“I was a professional in corporate America before the gallery—more of an amateur collector and art enthusiast. But then there was that moment: what do you want to do with your life? The answer was visual arts.”
Whenever our community perceives a “loss of one of our own”—whether the disappearance of another gallery or, say, a metro newspaper art critic—the void leaves behind a ripple effect of dampened morale. And too often, the event passes with little more than a frustrated, incredulous shake of the head. Before posting Lisa Alembik’s interview last month, I took some time to track down Sam Romo, the owner/operator of what was once known as Romo Gallery. During its time in Castleberry Hill, the space gained a reputation for its somewhat unique aesthetic program. But after a period of careful self-examination, Romo decided to close the gallery in 2008. (In a curious turn of events, the exact same location is now the home of Art House Co-op, who moved in after vacating their Decatur gallery and experimenting, briefly, with a space near the state capitol.)
Q. Let’s start with you: who is Sam Romo and what was Romo Gallery? How did the gallery materialize in the beginning?
“Well, I approached Nancy Solomon first and basically worked with her for two years. So many people consider her a trailblazer. I needed to learn exactly what running an art gallery was. You know at first, I thought it was just the openings and chatting and the wine and cheese, even though I really should have known better. See, I had all this business background. I have a business degree; my family was even involved in business. I thought ‘I know about business’ … But, Oh. My. God!
One day, I said to Nancy, ‘I had NO idea how hard you work.’ It was that epiphany: that galleries work very, very hard. I was leaving a job at Turner, a management level position … at that moment, though, I realized that the gallery people—they’re the ones who really know business. Running a gallery follows a lot of the same models as traditional business, but at the same time it’s unique. There are market models and legal models, and then there’s the curatorial process.
So that was the eye opener. I was at Solomon’s everyday, literally with a notebook in hand, trying to make the blue print for the vision of my gallery, a gallery with its own voice and its own signature.”
Q. How many years total? Looking back, is there anything you think you’d have done differently?
“We were there operationally for three and a half years. Like any other business, I had to wear many, many hats. There are so many skill sets you have to practice. Never forget the art of business development: you have to continue to develop and build and market yourself. So many people have ideas for galleries, but they don’t think about building and growing into the future. I think that’s what I’d concentrate on if I could do it over.
The space was beautiful though. It complimented Castleberry very well, and Castleberry complimented the gallery. We all worked together, as so much leveraging …. That said, [Castleberry] is still unknown to a lot of people. More people need to know about it.”
Q. So, you do or don’t think the economy, nationally speaking, affected your decision to close?
“Oh yeah, that thing—the big thing! Yes, there was a direct correlation, definitely. But not that other galleries should do what I did. We did a forecast in 2007 and already saw the effects of the economy, signs of things that were already happening. Then again, I don’t regret leaving.”
“I personally don’t think there’s a correlation. I saw that sort of thing even during the gravy days. Generally, I would never crowd the space, beyond simply adding one or two extra artists. I came from the opinion that adding too much detracts from the show. And it detracts from the promotion. When you bring in artists en masse—and try to promote them all—it’s just too much pollution.
In Atlanta, yes, maybe there’s now a trend toward competitive pricing. We had this fabulous Willie Nelson picture by Wes Lang; some of those were more in the range of $25,000. I’m not sure if I’d show that particular piece today … at least not at that price. It would have to be a little more strategic.”
Q. What did you consider a success? What’s your favorite moment from Romo Gallery?
Sam Romo continues to work in visual arts, primarily as a private representative for artists.
Click here for an Art Relish interview with Sam Romo posted November 1, 2007.