone has to wake up to that!

  7. Scary, Kathryn, about Laguna.

  8. Good data. I offer payment plans in writing. New people need to know they can make payments.
    It needs to be written , so they won’t be afraid to ask. Ice breaker if it’s posted and written, in all ads and printed pieces. Some money is better than no money.

  9. I am thinking about changing my website and going from artistrunwebsite (which is what I have currently) to indiemade. Indiemade would suit my needs better inthat I could sell all of my work from that site instead of having to sell from my Etsy site, but I want to try to get an art gallery near me to display my work and I’m wondering if the Indiemade site will give them the impression that I am a “crafter” rather than an artist? I would appreciate hearing your opinion.Thanks!

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