Interview with Joy Reed Belt Ph.D., gallery owner, JRB Art at the Elms, Oklahoma City, OK“Joy, I need 30 minutes in your gallery before I have to go back to work.” This is how one man, an Oklahoma City surgeon and frequent visitor to JRB Gallery at the Elms, expressed it. Having personally attended my recent opening at Joy Reed Belt’s gallery, I can confirm that this gentleman is not alone in his enthusiasm and support of the art, artists and gallery that Joy has developed since its opening in 2002. Most conversations at gallery openings revolve around an artists’ work as visitors sip wine and munch on h’or doerves. Not so, at JRB at the Elms. Comments like “This is the best gallery in Oklahoma” or “We visit every month to visit with Joy and see what new work she has found” are only a few that I recall. As an exhibiting artist, it was wonderful to hear that the gallery to which I had entrusted my work, had such a profound impact on its visitors. The sheer numbers of people I observed that evening in the El Paseo Art District’s First Friday was also remarkable.
This week I had the opportunity to interview Joy Reed Belt when she graciously offered her time to talk to me via phone, about her gallery, background and points of view on art, artists and a bit of her philosophy of life. In learning of her background, I found that Reed Belt holds a masters degree in Humanities, and a PhD.in Business and Psychology, and that prior to ownership of the art gallery, she had an internadtional Human Resources Consulting business for many years. Also of note, is the fact that Joy holds a BA in Theater Arts and had also worked for the National Endowment for the Arts writing grants for artists.
Reed Belt’s life changed when her husband John Belt, an avid art lover himself, prodded her to spend more time in Oklahoma City taking painting classes. She didn’t quite know where that would lead, but she followed his advice. As a result, Joy met several artists, rented a studio and eventually started representing artists and selling their work. The gallery which is part of the El Paseo Arts District, was remodeled and JRB Art at the Elms Gallery was born.
Reed Belt said “I grew up loving the arts” so it is no surprise that together with her educational background and business experience, owning an art gallery could be a logical next step in her career life. Joy says she “loves selling art” and she followed up by saying “(Art) It deserves to live even if nobody buys it…”Art” is a continuation of civilization.” The gallery which she calls the “third act” in her career, and as she reflects, this third act “often comes more from your interests than your skills”.
Joy told me that her 8,000 sq. ft. gallery space, makes it the largest commercial gallery in Oklahoma, showing work primarily from her state as well as some regional and national artists. Her goal is to bring more recognition to Oklahoma artists and to become more well known as a regional gallery. Reed Belt added: “I want to continue to push the envelope and expose people to more contemporary art as an option for them”.
Joy takes her visitors seriously, commenting “I want people to come and enjoy the gallery and I take pleasure in explaining artists work and I want them to value the art.” When asked about what advice she might have for artists seeking gallery exhibitions she had a lot to say. Most importantly, she noted that it is critical for artists to have good images of their work and that artists should make no apologies that “the work looks better in person”. Artists should do some “detective” work prior to contacting the gallery to be sure their work fits with the aesthetic of the gallery. Reed Belt stated that she not only has to “connect” with the artist’s work, but that she has to know that she can work with that artist - “If I sense that they are scattered or can’t meet deadlines, I can’t work with them”. She says she strives for the “right mix” - to show an eclectic group rather than showing artists work that might compete with others. Joy also says she looks for artists whose work is “distinctive”, and that “it is unusual in its own category”. Finally, she rather be approached professionally with a mailing of images rather than an artist “pulling up in a truck with samples of their work”. Yes, she says this does happen!