Beep Beep Gallery to close shop at the end of the year

“It’s always been about the artists and trying to get the art out there. I’m sad, but I’m being realistic about life.”

At the end of the year, Midtown’s Beep Beep Gallery will close its doors, ending an almost decade-long run as one of Atlanta’s main hubs for DIY culture and emerging artists. Founders and co-owners Mark Basehore and James McConnell, who also run the Old Fourth bar Mother, broke the news to Creative Loafing earlier this week. The last show at the space will take place Dec. 5, and from there Basehore and McConnell are moving on to pursue more personal endeavors, as well as tend to the day-to-day responsibilities that come with Mother.
? In opening Beep Beep, Basehore and McConnell took pride in creating a space for artists to thrive, not necessarily to make money for the owners. Anne Marie-Manker, who took part in the gallery’s five-year anniversary group show Me/We, probably said it best: “The two of them are in it to help build an art scene more than building a business.”
? With that spirit, McConnell, the kid from Virginia-Highland, and Basehore, the Connecticut transplant, worked to help up-and-coming creatives monetize their work. Along with helping your favorite local artists with the ability to find sustainability and make rent, Beep Beep has successfully sold more than 10 pieces to the High Museum of Art. It’s no wonder Beep Beep’s been hailed as the “Best Gallery Spotlighting Local Artists.”
? We sat down with Basehore and McConnell to talk about the gallery’s closing, legacy, and the potential future of the space.
? ??? So I guess my first question is why now?
? James McConnell: I guess there’s not a really simple way to say this. I think at the root of this, the gallery was founded as a DIY thing. It’s not just like it was out of necessity, like that’s why we did it because it was our thing, had complete control of it, and it was on the cheap as much as possible. For the most part, that model has sustained the gallery over the years. We’ve made some tweaks here and there, we’ve invested more or less time over that span, but it’s pretty much been in a holding zone. We’ve definitely noticed that in the last couple of years that hasn’t been doing it. Even the adjustments we’ve made haven’t changed the way things are going. We both feel that the quality of the work that we’re putting into it — the interest and the investment we’re putting into it — is not all there. The gallery is not performing at the level we’ve seen it. The artwork has been excellent this year. There’s still good work, good art, it’s just the gallery itself; we’re not satisfied with it. We’d rather push off and leave it in a place where we’re really proud of it than just let it dwindle away.
? Is it the money? Are people not investing in and coming out to support these emerging artists like they used to? What exactly do you see “dwindling”?
? JM: I see all of that dwindling.
? Mark Basehore: Yeah, across the board. I definitely want to stress that it’s not the artists, and it’s not our interns laughs. I can only blame myself. And I don’t even consider it blame; I don’t think there’s anything wrong. I just think we’ve been doing this for nine and a half years. For me, it just seems like a good time to make a transition. We thought of a lot different ways to do it, but Beep Beep has been so much of an identity for James and myself, and what we curate is aesthetics based on just how we feel about things. It can’t really be — I don’t think — replicated. Someone else could do it, but it wouldn’t be Beep Beep. So, to keep the name going, it was a thought and it was discussed, but we both agreed that it’s its own thing, and apparently it has a lifespan of about nine and a half years laughs.
? JM: You’re right. You can’t pass it on. It’s absolutely a partnership between us, nor could it be split if for some reason one of us was like, “Oh, we’ll keep doing it,” which neither of us wanted to do. It’s absolutely our work together, our creative process. It’s three parts: working with the artists; hanging and creating the show; and selling it. The hanging and creating of the show is the only time we actually put in any creative input.
? So is the current climate changing for working artists? Has there been a shift in the amount of art sought out and invested in within the arts community? Is it on the decline or did this particular model just run its course?
? JM: I definitely think so. We started in 2006 and we were at the tail end of a bunch of indie galleries that were all kind of in the Young Blood vain, which was local artists, tattoo, graffiti, with pop surrealism. We were the last gallery-gallery to do that, and since then all of those galleries have closed. Not a single one that I can think of is still open, which I think just goes to say that we were working on a model that was already being pushed out. Since then, what we’ve seen is primarily nonprofit spaces where maybe they’re showing work but they’re getting grants, they’re doing fundraisers. There are things like Kickstarters which we both clown on all the time though there are some OK aspects of it. The Robocop statue in Detroit is one we always talk about as being a great example, but that’s not us. We want to sell work; that’s how the gallery stays open. It’s about selling work. It’s not about a party. It’s not about broadly asking for money. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s new spaces now that are operating under a completely different model, and are doing different things and people are investing their money that way. You’re right — there absolutely is a change in the arts climate. The only galleries opening, that are open, are the ones that are of the older echelon, the Marcia Wood and Whitespace galleries, where they’re working in a model that was started 100 years ago.
? MB: And their communities, the people that attend, buy in large, they’re a lot of people that have money and have a certain sensibility that draws to that culture for that type of gallery. For us here it’s always been about keeping it super chill; we never were interested in that aspect of it. We were trying to do some kind of hybrid. It’s basically a fine art gallery model, but we’re not treating it like a fine art gallery.
