Word of Mouth: Charleston Conversations—Sarah Miller Gelber of The Miller Gallery

Next up in my “Girl Crush” interview series for the app Uplevyl, geared towards female professionals in their 30s and 40s, is Sarah Miller Gelber, owner of The Miller Gallery in Charleston. I feel so fortunate to have met Sarah through our mutual friend, Aleece Sophia, recently voted the city’s top portrait photographer. Earlier in the year, Aleece and I produced a short Charleston Conversations series when I visited the beautiful, historic city for my birthday. She chose three very different, equally interesting, entrepreneurs for us to feature that she had come across in her 30-plus years in the city. I was delighted by how open, gracious, and generous each was in terms of their time and thrilled when Uplevyl asked if they could feature Sarah’s interview.

As we are around the same age and share a similar obsession with all kinds of art, I was immediately drawn to Sarah. She is a force to be reckoned with who is currently paving the way for the modern Southern art scene. I was especially impressed by her roster, which bridges the gap between featuring up-and-coming (all female!) artists and catering to the tourism industry with affordable pieces one can take home in a suitcase. By making art accessible to appreciators of all ages, knowledge bases, and income brackets—rather than just dedicated collectors—Gelber has done something admirable: taken away the snooty factor of the gallery world. While she initially had a vision for a Soho-esque space in mind, her light, airy, and cheerful setting is a perfect blend in my eyes. (As well as a great compliment to the fun, vibrant, and doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously Charleston.) Below are some snippets from our conversation that give insight into how helping creatives make a living can be just as fulfilling as making art itself. 

Why did you want to open your gallery in Charleston?

I love Charleston, where I have lived since 2008. My gift to it is bringing in artists of different styles and backgrounds. While my initial vision for the gallery was a white box, New York City-style gallery, I’ve had to adapt over time to my East Bay Street location. There are cruise ships that dock a few blocks away so I now offer lower cost, limited edition prints, sculptures, and tchotchkes. It was good for me to eat a slice of humble pie and realize that it is just as pleasurable to watch someone connect with a piece of art that is $40 as one that is $4,000. Compromise!

How do you select what artists you represent? 

We carry mostly female artists and every single one of them is different. I also mix emerging artists with more established ones. Cross-pollinating offers collectors fresh options and also keeps the doors open. 

What has been the reaction to your decision to represent almost all-female artists?

Charleston has a lot of female artists so it made sense to represent them here. Birds of a feather flock together so we developed a loyal following rather quickly. Our customers like the idea of one woman bringing another up. Personally, I have two sisters and think that anything can happen when two women work together because we have each others’ backs.

What do you like most about what you do?

Art, texture, and light can significantly affect the state of someone’s mood. To sell someone a piece of art that could make them happier for the rest of their life is an amazing experience. I want to inspire, remind my customers of what’s important, and most importantly, change their point of view. 

What is the biggest professional obstacle you have overcome?

Finding the confidence to let growth run its course. As a dreamer, I started the business with a specific vision and then life happened. Growth has twists and turns and it’s taken four years to reconcile that some months are going to be amazing and others will come with serious challenges. It brings me comfort to still be able to do what I love and see that difficult times have made me a much better business owner. 

How do you take care of yourself while running a business?

People in the art world are intense so I sometimes leave work overflowing with feelings, and many times they’re not my own. I practice meditation and try to tap into the energy of nature as much as possible, a realm that allows me to recharge and recalibrate. It’s nice to be the boss because I can bring this part of my life into the gallery whenever I want! If you peek in the windows early in the morning you also might see me lighting sage to keep the good vibes going! (Laughs) 

Do you have any advice for women who might be looking to start their own business? 

Recognize your skillset and admit what you can’t do. I am awful with troubleshooting computer problems. As a result, I hired an expert and we now have a kick-ass organizational system that allows us to schedule shows, online releases, and handle sales online without a hitch. I also cannot be in two places at once so my associate runs the day-to-day gallery operations when I am installing, working an art fair, or on projects. Good help is hard to find so be grateful for it!

Learn more about The Miller Gallery here

Photography by Aleece Sophia

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