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March 2008
A Different Palette
By Janet Kropinak

     When Kellie Scott found herself at a crossroads with her professional life, she made the singularly dramatic decision to leave her respected banking career and open an art gallery. Although fairly swift, her decision was anything but impulsive and only undertaken after extensive planning and research.

     “I wanted to help introduce art to a new generation and I wanted to do so through a different kind of gallery,” she says. “I was also looking for a way to support people who are creative by giving these artists a place to showcase and display their work.”

     Growing up the child of an artist, Scott was exposed to the arts at an early age and was encouraged to think creatively and outside the box. Although she describes herself as not particularly artistic, she has always had an eye for creativity and an innate ability to select art. Combining her artistic appreciation with her business savvy and an ability to see the “big picture,” Scott began to put the pieces together for her new business.

 

Banking on Art

     Scott spent almost 30 years working in financial services with her last position as an executive with Wachovia, but as she approached her 50th birthday she realized she had achieved her professional aspirations and was ready for a new challenge. Conveniently, in conjunction with a merger, she opted to leave Wachovia to pursue other opportunities.

     “Because I had run a division of a large corporation, I had a solid understanding of the business world and I knew who to ask questions of and how to ask them,” Scott recalls. She had started over a year earlier, researching and setting up a business plan and was close to seeing her dreams come to fruition. But first, she wanted to gain a better understanding of art itself and what it took to be an artist.

     “Before I opened the gallery, I took a lot of art classes and read every book imaginable. I learned how to blow glass, do slab ceramics, throw pots, and paint,” Scott says. “I was never particularly gifted at any of them, but I knew it was important for me to understand the different mediums and their complexities if I was going to be selecting pieces for the gallery.”

     Scott says one of the biggest challenges to launching the gallery was learning to be a small business owner. “I had worked for a large corporation for so long—I quickly realized that you have to do all the same things, only now, you are doing them all yourself,” she recalls. “It definitely gave me some great insight into how difficult it

can be to start and maintain a small business today.”

     What helped Scott overcome these challenges? Tenacity and drive she is quick to answer. “You just have to keep trying when things don’t work out. You just have to keep trying until you find what works for you.”

     Scott was involved in every step of the development process and handpicked the art and artists for the gallery herself. With a team of just three people, RedSky Gallery, which Scott named after the beautiful Carolina red skies, was on track.

     In 2003, Scott realized her dreams when her gallery’s doors opened in SouthPark across from the Phillips Place shopping center, her first location.

     From initial conception, Scott knew that she wanted to create a place that offered patrons a unique type of gallery experience. “I wanted a place that really reflected fine craft,” she explains. RedSky has more than accomplished Scott’s goals; just five years later they are nationally recognized and one of the largest glass and fine craft galleries in the Southeast.

 

Sculpting Out a Niche

     Although being part of the SouthPark shopping district did hold some advantages, Scott says that being on a divided road was ultimately a larger obstacle than they could overcome. In 2006, she began searching for a second location that lent itself to being more of a destination site.

     “I knew the minute I drove by the house, before I even stepped inside, that this was it,” she says of their current home in the heart of Dilworth. The house, a 6,000-square-foot 3-story home built in the ’20s needed extensive reconfiguration before it could be an effective gallery, but Scott’s vision was clear. She set about transforming the house into a sophisticated showcase for arts of all mediums. Now that RedSky was gaining a reputation for being a one-of-a-kind gallery, and had a fairly central location, Scott decided to close the doors of the SouthPark gallery.

     Although Charlotte itself is bustling with new life and business, Scott says it is still a very traditional town. “People aren’t always ready to try new things and bring new things into their home,” she comments. “But we are really beginning to see a change in direction.”

     At any given time, RedSky is home to 400 to 600 artists from across the country, with about 40 percent representing regional artists from North and South Carolina. Because of its unique niche, RedSky gets more than 25 submissions a day from hopeful artists who want their work showcased in the gallery. Scott herself continues to handpick the artists and spends quite a bit of time on the road at art shows and visiting art schools in hopes of discovering up and coming artists and budding new talent.