? JM: Yeah, it’s a lot more communal than that, in that we are a part of the community. It’s not just a place that you can research artists and come and purchase after we drink some champagne and do a few bumps. We do that anyway laughs, but it’s very different in that style. The people that buy art from us consistently, we have relationships with, we’re friends with. They’re either friends we already have or friends we’ve made through this process. There’s other levels, right? There’s the Art Basel, Armory Show kind of stuff, which is the high-end style which is how you make this work. You have the work on display for a lot of money. One piece pays your rent and then you need to have that stock of work so that when Sheryl Crow comes by you have some stuff to show her.
? MB: That you can point at.
? JM: And that we can mockup and photoshop and show her. There are ways to move this in a different direction it’s just not the direction we’re able to go in.
? You mentioned the DIY spirit that inspired and drove Beep Beep’s mission. There’s been a lot more of that energy in creative organizations around town. Murmur comes to mind. Do you feel like you guys have had a hand in inspiring those artists?
? MB: Well, I think you should ask them laughs. There is a gap in time there and I don’t know if all of them know what has been happening here. I’d like to think that they have all been here. 
? JM: A couple of years ago we gave a talk at the Atlanta Zine Fest about exactly what we’re discussing today, which is about placing value in your DIY project because that’s all it is, energy and the money that’s infused into it. At some point, the energy is going to run low and you need to have the money to keep it going. [/atlanta/deer-bear-wolf-the-new-artistic-voice-of-atl/Content?oid=11290173|Davy Minor from Deer Bear Wolf] mentioned specifically that he had heard this talk and that he was going to give away his zine for free and instead he decided to sell it, and I think his mood changed the model. I can’t take full credit for it but he did mention it specifically. I’m glad someone actually listened to that. We’re really invested in the DIY scene. We started out making zines. It’s part of the arts culture in the city, so it’s cool to see that people are following that still whether we had influence on it or not.
? MB: I just assumed that anybody that gets to know to know us for longer than 15-20 minutes goes, “Those guys can do that? Fuck, I’m going to start an art gallery.”
? So whether or not Beep Beep’s spirit lives on, what are your own personal plans going forward in the arts scene?
? MB: That’s a great question. We’ve had a lot of little projects and ideas on the back burner for a long time, but I am going to take a break. I just finally went through all of the art in my house, and I’m reframing, so I’ve got three Beep Beep shows at my house laughs. For me, it’s a time to catch up on personal stuff. I’m sure at some point that desire inside me will build up, but I think it will be more like one-off things. I don’t foresee starting another gallery or starting another art venture. I’m thinking small, curated experiences. I’d like to also toy around in some art myself.
? JM: I agree. We’ve both been doing this nonstop, with Artlantis, when we added that, and even doing the zines at the beginning, all of that was happening simultaneously while we were running the gallery and working our normal jobs.
? MB: Full-time jobs.
? JM: Adding Mother to it, though it made things easier, didn’t necessarily gives us more free time. I think we’re both burnt out in general. I know a lot of galleries close and say they’re going to do consulting or something like that. If someone wants to buy art and they reached out to us, we can always help out the artists, which would really be more for them than us. I think it will be a while before there’s a new project but it’ll come. Neither of is totally content. Well, I can’t speak for Mark …
? MB: We’re never content.
? JM: We’ll never be content just doing one thing. While the bar is really great, neither of us really take artistic or creative satisfaction from it. Monetarily and personally it’s cool but it doesn’t feed that part of me. We’re also both creative people so it’s like we’ll just invest that energy elsewhere. It’ just going to be personal for a while.
? You guys set out to be a space where emerging artists could be seen and celebrated. Do you feel as a city we’re doing a better job of that now or is there still going to be a need for the Beep Beeps of the world?
? MB: I think there seems to be some progress in the public sphere in supporting emerging artists. In the private, this kind of venue, I don’t see a lot. The nonprofit thing is cool, but this is very different. Well, it’s not very different, but this is really about what’s on the walls and what’s going to go in someone’s house. Otherwise, rent doesn’t get paid. It’s a different way to think about art but the strange thing is that we once, maybe twice, tried to book a show with an artist because we thought, “Oh, this would be really good for sales,” and it didn’t go well because the other part of it for us here specifically was what was our aesthetic vision and who do we have a good working relationship with to where we feel comfortable and honest trying to push them as hard as you could. As far as that part of it, I don’t see a lot of that. Also, I haven’t been out a lot. I’ve been busy or, like I said, taking time for myself so I’m not plugged into what’s outside of these walls or in the arts scene besides what I talk with artists about.
? JM: I think there’s a lot of public art going on, which is really cool if you’re getting decent money to do such a thing. I think there’s always going to be a need for painterly drawing, that kind of stuff, that is specifically designed for size and space in a home. I think the role we filled as a gallery was to prepare a lot of the artists who are fresh out of school or haven’t had a lot of experience to go through all the motions of what you need to do to be prepared to sell work. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. They’re trying to get a claim, but also to make money off their work and to be able to sustain themselves with their efforts. Hopefully, something else like this will come around because while the atmosphere has changed, the need for that hasn’t changed. I don’t know in what model someone else would take that but you can’t just be starting out, getting out of school, and then go straight to a show at Whitespace. It’s not going to happen. You need to have a way to transition toward that.
