Founded by practicing artist Nick De Pirro, is an experimental space where young artists can exhibit creative and dynamic projects, regardless of size or medium. Representing emerging talent like Denise Triezman and Thomas Lendavi, PROTO is an organization that puts artists first and contributes to its local community in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Hoboken • New York • Brook
Gallerist and practicing artist Nick De Pirro describes opening PROTO Gallery as “an insane endeavor.” Shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit Hoboken, New Jersey in 2012 and flooded the entire city, De Pirro put a deposit down on a ground floor space in an old factory building he had been eying. After months of clearing out mold and debris with his team, De Pirro opened PROTO to the public in 2013.
Since then, De Pirro has managed to transform PROTO into a successful gallery that shows work by more than 70 artists and has an international collector base, despite having little foot traffic in the industrial South East corner of Hoboken. So, how did PROTO Gallery grow its business, and what role did Artsy play along the way?
About PROTO Gallery
An artist by trade with an MFA, Nick De Pirro’s venture into the gallery business began after he became a father and decided that running a gallery would allow him to balance his passion for art while still spending time with his family. When conceptualizing PROTO, De Pirro envisioned the gallery as an organization that puts artists first and contributes to the local community.
Today, PROTO exists as a backbone for the local art community—an experimental space where young artists can exhibit creative and dynamic projects, regardless of size or medium. Despite being a commercial gallery, as an artist, De Pirro runs PROTO “much like [his] colleagues in the nonprofit sector might, but with sales as an additional focus rather than education.”
At its onset, De Pirro built PROTO “by the bootstraps.” With little money, few resources, and an unconventional location, De Pirro was faced with figuring out how to bring visibility to his young gallery with its emerging artists in a location just outside the saturated market of New York City while also plugging into the existing local scene.
An early adopter of digital marketing, De Pirro quickly recognized the value of feeding his gallery into online channels like social media and blogs. However, within a year or two, De Pirro realized that platforms like Instagram and Facebook and his local marketing efforts were “little bumps that were only achieving something minimal.”
With this realization, De Pirro wanted to discover which online levers would connect PROTO with qualified collectors, deliver potent marketing, and ultimately convert leads to sales.
Like any gallery, we use social media and our company website to promote the work, but Artsy gives us more reach and an audience that is more targeted. We use Instagram and Facebook of course, but Artsy and our physical gallery are where the rubber meets the road
Nick De Pirro, PROTO Gallery
Steps for Success
1. Invest in a platform that grows your gallery business
“Joining Artsy was pulling the trigger on something that was going to be more sales driven,” De Pirro explains. Before Artsy, PROTO’s promotional strategy, De Pirro says, “was like a fish flopping around in the bottom of a boat”—grassroots and low-cost but limited in reach.
But when PROTO started to gain recognition from its artists and group shows, De Pirro went searching for a marketing solution that would “reach far beyond their immediate surroundings.” After looking at a few options, De Pirro settled on Artsy because he recognized its potential to help PROTO grow in a meaningful way.
While PROTO’s 3,500 square feet space in Hoboken is perfect for “emerging artist talent thirsty for larger space” that De Pirro cultivates, its location lacks traction when it comes to getting collectors through the door.
“We have good attendance at our events, but day-to-day foot traffic is pretty minimal and we are not making sales from casual visitors,” observes De Pirro. “Like any gallery, we use social media and our company website to promote the work, but Artsy gives us more reach and an audience that is more targeted. We use Instagram and Facebook of course, but Artsy and our physical gallery are where the rubber meets the road.”
Partnering with Artsy was a “critical” step in making the leap from a relatively unknown gallery to a respected gallery that represents seven artists and exhibits multiple solo shows a year in addition to group programming with international artists and an international collector base.
2. Get eyes on your artists
As an artist himself, De Pirro is especially committed to supporting the careers of the young artists who show at PROTO. Another reason why he attributes part of PROTO’s success to partnering with Artsy is the quality of exposure it gives to his artists.
