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“The most satisfying moment is when everything comes together,” says Cheryl Numark, owner and operator of downtown Washington, D.C.’s Numark Gallery. Numark is alluding to the moment when all the pieces of art for a new show have been safely installed, the lighting made perfect, the invitations to the show’s opening sent out, and the opening party itself finally under way. All the work behind the scenes — coming up with the idea for the show, choosing the artist, and developing a relationship with that person — are all part of the preparation. It might surprise one to learn that Numark practiced law for eight years. Through a circuitous route, she eventually came to own and operate her own art gallery. Yet an experience on her college publication foreshadowed her ultimate desire to do something a little more artistically creative in her life than practicing law. When Numark was an undergraduate, she took media and communications courses. She was the editor in chief of the Chicago Review and dealt frequently with writers and artists. When she managed to get contemporary art on the cover of the review, she “felt like her true self.” After college, she went to work at St. Martin’s Press. Not ready to become a full-fledged editor, she decided to go to law school, something she knew would be rigorous and challenging. She intended to return to book publishing after earning her law degree, but that plan changed during law school when she landed a job at Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. She then did a stint at Cohn & Marks, a boutique firm specializing in communications law and mass media. Her third and last job before changing professions was at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Her position was policy-oriented, dealing with how laws should be altered in response to technological changes. “I wanted to get everything I could as a lawyer. I had invested so much,” Numark says. But after lawyering for eight years, she was ready to move on. “As soon as I made the decision, I had no regrets, not even for a millisecond.” Numark acted as a private art dealer for about two years before starting her own gallery. She would drive to New York, and by fostering relationships with galleries obtain her first pieces of art on consignment. She hung the artwork in her home and had receptions there for potential clients. Her first client was her brother-in-law. Eventually, in 1995, Numark opened her own gallery in downtown D.C. The gallery scene hadn’t yet rebounded from a recession, so it was a good time to start such a business. Numark knew from the start that she wanted to feature contemporary art in her gallery. About the time she was getting involved in art dealing, the renovation of Ronald Reagan National Airport was being completed. The airport had hired several contemporary artists to create huge wall murals to decorate the main terminal. To coincide with the completion and hanging of these artworks, Numark mounted a group show in her new gallery. The show, entitled “National Airport — Artists on Paper,” highlighted prints and other works by these artists. One local artist who created a huge mural for the airport and appeared in Numark’s show was Jennifer Bartlett. Numark now represents her. New York City artist David Row was in town for the opening of the refurbished airport. His prints were included in the Numark Gallery’s show honoring the airport’s reopening and he dropped by. Therein began a creative relationship that led to a recent show at the gallery. Numark represents a wide range of artists and exhibits a wide range of art. She usually obtains work on consignment from other galleries and from individual artists, but occasionally purchases artworks to supplement her inventory. If she sees in another gallery an artist’s work that she admires, a cold call to the artist is usually not the best tack to launching a relationship. That artist is likely to be represented by the gallery. Numark has found that the best approach is to send the gallery a package of materials about her gallery, about the kind of art she is interested in exhibiting. “The strength of a gallery rests on relationships with the artists and collectors.” If she shows that she has established lasting relationships and produced good sales, a New York gallery, for instance, would be more willing to consign pieces for a show. This is when she could begin speaking directly with the artist. Numark would then obtain the artwork on consignment. In such a case, the gallery would get a percentage of the sale made at the Numark Gallery. Numark would split the revenue with the gallery, and the artist would typically still maintain 50 percent of sales. This deal, Numark hopes, represents the beginning of a relationship between the two galleries. Obviously, it’s better for a gallery to represent its own artists and avoid splitting commissions with other galleries. Artists have relationships with various galleries — sometimes exclusive, sometimes not. Numark credits her law degree and legal practice with preparing her for gallery ownership. As an attorney, she developed good work habits, she says, and learned to approach things systematically. Like any business, a gallery, Numark says, must sell itself. Its principals must know enough about the art that the gallery represents to sell not only to collectors but also to the general public. Communication is another skill she honed as a lawyer, and it has proved invaluable. Her legal training and experience have given her confidence in negotiations. She knows what issues she can comfortably raise in her dealings with artists new or old. A successful relationship with an artist, she says, is based primarily on trust. Developing personal relationships with collectors is equally important. They don’t always just walk in the door. Part of her job is to locate them, educate them, and make the buying of art an enjoyable process. Numark explains that “collectors’ choices enhance artists’ reputations and financial success.” Numark likens herself to a “producer putting together creative people and marketing [art] to the public.” The gallery is the “artist’s link to the public.”

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