"Back then $3,500 was the entire budget for a big exhibit. We developed the idea of marketing our exhibits to other museums and charging the other museums rent for displaying them," Melberg shares. Melberg's biggest curatorial endeavor for the Mint was a show of work by native Charlotte artist Romare Bearden, Romare Bearden 1970-1980, that opened in October 1980 and later traveled to various museums around the country.
Melberg believes museums need to be run like a profit-making business. "I miss working at the art museum," he says. "I loved every minute of it. But I wouldn't go back."
In January 1984 he opened the Jerald Melberg Gallery at 119 East 7th Street across from Spirit Square. "There were covered wagons on 7th Street back then," Melberg chuckles. "I don't sell art. I help people make decisions and reassure them about their choices. I'm fortunate that I can earn a living from work that gives me so much pleasure.
"The money isn't the most important part of the business. People sometimes buy art for the wrong reasons. It's not like buying dress shirts and getting one in every color."
When it comes to money, Melberg lets his wife Mary take care of things. "[She] is our treasurer and bookkeeper. I do best staying away from the money end.
"An art gallery isn't for everybody; however, I think we're making a positive difference in the community. I operate on the 20 percent rule. Twenty percent of the people will be interested in any category in life. Twenty percent of those people will actually participate occasionally in that area. And 20 percent of those people, we're now down to less than 1 percent, will participate consistently -- in our case coming to all of our shows, collecting art from us."
With a full-time staff of four including himself and his wife, Jerald Melberg Gallery is one of the very few galleries in the Southeast that participates in international art fairs such as Art Chicago, Art Miami, and Art Sante Fe. Melberg also represents artists who live in foreign countries such as Raul Diaz from Argentina, Ramon Urban of Spain and Ireland's Victor Richardson.
In 1994, Melberg moved his gallery to Morrocroft on Sharon Road. After 10 years at Morrocroft, raises in the rent led him to move again. On April 2, Melberg opened his gallery at its third location.
"I had been looking for a new space all over Charlotte: uptown, South End, East Boulevard, etc. Mary and I were eating at Eddie's Restaurant and saw the empty building just across the parking lot." Many Charlotteans will remember the new gallery space as the location of an A&P grocery store managed by Ray Bass.
The new location has three separate galleries with very high ceilings. For the first time, this space has enough square footage that Melberg doesn't have to use an off-site warehouse to store his art inventory.
For the new space, the gallery is showing a new work by each of their artists. Out front is a distinctive tall metal sculpture by Albert Paley. Abstract painter Brian Rutenberg, 38, a native of Myrtle Beach who's now living in New York City, is one of Melberg's young stars. In a phone interview Rutenberg shared that "the new space allows Melberg to show larger works which can be viewed from a distance, yet the gallery also has a feeling of intimacy."
Jerald Melberg Gallery is now located at 625 South Sharon Amity. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm. For additional information call 704-365-3000.