Urban Explorer 4.0: Lori Johns, C. Emerson Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

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Lori Johns "started small" on the Web.

Now she's gone global.

Johns is the owner of C. Emerson Fine Arts Gallery (c-emersonfinearts.com), a pristine white-box contemporary art gallery on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. She started with just the bare minimum — the website, the Facebook page — but now she's branching out, finding new ways to identify talented artists and sell their work.

There's the Global Talent Data Base, for instance, which bills itself as a kind of international Yellow Pages for talent and creativity (talentdatabase.com). "I've found several good artists on the database," she says. She's also connected with ArtLog, a NY-based networking tool for galleries and artists. And she's learning how to do statistical analysis of her Tweets.

Why truck with all this tech? Because she has a strong interest in showing work that hasn't been seen locally before, and she knows that in order to find it she has to give her gallery a profile in cyberspace.

And sometimes, the world being what it is, sales come in via the web that she had nothing to do with.

For instance, her current "pop surrealism" show, Under the Influence 2, features a work by Brooklyn-based artist Patrick Francisco: a custom-painted vinyl toy chimpanzee, more sullen than cutesy.

A photo of the chimp appeared on a blog, and within a few hours, says Johns, "Someone called up from Oregon" and made arrangements to buy it. (It helps that Francisco has a strong online presence already; "he likes to message me in Twitter," says Johns.)

She uses Facebook a lot, both to promote shows and to maintain a profile, sometimes not even with an obvious gallery connection (like the Matt Groening/ Pablo Picasso faceoff she recently linked to).

But there's some danger in putting yourself too much out there. Facebook updates can be misconstrued as personal messages rather than business communication, so she avoids the mundane personal details.

And even with all this inter-connectedness, it's tough for any independent business, let alone an art gallery, to survive In These Tough Economic Times. Is she optimistic?

"I have seen years where sales have been better," she says. And the area could always use more collectors. But she wouldn't be happy selling "Florida palm tree art." She's selling work, she says, that's "feeding my soul" — and with the global reach of the Internet, she's able to feed souls all over the world.

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