De Pirro explains, “Young artists know Artsy is legit—it’s a legit platform that is shared a lot and has eyeballs. When I tell them we’re going to list everything on Artsy they say, ‘Thank God. Okay, good. Wow, awesome, that’s great.’ Because it codifies the artist’s name in a database that reaches serious collectors.”
“Two of my artists had shows running at approximately the same time and I forwarded the report email to them and they were shocked,” says De Pirro. “One of them asked, ‘700 views on my painting?!’ And I said, ‘Yeah dude.’ Maybe that’s nothing to higher-end galleries, but for an emerging artist to see that number sounds really good to me. What we want is eyeballs and then maybe we convert those eyeballs to sales.”
On Artsy, collectors receive recommended works from galleries based on the artists they follow. So, even if a collector does not follow a particular gallery, he can still gain exposure to the artists it represents, increasing the discoverability of any gallery on Artsy.
Young artists know Artsy is legit—it’s a legit
platform that is shared a lot and has eyeballs. When I tell them we’re going to list everything on Artsy they say, ‘Thank God. Okay, good. Wow, awesome, that’s great.
Nick De Pirro, PROTO Gallery
3. Connect with collectors you wouldn’t meet otherwise
Choosing a platform that has high visibility and solid recognition in the collector community is especially important for up-and-coming galleries like PROTO.
“Artsy’s online platform [is the one that’s most potent],” De Pirro explains. “For example, I don’t like 1stdibs because it isn’t tailored to galleries and doesn’t present itself as visually contemporary. There are a million other small platforms that are geared more for artists that I’m also not that into—Artsy is the best. The design of the Artsy site is better for the gallery industry. I have artists who say, “Screw my website I don’t even care. Can we just make it so that it bumps it to my Artsy page?”
Probably our biggest sale happened through Artsy.
Nick De Pirro, PROTO Gallery
4. Make the most of unlimited uploads on Artsy
For De Pirro, figuring out a routine on Artsy that worked for PROTO Gallery took some time. “My general thing on Artsy is inventory coupled with the photography of the work,” De Pirro explains. “First I was going to quit, and then I decided no, we’re really going to do this—we’re going to take really good pictures of the work and upload all of our inventory to Artsy. And our sales improved. And now I’m tripling down to upgrade the account.”
Artsy receives over 2 million unique visitors per month and has over 80,000 artists listed on the platform. This database can be hugely beneficial to both collectors looking to find a work for sale by an artist they like and for gallerists hoping to connect their artists with new collectors.
“Probably our biggest sale happened through Artsy,” De Pirro shares.
“I had two large paintings by an artist whom I wasn’t representing at the time stored in inventory. He had a solo show at a gallery in Brooklyn, so there was some activity around his name. People were asking ‘Is there other stuff available, maybe not just where this solo show is?’ So a collector in Texas found me through Artsy and realized, ‘Oh, PROTO Gallery has like seven of his pieces.’ A week after the inquiry I received a payment after negotiating through the Artsy system. It was 100% online.”
Artsy enables galleries to upload an unlimited number of artworks, a feature that suits PROTO well because its artist programming works like “orbits” with the tightest orbits being those on the roster and the looser orbits being those who participate in group shows or list work on Artsy through PROTO.
“We have the represented artist in the flat file, in the storage room, and all listed on Artsy with high-quality photos of the work and the prices listed. That way I can easily show the work to collectors and art consultants at any time. Period. This is the artist—here are these pieces, here are the prices and dimensions—everything you need is all there on Artsy.”
What’s next for PROTO Gallery?
Since joining two years ago, partnering with Artsy has enabled PROTO Gallery to showcase dynamic and creative projects by young, emerging talent from around the world, all while supporting its local community.
In the coming months, De Pirro plans to continue to expand PROTO’s online presence and take advantage of his newly upgraded Artsy account. “I’m tempted to do an exclusive show with Artsy, maybe an electronic media group show,” De Pirro muses. “I’ve also got some people on my team who will be writing essays and interviews with the artists to publish on Artsy, which I’m looking forward to seeing.”