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Miriam Cabello from MLC Gallery: Steps to exporting art

While many visual artists set their sights on becoming the next Picasso, not so many have a passion for business planning and export. Miriam Cabello, on the other hand, knew she wanted to export art to the world from the very start. As a result, Cabello’s business plan for MLC Gallery reads like a manual on how to export art.

Active ImageMiriam Cabello knew at fourteen she wanted to be an artist. It wasn’t an idle dream—the striking detail in her first portrait, painted when just 15 years old, testifies to her confidence that she knew she had what it takes.

Reality set in, however, when the hopeful artist started university—she needed to make a living. Recognising the potential struggles as a visual artist, she instead studied a double major in design. “But I also believed the best way to become independent would be to start my own business,” she says.

Having that in mind early on, Cabello started saving to get her own graphic design business off the ground. In 1993 she won a government tender for a graphic design studio to be taken over at the Casula Powerhouse in Sydney’s southwest. A year later, her brother joined the business, taking over most of the graphic design projects. “That’s what he specialised in and he was really a much better designer than me,” she admits. This granted Cabello time to concentrate on developing and growing the business.

The brother-sister team spent 10 years at the Casula Powerhouse building MLC Powerhouse Design, but this was only a stepping stone towards Cabello’s dream. “The graphic design studio and running the business successfully was really an objective to own my own art gallery, because my visual arts side still had to be satisfied,” she explains.

Cabello received a push in the right direction when the Casula Powerhouse came up for redevelopment. She spent six months finding the perfect location in Sydney’s Ultimo that could support an art gallery downstairs and a design studio upstairs.

Now catering to the needs of emerging artists requiring a completely serviced exhibition space has given the MLC Gallery a point of difference. And it has given Cabello a place to finally exhibit her own work. “I had put aside my art career for 10 years to concentrate on the business so it was absolutely beautiful to have my first exhibition in my own art gallery in August last year.”

Export Business Plan

Active ImageFive years after launching her design business, Cabello started thinking about exporting, despite not actually having any art to sell. “In 1998 I didn’t have anything to offer but I started building contacts and relationships with people who were interested in my artwork,” she explains.

“Back then I approached the US Sports Academy which hosts an international sports artist of the year competition, because my art is pretty much sports related. I developed a relationship with them over the years and recently wrote to a woman who was the art curator and is now on the board of trustees. She suggested I enter the Florence Biennale, and I was accepted.”

By participating in the Fifth Annual International Biennale of Contemporary Art in December last year, Cabello has access to a studio in Florence, where she’ll spend three months painting and building up for an exhibition. At the same time, her submission to the Biennale caught the eye of an art gallery curator from Barcelona, who invited Cabello to exhibit five of her works in Spain.

Transporting artwork has proven the biggest challenge for Cabello. “There I have to claim inexperience and learning,” she admits. Transporting the artwork stretched and stitched onto a frame proved extremely expensive and incurred costs she simply didn’t anticipate.

Undertaking Austrade’s two-year first time exporter program has helped Cabello learn how to deal with such logistical issues, and the help from Austrade representatives overseas will be invaluable. “They’re going to help me set up appointments in Barcelona while I’m there, and what’s great is that they do the hard work for you in terms of only making appointments with galleries that are interested in Australian artists.”

Exporting to the US

Active ImageCabello’s goal is to tackle the US market next, and while she already has connections with the Sports Academy, an unlikely meeting two years ago helped to set these wheels in motion.

The business had just moved premises, with the art gallery only recently open, when Cabello’s team were out for a few drinks after work. They met a man from Massachusetts who told them it had been his life-long dream to open an art gallery. After sharing their stories, a mutual agreement was formed.

“We’ve been corresponding for two years now, building the relationship of sister galleries,” Cabello explains. The two business owners share plans and strategies but run exclusively independent art galleries. “We don’t even have to carry the same name. The sister relationship gives me the opportunity to have a gallery there as a representative. I can tell him what dates I want for my own exhibition [scheduled for August] and he helps to develop more contacts for me in New York or Los Angeles or wherever it may be.”

While Cabello’s export experience is only just beginning, the planning and preparation is making the process all the more smooth. “That’s how things can just come together,” she says. “If exporters start thinking early and form those relationships, you never know how they can connect or bounce off onto something else.”

And hopefully this first step into the international scene will offer up even more leads. “I have three main goals while in Barcelona and Florence,” she says. “Sell the artwork; gain representation (by being represented it means I have a secure exhibition annually or bi-annually and I don’t have to worry about a single thing other than producing the artwork); and develop more sister gallery relationships.”

Thanks to a strong team at home to manage the graphic design business and art gallery, Cabello hopes to get back to painting, spending at least three months out of every year painting overseas for exhibitions for specific galleries. “It’s extremely exciting and I have to pinch myself every now and then because all these things have happened so quickly.”

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Rebecca Spicer

Rebecca Spicer

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