How to decide if you should show art at a local business?

Photo thanks to Caitlin Pollitt at NSU

Good morning! Friday my show of experimental abstracts at a local coffee shop ended. This show was up concurrently with an exhibit of my representational work in a gorgeous art center gallery. While packing my work in the coffee shop, I thought about how different the two experiences were.  

My situation is kind of unique because I am experiencing two different career levels with two different types of artwork at the same time. I have a strong artist resume for my representational work, and that work shows in galleries and art centers. But I am starting at the beginning with my abstract work. I’m doing that on purpose, which is another story. 

Before going farther, I want to mention that I have had all good experiences with the venues I’ve shown in, and appreciate each of their investments in my career.  

But every venue has given me completely different experiences. And I’m hoping that through sharing these experiences and some lessons I’ve learned along the way, I’ll help some artists out there who are trying to decide whether to show in a local shop. 

The coffee shop I just showed my abstracts in invited me to put up anything I wanted as long as it was family friendly, they were friendly, and I could have put up information about an auction of one of the paintings or switched out paintings whenever I felt like it. They contributed the space, and they gave me nostalgic feelings by reminding me a little of the west coast. 

The art center gallery I just showed my representational work in had well thought out publicity, professional hanging and lighting, and a packed reception. I felt valued, and really appreciate that. [They were an exceptional venue, and actually gave me a place to stay overnight so that I wouldn’t have to drive in the dark during winter, and showed me all around and introduced me to everyone. It was really magical and unexpected. All those details are here.]  

These two concurrent experiences really highlighted for me the differences between different venues. And those experiences were both much different from showing in retail art galleries over the last 10 years, and from showing in an organized art walk 11 years ago. 

When I just started showing my representational work, before my first gallery show I showed in retail businesses in the Edmonds Art Walk a bunch of times. It was well publicized and the venues used the art openings as a way to get a lot more customers in their door. Because of this, the store managers were very excited to work with the artists. They stayed open late on art walk night, and every customer heard “have you met the artist yet?” It was a great experience.

My takeaway from all these experiences is: It’s important to have a way to evaluate a venue, so that you know if it will be a good fit, and also so you know how much time and effort will be involved in making it a successful show. 

Ask yourself what you really want to get out of it? Is it publicity, sales, name recognition, show experience, good feelings, or an addition to your artist resume?

For me, with my abstract experiments, I want new customers, sales, and good photos. 

So in the future I’ll be asking these questions: 

  1. Will my art look good in the venue? Is the wall color neutral or flattering to my work and in good repair? Will my photos look great?
  2. Do I have the time and energy to do some publicity myself, and will I want to publicize the show?
  3. Will the venue publicize my work? (are they in an art walk, will they put a sandwich board outside announcing the art, or run ads? Do they have a nice looking well trafficked web site where they will post about my work, or a lot of social followers that they’ll announce to?)
  4.  Will they have an art event where they invite lots of potential customers?

Those things would all benefit the right venue as much as me. 

My questions for my representational work are different. 

 

Which leads to the next question. What does the venue get out of showing art? Are they using art as a way to pull in lots of customers, or are they just making their walls look nice? The answer to that will change your experience, and will change what you need to do to make the show successful.

A retail gallery’s business relies on them making your work look beautiful on their walls and publicizing your work. They’re in the business because they love art. They’ll take a commission between 30-65 percent of the retail price, which they will earn. An art center or museum might take a small or no percent, but their mission is to engage their community so they also want your art to look it’s best in their venue, and they want the community to come see your work. They are also in their job because they love art. Their mission is not to sell your art, it is to engage the community. Most “alternative venues” take no commission, but they are not trying to sell art or engage the public with your art. Art is not central to their business. 

~~

Your goals for a show may be different from mine, so your questions will be different. But I think having a framework to evaluate a venue will make it easier to choose well. Decide what you want, and then think about whether you will get what you want out from showing in that venue. If not, look around your town for another venue – or negotiate with the venue so that your goals can be met. 

You are worth it! And your time and effort are valuable. 

I hope this is helpful!

Artists – Let me know in the comments or a PM the best things that a venue has done to make a show successful or a good experience for you.

Managers of venues that show art – Let me know in the comments or a PM the best things that artists have done to make exhibiting art a successful and good experience for you.

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