By: Karley Reed | Ivester Jackson Christie’s Creative Brand Manager
Tucked in the rear end of the SouthEnd Steelyard in Charlotte is a charming art gallery that’s been home to historic SouthEnd for over twenty years. Hidell Brooks Gallery is owned and operated entirely by Katharine Hidell Thomas and Rebecca Brooks, two NC natives who happen to be longtime friends as well as business partners. Hidell Brooks Gallery represents about 45 well-established and up-and-coming artists from their SouthEnd location. Between operating a local gallery full-time, scheduling rotating exhibits, and organizing pop-up events around the country, the women at Hidell Brooks lean on each other to make sure no detail is overlooked.
“We really act as a good balance for one another,” says Rebecca. “I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else, but constant communication and trust are really what makes this work.”
Rebecca and Katharine have a unique approach to curating artists for their gallery. Instead of choosing artists based on the medium used or what is most likely to sell, the two select their artists based on their reactions to the art they present. If the art is thoughtfully created and elicits a strong response from them upon viewing, this is art that Hidell Brooks wants to represent.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Katharine when describing the gallery’s relationship with their represented artists. “We gain the trust of our clients, and many of them become dear friends. Some of these artists we have represented for 15-20 years. It’s exciting to be a witness to the changing styles of these artists across their careers.”
Some of the artists Hidell Brooks represents are native to Charlotte, but they also represent regional and national artists as well. The gallery’s primary goal in promoting their artists is to be true to the artist’s vision for the work. “We really believe in the artists we represent,” says Rebecca. “We’re moved by the work they’ve created and want to share that experience with others. That’s at the heart of what we do.”
With majors in Marketing & The Arts and Art History respectively, Rebecca and Katharine do not claim to be artists themselves.
“I’m grateful we don’t have that bias. If we were artists, there would be a pressure to promote our own work and that makes it harder to be objective when representing other artists,” says Katharine.
“I think because we aren’t artists, we can view collections with new eyes, much like our viewers do,” Rebecca agrees. “It allows us to focus on nurturing the artists and cultivating a relationship in which they feel supported and encouraged.” Hidell Brooks also puts a special focus on transparency. You can find the art collections on their website with the associated prices, something rather uncommon in the gallery business. Katharine and Rebecca also admit they don’t do much traditional PR or advertising. Instead, they focus on creating a more personal dialogue with their audience, primarily through social media.
“Instagram has been transformative for us,” Rebecca explains. “A few years ago we started posting photos of in-home installations of the pieces we sell. We’ve found that people responded to that more genuinely than staged gallery photos.” Not only did it result in more followers and higher engagement, they also saw more gallery visitors and people asking questions about the art.
They also focus on in-person networking within the Charlotte art community. “I’ve learned to really listen to our artists. They know their craft; they know other skilled artists and industry collectors. We get a lot of value from collaborating with our artists and prioritizing this word-of-mouth approach,” Katharine explains. “It’s really about putting the artists first.”
At the end of the day, Katharine and Rebecca spend a lot of their energy creating an environment that makes the art world a little more accessible. The laid-back vibe of the gallery itself in combination with Katharine and Rebecca’s exuberant and humble personalities are enough to put even the most intimidated viewer at ease when they come into the gallery. Authenticity and fair representation have been at the core of their work for more than two decades, and in a growing city with an emerging art scene, that can only mean good things to come.
For more information, visit hidellbrooks.com.