Art is still very much alive and well, and imagination and the desire to relate to others through creative expression are two things that can’t be taken over by the recent surge in technology. Art gallery showings, on the other hand, tend to be looked at with an apathetic attitude from the general public, and that can be frustrating and disappointing for any artist looking to showcase their hard work. It’s not impossible to reignite some enthusiasm for local art, and if you’re an artist who is tired of having a small audience, here are a few suggestions to help your next event have a larger turnout.
The most important thing to do is network and self-promote. Many artists tend to shy away from tooting their own horn and advertising themselves (I’m the exact same way), and while humbleness is an impressive quality to have, marketing your work is an important step in getting your name out there. It doesn’t mean that you have to boast or reek of pretension, but it does mean that you need to make an effort in letting people know why they should come and check out what you have to show.
Make fliers for the event, and ask other businesses to distribute them for you. For smaller cities, art gallery shows are not highly advertised like a sporting event or a concert is, and you have to do the work in order to get noticed. Play on the fact that it’s not something that comes along everyday as people naturally crave variety; a local art showing might be just what they’ve been looking for to diversify their everyday activities.
Use your social media profiles to invite people to the event. They tend to work like a domino effect; you invite someone, then that person invites someone, and so on and so forth. Local newspapers and radio shows are other great places to reach people who normally wouldn’t hear about your showing, and some even have free advertising space available.
Highlight the Freebies
People are suckers for anything that’s free, so try and work something out with the local gallery owner in terms of beverages and appetizers. Wine and hor dourves make excellent accompaniments to viewing art, and highlighting free drinks and food is likely to get a bigger turnout than excluding that detail. While it might seem as though you’re buying your audience, keep in mind that the food might be the reason they come, but your art could be the reason they decide to stay.
When I was putting on my first play at the local theater, I made some quick, easy, and honestly, pretty bland fliers. I thought that was enough, but only a few people (besides my close friends and family) showed up. I was disappointed, but I realized that I had to take it as a learning experience. About a year and a half later, I put together my second play. After reading some advice online and talking to a couple other local artists and writers, they all said the same thing; there has to be a hook that gets people to the show up in the first place. I made fliers and advertised in the local newspaper, and I made it clear to say that there would be food and wine there. I felt that was forcing it too much, but to my pessimistic surprise, it worked. Almost three times as many showed up to this one. It felt great, and I had quite a few people come up to me after the show to tell me they were glad they made it out. Lesson here? Offering food and wine will fill the room.
Wear Your Art
Many theater performers and musicians will wear custom printed t-shirts to advertise an upcoming event, and artists can do the same thing to promote their upcoming gallery showing. Take a picture of one of your favorite paintings, transfer it onto a t-shirt, and put the name of the event on the back of the shirt along with the date. Encourage your friends to wear one as well; this is a form of advertising that’s less aggressive than other forms of self-promotion, and wearing one of your best pieces of work will help generate some interest in the meaning behind it.
When I was putting on my second play, I realized that I needed to get the word out there, so I asked one of my close friends to design a painting for a t-shirt I was making to promote my show. I didn’t want a traditional cast photo on the front, and I thought she could come up with something that was both relevant to my show and intriguing to look at. It was eye catching, and many people stopped and asked what it was for. Not only did it give me a chance to naturally promote my play, but it created enough interest in her work to lead to a couple paying gigs for designing local musicians’ album covers.
Target Specific Demographics
It’s important to know who you are trying to reach when you’re promoting your work. When going after those interested in the arts, don’t limit yourself to other painters. Generally speaking, a type of person who appreciates one type of artistic expression is likely to show interest in other forms as well. Distribute your fliers in cinemas that show independent films, venues that play underground music, or book stores that highlight overshadowed publications. In my case, even though I was putting on a play, I made it a point to visit local art supply stores and hang up my fliers on their bulletin boards.
When going after an audience that isn’t too familiar with anything of an avant-garde nature, it’s important to make the environment seem warm and welcoming. Art galleries tend to have a bad reputation for attracting a pompous and self-absorbed crowd, and the truth is that many people are intimidated to go because of this. If you come across as down-to-earth and relatable, many more people will feel comfortable showing up to your event.
Showing your art to the public can be a nerve-wracking experience; there are many fears associated with exposing yourself to the judgment of others, but having no one show up at all can be an even more terrifying thought. Even though an art gallery showing might never be a sold out event, it can be a great way to meet people with similar interests as well as expose your heartfelt work to a small portion of the world.
Written by Julie Hartwell: Julie Hartwell is a freelance writer who loves anything to do with the arts, design, and effective business marketing. When she’s not embarking on her own creative adventures, she writes about custom t-shirt printing for Blue Cotton.