Photocentric: A Good Run

Photocentric Gallery anchored the revitalization of the Gold Building, at East 156 and Waterloo.

Photocentric Gallery–the white-walled venue in North Collinwood that provided space dedicated to art grounded in or connected to photography–will close June 1. The gallery was the anchor tenant in the revitalization of Waterloo’s famous “Gold Building,” and for that reason alone its two-and-a-half year run will have lasting impact.

“While we had some exciting photographic exhibitions, performances and outdoor events, the truth is I just couldn’t generate enough support for it to remain a viable enterprise,” Loderstedt said in a statement to supporters. “I feel optimistic that over our 2 1/2 year operation, we put significant money into the hands of artists, and added strength to the cultural offerings of the Waterloo Arts District. We hope a new art gallery will open in this beautiful location.”

“We’d like to thank all those who attended our exhibitions, and those whose patronage helped us to continue. We wish all the best for our Waterloo neighborhood, and hope to remain involved in its revitalization in some capacity.”

The gallery plans a closing sale noon to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29. The sale will include some remaining art, unused frames, and flat file cabinets.

Occasioned by the announcement, Loderstedt gave the following interview, touching on the challenges of running a commercial gallery in Cleveland, especially during a global pandemic.

CAN: Is it right that you opened in December 2019?

Michael Loderstedt: Yes, we opened December 6th to great fanfare. I think maybe 500 or more people passed our threshold on that evening. At that moment, with all that initial enthusiasm, I was certain we’d be successful.

CAN: Is it right that you were the first tenant to commit to the space after Michael McBride committed to renovating? Or did that happen at the same time?

ML: I believe I was the first tenant to commit to a space in the building. Signing the lease helped the landlord secure the necessary loans to complete the rest of the renovation. I also committed a tremendous amount of “sweat equity” in the project, working many days and evenings on the construction crew finishing drywall, hanging track lighting, painting and building out the office and bathrooms. Opening a gallery that presented contemporary photography was a longstanding dream, and I expected to do this forever.

CAN: How many shows did you present?

ML: We presented 16 photography exhibitions, a mix of solo and group projects, most of them by regional artists (you can view them all here:

CAN: One of your points of pride was that you sold some work that supported artists. Are you comfortable saying how much art you sold?

ML: I think put about $50K total in the hands of various artists.

CAN: Do you think it might have succeeded without the pandemic interruption?

ML: Certainly, the pandemic did no favors to our regional arts community, especially ones that rely on some level of personal interaction. We quickly developed an internet store through our website, but art sales over the internet are difficult without seeing the scale, print quality and presentation of the work. Many patrons of the arts are still uncomfortable with returning to galleries in-person, and we tried shifting to outdoor programming last summer with mixed results. Did Covid kill the cat? It’s hard to say, but it certainly didn’t help us on Waterloo.

CAN: A lot of galleries do, apparently, have some secondary revenue stream, whether it be framing services, or event space rental, or some other thing. Was framing a good source of revenue for Photocentric?

ML: Framing probably saved the business and most months helped us meet our expenses. That said, quality framing is tedious work and archival materials are expensive, so the profit margin is not what people think given the cost. Also, everything increased in price during the pandemic, especially plexiglass and museum boards. Our pricing was always reasonable, so we developed strong customer loyalty. But to really make money in framing, I would need to ramp up production, hire more staff and use more space in the gallery–– and my goal was always to exhibit great photography, not become a framer.

CAN: I still have the impression that Cleveland needs more serious commercial galleries. While it seems relatively easy to find space to put up your own show, especially as a pop-up, an artist looking around the area to find gallery representation has very few opportunities, and I think fewer now than just a few years ago, with Busta scaled back, Tregoning gone, Harris Stanton gone, etc. So many venues now are individual artists studios.

ML: I could go on here, but I won’t. There’s something deeply wrong with why art galleries can’t survive in a city of this size. Partly it’s the lack of risk by dealers, patrons and artists. Partly it’s a lack of history of patronage here, so the arts community isn’t talking about conversations of commerce as it applies to art. And partly our non-profit sector is so large (which is a great resource), the public expectation is that all art experiences should be free, including artist’s work.

CAN: Does Cleveland have a supply and demand problem?  

ML: There are a lot of artists in our region. Many sell their work privately out of their studios, or participate in fairs in other markets to survive. This situation is difficult for a gallery to offer exclusive access to an artist’s work, so artists here are often leery of galleries. There’s also a limited supply of active patrons in our community, most of us know them all, and their collections are saturated at this point. There are some active corporate collections, but most (but not all) tend towards more conservative tastes in art. Contemporary photography is a difficult marketplace, and ultimately I couldn’t find enough support to survive.

CAN: Do you have any general thoughts on running a gallery that you would share?

ML: The cynical me would say have another income stream besides your gallery. I am not a trust fund child, so the business aspect was always a bit nerve-wracking. Since there isn’t a large contingent of the region’s population that even goes to art galleries, remember you’re going to be doing a lot of promotion and educational work around explaining the artist’s work, your pricing, etc. Try to have fun with it. I always enjoyed conversations with visitors about art they found exciting–– the trick is simply to get more of those folks through your doors.

CAN: Do you have another specific venture in mind?

ML: As an artist myself, I’m looking forward to having more time for the work. I’m also interested in continuing to host events–– perhaps spoken word performances, music, themed dinners, maybe residency experiences. I strongly believe in the power of art to be transformative in one’s life, and running a gallery hasn’t made me waiver in that belief. I’ll just have to approach it differently now.

Lori Kella: The Edge of Things is on view at Photocentric through May 14.

The Photocentric closing sale is noon to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29.

Watch CAN Blog for updates, including what might come next to 15515 Waterloo Road.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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