Fine art galleries struggle in uncertain economy

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Tough economic times bringing a whole new meaning to the term starving artist, even forcing one private gallery owner to close their doors recently. Local artists are being hit hard, but they're doing what they can to make ends meet.

Handmade jewelry, sculptures, and works of art -- it's all been Shelby Parbel's passion since high school.

"I wanted to have a venue to be able to do that. That's why I bought the gallery in the first place," Parbel said.

She's owned Shelby Lee Gallery on Church Street for about two and a half years, but as the economy suffered sales went way down.

"It's gotten worse every few months it seems like it gets worse and it's tough to be paying all the bills yourself and keeping things going that way when things just aren't selling," Parbel said.

Some artists who can't own or be part of private galleries choose to show their work in a gallery with a big group of other artists, forming a guild.

Charleston Artist's Guild says it's a formula that's helped their organization and its artists to thrive.

"We are very happy with the results we are having here. First of all we have a great location. We have an amazing variety of artists and different types of art. In addition to that it's a very inspiring place to be, very inspiring place for our customers," CAG gallery administrator Rebecca Leonard said.

Additionally the guild hosts many events to promote the arts around town.

Back at the Shelby Lee Gallery, they're preparing for a major makeover soon sharing the small space with the recently closed Studio 151 to split the bills.

"They were failing where they were. They weren't in as good of a location, and I was having problems where I was so we just joined together and decided to join forces basically. Just try to keep everyone going until things hopefully improve," Parbel said.

In addition to slow sales, Parbel says rent in downtown Charleston is high, but having the co-op with another gallery will help with that and cut costs to have someone staff the gallery.

The Charleston Artists Guild currently has more than 70 members. They meet monthly to come up with new programs and partnerships to make sure the arts are promoted throughout Charleston.

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