Native New Orleanian Katherine Ainsley recently returned to her hometown after dedicating a decade-long stint to the Art World in New York City. After climbing the ranks at Venus Over Manhattan and Tina Kim Gallery, Ainsley ventured out on her own. Last fall, Ainsley opened her new contemporary gallery, Sibyl, in New Orleans’ Carrollton neighborhood. Resting inside a former carpentry studio at 8630 Zimple St., Sibyl shows contemporary art hand-selected by Ainsley. “I have immense respect for the enormous machine that is the New York commercial art sphere, but I am excited for the types of deep thoughtful connections that a slower pace can bring,” the gallerist said. “New Orleans is the perfect place to sustain a new model of art gallery. It’s so beautiful and spooky. It already has a cultural infrastructure, and a reputation for being charmingly un-snobby.” Here, Ainsley shares her insider tips for starting an art collection. 

Reach out to artists directly to ask for a studio visit

Artists exist everywhere. New Orleans might even have more artists than most places. When I come across a local emerging artist I like, I reach out to them and ask to visit their studio. It’s a great way to learn more about an artist’s practice, and I think they’re excited to have someone looking at their work and asking questions.

Keep tabs on local auction houses

New Orleans Auction Galleries and Neal Auction Company have amazing art and design sales. Obviously a lot of these pieces sell for astronomical prices, but sometimes you can get a deal. They do multiple sales a year and it’s fun to keep tabs. Last Christmas, my partner got me a set of Andrew LaMar Hopkins miniatures for a song. There are also lots of small auction houses around the country. The LiveAuctioneers app is a slippery slope.

Art doesn’t need to be expensive

Art is a very broad category. I have a massive collection of free posters from galleries that I’ve collected over the years. I hoard them. In college I decorated my dorm in gallery postcards. A step above that, a limited edition print by an established artist or an amazing one-of-a-kind work by an emerging artist can often be very reasonably priced. Lots of artists sell their works via social media, or have studio sales where they sell works at a reduced price to make space in their studios. Georgia-based painter Shelby Little sells amazing miniature custom-framed paintings for around $100. I spend a lot of time scouring Instagram for new artists to follow. It might have fallen out of fashion with TikTok but I think it’s still a great tool for seeing art.

Inexpensive works of art make great gifts 

It’s exciting to support an emerging artist when buying gifts for people. An artwork is something so special that the receiver can keep forever. Some artists sell editioned works or ephemera through their websites. Jane Tardo, a New Orleans textile artist, sells special edition iron-on patches. Kjelshus Collins, a local ceramicist and printmaker, sold one-of-a-kind Gumby figurines for $20 each at his thesis exhibition. I bought so many as they make amazing gifts.

Local artist collectives often put on amazing exhibitions

New Orleans has a really exciting arts community in the St. Claude neighborhood that I worry a lot of people overlook. These spaces — Antenna Works, The Front, the Shed, for example — put on thoughtful shows by emerging artists every second Saturday. I’ve been consistently so impressed by the quality of the exhibitions and it’s a wonderful network for meeting new artists. Artists are always looking at each other’s work, and behind every artist you like there’s a whole network of other artists that they’re getting their MFA with, or feeling inspired by, or showing alongside in another great small gallery in another city.

Don’t treat buying art like playing the stock market

When people spend money on art they often want reassurance that the work will increase in value so they can eventually resell it. Art is not a typical investment, and it’s statistically unlikely that any artist will blow up to that level. Predicting such a phenomenon is practically impossible, even for someone in the throes of the art world. It’s a very volatile value system. A good rule of thumb is to only collect something you’re happy to live with forever.