On any given day of the year, visitors to Meyer Gallery in Park City can expect to be welcomed by Jackson the “Art Dog,” a friendly yellow labrador who frequents the gallery with his owner, Tom Cushman.
Jackson is amicable enough, following patrons around as they peruse the contemporary paintings and sculptures displayed in the gallery, pausing with them as a particular work catches their eye and looking up at them with an inquisitive gaze as if to say, “Do you like this one? It’s a very nice piece.”
Yes, on any given day, visitors of Meyer Gallery might expect to meet Jackson, unless of course that visit falls during the 10 days of the Sundance Film Festival.
Meyer is one of many art galleries in Park City that completely closes shop during Sundance. Though the gallery ceases to be home to works of fine art, the business continues to make a great deal of money from the festival, as sponsors from all over the world rent facilities from local store owners and create temporary bases of operation.
Tom Cushman, director of Meyer Gallery and Jackson’s owner, said though the gallery will be the temporary home of Nintendo for the second year in a row, they haven’t always been in the business of renting out their space.
“We were one of the last galleries to hold out and not move out, but sales have continued to decrease during the festival and the sponsors really make it worth our while,” Cushman said.
He said it is nearly impossible for the gallery to sell enough art to cover the revenue that is gained from renting out the space for the 10 days.
It’s no wonder that sponsors are willing to pay so much for a week and a half in the space — Meyer Gallery is quite elegant. Built in the 1890s, the building was originally home to the First National Bank of Utah and is complete with vintage vaults. Though the second floor is not original to the space, the extra-wide staircase adds an almost regal quality to the entryway.
Cushman said sponsors pay generously for the space and cover the cost of moving all the art and furniture in and out of the gallery before and after the festival.
For Cushman, the 10 days of the Film Festival are an exciting time. Not only does he get a mini post-new year vacation, but he gets to go see brand new films and immediately receives feedback from directors and actors.
In addition to Meyer Gallery, other galleries including Old Towne Gallery and Montgomery Lee Fine Art will also rent out their spaces.
According to Colby Larsen, owner of Old Towne Gallery, some 70 business along historical Main Street follow suit each year.
Not every business on Main Street shuts down for the festival. Some owners, like Timm Hilty, actually throw the doors open and put on a show. Hilty’s gallery, Silver Queen Fine Art, is home to some of the high desert’s most progressive and edgy works of art and his artists draw in clientele from all over the world, making it a hot spot during Sundance.
While many galleries close down, Hilty views Sundance as a networking opportunity and a chance to make new friends. Every January, the Silver Queen team hosts the unofficial opening social for the festival’s most prestigious guests. These yearly theme shows are so widely popular that guest lists are usually closed weeks in advance of the film festival. Hilty’s train of thought is that this experience is well worth passing up a paycheck.
“On a bad year we could rent this place for 50-grand, on a good year $75, 000 to $100,000, but who wants to do that when you could have a party?” Hilty said.
For Hilty, owning an art gallery in Park City isn’t just about making money, he truly loves the experience of meeting new people and playing host to the festival’s patrons. Through his themed shows, Hilty has made friends with reporters from many media outlets and now his space has become a popular interview spot. Though he doesn’t make a habit of star watching, Hilty is proud of the list of celebrity guests who have visited his gallery, which includes hip-hop musician 50 Cent and actor Ryan Reynolds.
“We have success all year round, but it seems like in those 10 days we meet a clientele that supports us all year round,” Hilty said. “We kind of sell things that fit in that crowd, that niche that’s kind of urban. We find that the people we meet during Sundance may not come through the door and spend $20,000 at one of our shows, but they shop with us all year round.”