For an art scene to flourish, it takes more than just artists making work: Galleries are needed to provide a space for work to be shown, critics are needed to spark a dialogue on the reception of the work, and collectors are needed to support an artist’s career with their wallet and word of mouth. To take the pulse of the art collecting market here, I talked with three Tampa-based artists about their experiences with collectors in the area.
Taylor O. Thomas is an artist who paints large-scale on canvas with vibrant, abstract marks she finds in her environment; she works out of a studio in downtown Tampa. Jake Troyli paints figures in environments that bring a quick wit to sharp social commentary, and is currently working out of Provincetown, Massachusetts as part of the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship award. Finally, Noah Deledda is an artist working in his Ybor studio who dents ordinary aluminum cans into precise designs and patterns by hand, redefining what the purpose of an overlooked object can be.
Each artist has their own perspective on contact with art collectors in the area or elsewhere, and together help to flesh out this particular element of the Tampa Bay art scene.
“Collectors can be a financial supporter, they can advocate for your work and they have a foundation in their network of people,” Thomas told CL. To her, the role of a collector is to invest not only in perhaps one specific work from the artist but to invest in the future of the artist and their work. “Word of mouth can be a powerful tool in shaping the future of an artist and their practice.”
“I call anyone who buys a work from me a collector for a few reasons: I see it as a sign of respect, and I think it plants the idea in their head that they are collectors,” she added. "They can consider themselves a collector and build a broader collection.”
It might be an obvious statement, but New York and Tampa have significant differences in terms of cultural contact.
“In New York, it’s so easy to go into a gallery because that’s just part of everyday life. Here it’s more commercial than on an individual basis,” Thomas explained. It seems there isn’t a lot of critical value on collecting art here in the area, an attitude that might stimulate more activity in the circulation of works to collectors. Troyli shares a similar view of the importance of collectors for an artist’s career.
“That serious investment goes a long way in terms of confidence in and sustainability of a practice,” he said. “The ideal collector is someone who isn’t just a trophy hunter — it’s someone who collects works that they not only love and appreciate, but also believes in and wants to be part of the artist’s growth and trajectory.”
Troyli’s collectors, both national and international, have come into contact with his work through their connections to the spaces he has shown at — one of the crucial roles a gallery plays in an artist’s career is exactly this: Acting as a bridge between their base of collectors and the artists they show.
This need for more galleries in our area is neither new nor surprising — and this exigency has led to the emergence of garage-galleries in Tampa like Coco Hunday, Parallelogram, and QUAID. These spaces were each founded by USF Studio Art professors who have direct contact with emerging artists and know all too well the importance that art spaces play in new careers. Our art world needs additional venues for artists to show work, as these serve as a fundamental platform that connects makers with patrons and the community.
“Tampa has a really cool contemporary arts scene happening, but I just don’t think enough people are aware of the consistent level of talent and output there, and instead think their only chance to buy or see contemporary art is when Basel comes to Miami,” Troyli posited.
In lieu of new physical spaces for work to be shown in the Tampa area — or, to put it more optimistically, while gallery spaces are still in development — Instagram can function as a digital space to connect artists to the art world. The image-based, hashtag-driven app is cited as a tool that has opened up the art market to anyone and everyone. The platform can be seen as a more egalitarian method for artists to bring their work into a globally connected world, yet algorithms and pattern-tracking data artificially sway what information or accounts are prioritized and overlooked.
For Deledda, platforms like Instagram and sites like Reddit, have made his work go “viral” — shared and watched millions of times by people from all over the world. His particular medium of denting aluminum cans by hand into geometric patterns has sparked conversations about the age-old question: What is art? This debate and the borderline controversy of people with usernames accusing Deledda of lying about the production of his work (that it’s digitally altered, not a real physical object) has propelled his can-sculptures into the art world with a force. His collectors in the area are people that were already present in his network of contacts, and the videos about his unique practice have connected him to more collectors around the world.
Such digital spaces certainly don’t hurt the artist or their practice, but they are not the only solution to supporting our art world; they act as a conversation starter, not a finisher. The tangible platform of an art gallery plays a multifaceted role in the career of an artist, whether emerging or established, and is vital for the economic and practical support of artists in our community. It seems we keep coming back to the same conclusion: We need more gallery spaces for artists to show their work, experiment with new ideas or practices, and to connect artists with collectors in the area.