Despite government bailouts, nearly 80% of French galleries saw their revenues drop in 2020, new report shows

A new report published by an association of French galleries revealed the impact of the pandemic on art galleries across the country in 2020. Despite France’s intersectoral financial support to businesses and specific measures to bail out the cultural sector , 78% of galleries saw a drop in revenue last year.

At the same time, the results show that the situation is not as bad as previously feared. Last March, the Professional Committee of Art Galleries issued a stern report warning that a third of French galleries risked closing. The follow-up survey, conducted among the 279 member galleries of the trade association last November, showed a different picture.

“We don’t have a lot of Covid-related closures at the moment. Those who closed were mainly those who were already in decline before the crisis, but we must remain vigilant. Marion Papillon, gallery owner and head of the professional association, tells Artnet News. “The situation is less dramatic, thanks in particular to the intersectoral financial support of the State, but we are worried about the galleries’ investment capacity in the coming months.

The report showed that revenues were down 25-50% for around a third of galleries, and fell by more than half for another third compared to 2019. To house businesses, a quarter of all galleries had to downsizing, despite the fact that more than two-thirds employed fewer than four people, and only four percent had a workforce of more than 10. The most affected were galleries at both ends of the market spectrum: galleries with income annual 3 million euros.

The biggest losses were suffered during the lockdown between March and May 2020, a generally busy fair season when galleries were forced to close. Some 75% of the galleries surveyed cited the return of fairs as their top priority for 2021.

The strength of the desire to return to art fairs, even stronger than in the spring, surprised us a little, ”says Papillon. “It’s very clear that collectors miss fairs, and that they also give galleries the opportunity to show more artists and recent works.

The report highlights the important role that government support played in mitigating damage to the industry, as 59% of galleries were able to benefit from the state’s short-time working program, which allowed the government to supplement salaries of staff whose hours have been reduced. Others have benefited from certain tax exemptions, France’s solidarity bailout and state-guaranteed loans.

Galleries also benefited from the increase in the national acquisitions budget, which doubled to reach € 1.2 million in 2020, and a quarter of galleries sold at least one work under this program. In 2021, this budget will fall back to usual levels, but the state has pledged to distribute $ 2 million in direct aid to the gallerys.

TThe trade association stresses the importance of continued government support for the sector, given that struggling galleries will also have a ripple impact on living artists, who make up a significant percentage of 73 percent of galleries’ listings.

Museums in France are still closed, galleries see their attendance increase, but few purchases are made.

“For the moment, we are mainly a local market, because there is less international travel and the general atmosphere is not particularly favorable for acquisitions,” explains Papillon. But she adds that the increased footfall mainly includes a new audience who could become buyers in the years to come. As a result, the second highest priority for galleries in the report is maintain relationships with collectors and build new ones, then improve digital sales tools.

“Whatever happens, it is important for us to continue to do our work, to support artists, and for that we need investments, so we hope that the state will continue to help us”, says Papillon, “Not necessarily in the same way it helps today, but with acquisition budgets for museums, and specific supports for the art market.

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