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New Frontier

South Main pioneer sets up shop in a new neighborhood.


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Art gallery owner Jay Etkin tries to stay ahead of the curve. First, he opened a gallery in Cooper-Young before that neighborhood became hip. Then, 10 years ago, he set up shop in the emerging South Main Arts District. Now Etkin has opened an arts incubator at 484 Union Avenue.

Last month, Etkin closed his three-story gallery space on South Main at Huling and moved his art inventory to an old warehouse across the street from The Commercial Appeal building. He'll use the space as a classroom to teach students about the art business, as well as a by-appointment gallery and studio space for local artists.

"When you're reinventing yourself, you also need to reinvent your environment. The concept at 409 South Main had run its course, and this place was a blank canvas," Etkin said.

Etkin will be working with art interns from the Memphis College Art and the University of Memphis in the hopes of passing down some of the knowledge he's gained from 30 years in the gallery business.

"Students coming out of art school are not well-prepared to deal with the business side of being an artist," Etkin said. "Of course, you'd like to talk to them about this in a good economy, but now the rules have changed. You can't go at anything the same way."

Etkin changed his business strategy last year as art sales slowed because of the recession. He began traveling around the country to sell local art to corporate clients rather than solely relying on art openings and local private collectors.

"We are dealing with collectors, both private and corporate. And we're dealing with art sales in town and out of town," Etkin said. "I want young artists to see how that unfolds."

Etkin's new gallery is only open to the public by appointment, and he won't be hosting regular art shows like he did in the South Main space.

"The space on Union will act more like a gallery showroom with changing inventory," Etkin said. "I've done regular art shows every 30 days for 30 years. I'm not doing that anymore."

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