3 Questions

3 Questions With 7 Arts Co-Founder/Artist Tom McGee

After nearly seven years, two locations, 12 members and roughly 18 special guest artists, downtown gallery/collective space 7 Arts Gallery (125 Lincoln Ave., (505)437-1107) will call it quits at the end of next month. Members also plan to host a final event on Dec. 17 from 3-7 pm celebrating the space. The idea was simple: Create an artist-run gallery model outside the commercialized milieu, then make it accessible to anyone willing to chip in a few bucks and regularly create work. For co-founder and painter Tom McGee, who has been the primary facilitator and funder since the concept started as 3 Studios Gallery on Canyon Road in 2016, it’s a bittersweet milestone that represents both great success and the immutable passage of time. We spoke with McGee roughly a month before 7 Arts is slated to close—y’know, to give folks enough time to check it out before it closes. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

So what’s up? Why close now?

Well, our lease is up. It’s a triggering event. I’ve underwritten the collective for the last seven years, and COVID was a shot across the bow; we were closed for a year and had to kind of carry the load a little bit more than I’d planned, and the building management didn’t give us any help. One part is just the responsibility and having my name on a lease for another three years. Plus, the family has moved over to the east mountains near Albuquerque. That’s an hour commute, which isn’t bad. That’s not even the main reason—I just think it was time. I think I was done doing the management and being responsible; I don’t think I’ve been doing as good a job since we moved of keeping track of things and managing all the changes here. The rents have gone up since we’ve been here, and it’s a real challenge. They informed me they’re going to go up some more. You can make it work, but you’ve gotta sell. I can’t imagine if, in addition to selling the art, you had to pay staff. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to survive—it is a true collective.

Would you consider 7 Arts a success?

Absolutely. It’s been wonderful, and I think we’ve accomplished our goals in the sense of providing a space where top-tier Santa Fe artists can manage their careers without just dropping work off at a gallery. I think all of us have enjoyed the interaction with the public and don’t view that as a distraction from our artistic endeavors. We’ve maintained a high standard in terms of the quality of work, the professionalism. But you’ve got a little more freedom as an artist to explore different horizons here. In a gallery, you have to stay in your lane so you don’t bump into other artists. What we’ve done is curate the artists, not the artwork. Everyone is working in different mediums, subject matter, everyone takes different approaches, but they’re free to explore any direction they want. For an artist like me, it has been ideal. I can move between abstract and representational, I did a whole show with 3D printing, now I’m experimenting with digital reinterpretations of my work—and I wouldn’t be free to do all that in a commercial gallery.

Every artist here has not made a fortune, but has more than broke even. Most of the shows we’ve had have been successful. It has been rare somebody hasn’t sold, and it’s filled a niche. We always have a waiting list of people who want to join. There’s a need for something like this here, it’s just the matter of the right person running it. I think the non-billionaire art market is tougher now than it was years ago. The billionaire art market is booming—the investment grade $20,000-$100,000 pieces are appreciating pretty quickly; $1,000-$5,000 pieces, it’s a tougher racket. We have paid the big rent to be in a good location, though. I would say it has been a success.

What can you tell us about the final week?

Between now and the end of next month, everything’s gotta be out of here and the floor needs to be swept. The artists here are not going out of business, so it’s not going to be a fire sale, we’re all going to be selling elsewhere, I’m sure. At the same time, I think we’re all going to be redoing our inventory, the amount of work we want to store or sell elsewhere. All the furnishings we bought for the gallery, our work stations, for example, were custom built, and all that has to go, so I’m going to be selling this rustic New Mexico furniture. We’re gonna be clearing out.

Dec. 30 is the final official day, but it depends on how much is left, how much is going on that last week of December in terms of us being open to the public. We’ll try to do it to the end of the month, but we’ll have to see. Dec. 17 is going to be our—I see it as a thank you, Santa Fe appreciation show.

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