This Art Gallery Is Winning the Fight Against Ageism

A gallery featured in The New York Times accepts only artists 60+

Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report

As Next Avenue has noted over and over, ageism is a rampant issue in the workplace, the health care system and our government policy. Now… the art gallery.

Several years ago, gallery owner Marlena Vaccaro realized that lesser-known older adult artists having difficult finding places to show their work because of their age. She decided to combat ageism in art by founding the Carter Burden Gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. From the very beginning, she let it be known that talented artists under 60 need not apply, according to this article in The New York Times.

New Opportunities for Older Artists

The gallery opening has opened new opportunities for lifelong and new artists in this age demographic.

“If, by the time you’re 40, you haven’t demonstrated earning power in terms of sales, it’s hard to get the attention of a big gallery,” Vaccaro told The Times. “I don’t think it’s only ageism at work. It’s the economy of running a gallery. Sure, there are tons of galleries that show older artists, but they are the high earners. Everyone who was big and famous in the ’60s and ’70s is older now. They’re still represented if they’re still alive, and their paintings still sell for gigantic dollars.”

What Inspired This Art Gallery Idea

Vaccaro hopes to show the work of the “re-emerging older artist” — artists who thrived in the 1970s and 80s only to stall in their career in the last decade to 15 years — but she also shows artist who never made it big and are only hitting their stride now. She told The Times she herself falls into that category, and it’s what inspired her to move forward.

“(Being in my 50s) made me too old to be viable at other galleries because I hadn’t had that big success,” she said. “I’d come up in the world like hundreds of artists. We’re pretty good. But none of our names are above the title, you know?”

Next Avenue has previously reported on communities where artists live in affordable apartments as part of a “colony,” as well as a program at New York’s Museum of Modern Art geared toward teaching people age 65 and older to create and learn more about art. But the Carter Burden Gallery is unique in its focus — and a real tastemaker in the art scene.

“This gallery has made age very hip,” said Angela Valeria, 76, whose mixed media painting is on display at the gallery this summer.

By Shayla Thiel Stern
Shayla is the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS.@shayla_stern

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