The Healing Power of Art


“Art is like an antidote,” proclaimed Pamela Bryan, owner and founder of Octavia Art Gallery. “I feel that art has played a major role in taking out some of the anxiety and sadness that the pandemic has brought into people’s lives.”

The notion of art as a healing force is woven throughout Bryan’s story. Coming from the unusual background of having a Master’s in Art History and an accounting degree, she first entered the business side of the art world via artists who were her accounting clients. This led to some initial thoughts about opening a gallery.

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“It was Hurricane Katrina that propelled me into action,” said Bryan. “I wanted to provide a sanctuary space for people to come in and decompress, to reduce their anxiety. I was also looking to support our local artists. I think we were all very concerned that we were going to lose that cultural component of New Orleans after the storm.”

Bryan was encouraged by New Orleans artist Alex Beard, who had moved to New York following Katrina. Beard helped pick the space and shared his client list, and Octavia Gallery opened in April 2008 with an exhibit of his work.

“It was everything I had envisioned,” remembered Bryan. “People could just come in and look at beautiful art.”

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From there Bryan began recruiting other artists and building her clientele. The gallery leans often towards abstract expressionism, and features local, national and international artists.

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Another important aspect of the operation is the art consulting department. In addition to individual clients, Bryan works with institutions to place pieces in their public areas. This includes hotels such as the Marriott and Ritz Carlton, but Bryan is clearly happiest about her work with hospitals and cancer facilities, such as Sloan Kettering.

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“Art is very therapeutic,” said Bryan, echoing her original inspiration. “In a hospital setting, it can take some of the tension away. It is such an honor to think we might be helping a cancer patient.”

Online sales are also a vital component in the gallery’s success, especially during the pandemic. Connecting with clients through the internet has been a constant while Octavia has given a new meaning to gallery-hopping, having originally opened on Magazine Street, then moved to Julia Street, and then settled in at 700 Magazine St. in 2019.

“This is our home for good,” said Bryan, citing the natural lighting and open space that provide the perfect showcase for the artworks.

Bryan described herself as “very proud to be a small business in New Orleans,” and beyond that, a woman-owned and operated business. Her staff are all women, and “we wanted to increase the percentage of women among the artists represented in the gallery.” Hence, Octavia has proclaimed 2021 “the year of the woman” in the world of art.

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This focus on inclusiveness is always combined with Bryan’s business acumen. “We are not a museum, we are there to sell an artist’s work,” she stated. “We know the type of person who is coming through our gallery, and we work with artists who are focused on selling their art. We have a fairly good idea if a new artist is going to blend with our program and appeal to our clients.”

Bryan builds her client knowledge carefully, working hard to find what each one is looking for while also taking every opportunity to expand their interests. “We are trying to open the eyes of people, encourage them to look at art from different cultures rather than just show a narrow focus,” she explained.

In this context, added Bryan, “It’s risky every time you have a show.”

Yet there is no doubt that Bryan loves her work. “We want the artists to be happy, the clients to be happy, and us as sellers to be happy,” she said. “I’m happy knowing that we are enriching people’s personal spaces.”

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