     RedSky’s inventory is comprised of two-dimensional art and fine crafts. The main floor holds all media, including glass, sculptural ceramics, furniture, lighting and paintings. As you walk up the stairs to the second floor you find the current exhibitions as well as home accessories, glassware and painting galleries. As you continue up to the loft, you find ceramics, lighting and more paintings. On the lower level is the boutique featuring art-to-wear, as well as jewelry, jewelry boxes, perfume bottles, scarves, purses and cufflinks.

     Being part of a global marketplace, where everything can be found on the Internet and almost everything is being mass produced, is in striking contrast to the value that Scott believes her gallery offers.

     “It makes what we do that much more important. We are teaching people the difference between one-of-a-kind art and mass-produced objects. Making an investment in a piece of art, and in an artist, is something so invaluable,” she says proudly. “What we are able to offer our customers isn’t something they can get walking into a department store.”

     Scott says that word of mouth has been the gallery’s best form of advertising. But she is quick to point out that the single most important key to their success has been their ability to listen.

     “So much of this business is learning what people want and what they are looking for,” she explains. “Our job is to help them express themselves.”

     The first time you walk through the doors at RedSky isn’t always the day you are going to make a purchase, says Scott. But she encourages people to spend time wandering the floors and learning what they like and what they don’t like. “This is how people get started; they come in and try to find something that speaks to them. For some people this will happen quickly, and for some, it’s a lengthy process,” Scott says.

     Scott describes art as a journey. “Your taste evolves along with your life experiences and where you are at a certain time,” she explains. “Part of the fun for us is being part of that evolution for our customers and helping them incorporate that into their homes and life.”

     RedSky too has evolved over the years in an effort to better meet the demands of its clientele. They now offer art consultation, bridal registries, wish-lists and a corporate gift program.

 

Art in the Workplace

      In 2007 RedSky launched its corporate services group, which focuses on helping businesses, both small and large, acquire art for their office. Scott personally makes visits and assesses a space and works with the company to help them find effective ways to express their message through visual art.

     After an evaluation of the company’s needs and learning about their objectives, Scott helps to put together a proposal and portfolio for them with her suggestions on how they can most effectively accomplish their goals.

     “What we are really doing is helping people see and think outside the box,” says Scott. “What is on their walls, as well as what isn’t on their walls, is really a reflection of themselves and their business, it’s an investment and we understand that.”

      Because of her corporate background, Scott has a firm understanding of the need to be pragmatic about how and where to spend money. She is able to help companies make the best decisions and find the best ways to communicate these on their given budget. “Budgets can provide certain limitations, but we have yet to find a company that we haven’t been able to work with,” says Scott.

     “What we are really striving to do is to make the work place an inspiring place to be,” affirms Scott. The importance of art in the workplace is echoed by a recent study by Arts & Business, which states that companies who put art on their walls are helping to “create better attitudes among their employees, improve morale, and enhance their employee’s commitment to the organization.”

     According to the study, a full 73 percent of employees wanted more art in the workplace, claiming it made them feel more motivated and inspired. Art also helps relieve the potential visual boredom for employees, this being especially true for those employees without the view from a window.

    Scott sees the investment of art for the workplace as a win-win situation: “Not only are you supporting the arts, but you are making a positive impression for your company. People both inside and outside of your company will be impacted positively by these decisions.”

     Another facet of the corporate services group is personalized gifts. Scott works with companies who are looking for unique ways to reward or acknowledge a person or business.

     “People today don’t want the clock engraved with the company logo. They want something they can display in their home or office, and really take notice when you give them a personalized gift,” says Scott. “It doesn’t go unnoticed when you choose to spend a little more, and it allows you to really give someone a taste of how you’d like to be represented to the outside world.”

     Scott acknowledges how lucky she is do be enjoying her passion while running a business and she is eager to introduce and share this passion with an entirely new generation of art enthusiasts.

     So, if you are looking for art for your place of business or for your home, or simply want to be inspired by what you see, a trip to RedSky Gallery should be in your future.

 

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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