? Well compared to 2006, have the artists gotten better with being realistic about their hustle? A few years back, you voiced your frustration with artists basically not having their shit together.
? MB: That’s the game. It only makes sense that most of the people we work with are going to be like that. It’s not a problem but it’s a part of the process, discussing the prices of the show, where’s the logic behind the pricing.
? JM: It’s like, “Here’s when I need just an image by. Not like a week before. I need it a couple of months in advanced.” That kind of stuff has never changed, but you’ll work with an artist every once in a while who completely has their game together, and that’s great. But, for every time that happens, you’re going to have a show where you’re hanging stuff on the day of and you’re going to be really stressed out and annoyed with those people because they don’t have it together, but that’s what we signed up for, unfortunately.
? MB: Once you get it on the wall, and put a label by it, it changes everything. I think that’s every show. When we’re done we’ll look around and go, “Well, we had an art show.” It’s like, “OK, it all came together.”
? What’s the biggest misconception about launching and running your own gallery in Atlanta?
? MB: There’s a lot behind this because it’s really about presentation, and getting this together and showing it to everybody. Everything that comes up to this point, opening night, it’s a lot of work. Even after, keeping up with sales, it’s a lot of communicating back and forth, making sure people are doing what they need to do, making sure people pay you, making sure you’re paying people. There’s a lot of little things but I think there’s an idea that a lot of people have about being an owner that’s like once you’re the owner it’s awesome because all you do is show up and point. That does happen at a certain level, but that’s not most of the businesses that you go to. Most of those owners are stressed out laughs. And there’s never been any money here. Some galleries make a lot of money. This place has done awesome in that it’s paid for itself. It’s gotten a lot of artists a lot of money over the years, which has been really good, but James and I never made a dollar off this place.
? JM: The guy who takes out the trash is the only paid employee.
? Have you guys been able to apply lessons learned running Beep Beep to how you handle the business at Mother?
? JM: Mother wouldn’t exist without this. This is a product of us learning to run a business on nothing. While the bar absolutely runs on money — it has to — you can’t DIY the bar. But it helped our work ethic, our sense of how do you deal with every aspect of the business. The biggest thing that we really didn’t anticipate is we were able to raise money for the bar through people we met through the gallery. They were willing to loan us money, which we paid back. That was a result of our standing in the community and people believing in us because we were able to pull this off for so long.
? MB: Yeah, it’s more like what we’ve learned in running a place in general that goes into this. James and I sat down for a year to talk about Mother, every week, to plan it out, discuss it and all those kind of things. We took everything from here and said, “How do we make money?”
? JM: The funny thing about Mother when we opened, related to the gallery, is everyone asked why we don’t have art on the wall. To me, it’s like, “What, are you fucking stupid?!” I mean I get it, but it’s a bar. The desire to be there is for like darkness and alcohol consumption and sex appeal. A gallery’s supposed to be as bright as possible, so that you can see the work. That was it. It’s like I don’t want any motherfucker touching the art, and in order to see the art they’re sitting at a table six feet away. Hell no! We’ve got a mural in the front and we’ll probably change that. We’ve hired artists to help us with work around it, but there’s not going to be any artwork. It’s not going to look like this.
? So what do you think is Beep Beep’s greatest accomplishment?
? MB: It has something to do with providing a different kind of space for a certain group of artists that wouldn’t have had that space. It’s a simple thing, but it wasn’t so simple.
? JM: I think the bar works the same way in that we didn’t have a specific theme or expectation for what it was supposed to say. You can sum it up in a sentence. I’m sure artists can tell you specifically what they think, that it was useful to a group of people. We created a community for that set, not intentionally, just by virtue of who we met over the years.
? MB: It was a space where you could be serious about art but not be a dick or an asshole. You could make money, but it wasn’t like we were staring each other down. It’s hard to describe because it was really about the relationships that happened between us, the artists, and the buyers.
? Any last words? 
? JM: I’ve talked to Mark about this and we’ll see how it develops, but this is a great space. If there’s potential to have another generation of Beep Beep when totally different people come and run their own space, we’d love to try and facilitate that. It’s up to our landlord what he wants to do with the space, but if we can, then we absolutely will because that’s how we got the space. Joy Phrasavath, who curated our current show, had it at the time and just transferred it over to us. Sister Louisa had the space before him. We’d like to keep it in the family. We’ve done so much work in here to make it more of a gallery space. It’s so optimized right now for someone to come in, but not to do anything else. Hopefully, once this announcement comes out, we’ll have people reaching out to us and we can hopefully try and facilitate that.
? MB: It’s always been about the artists and trying to get the art out there. I’m sad, but I’m being realistic about life.
? To keep up with all things Beep Beep and upcoming shows, head over to the gallery’s website.