This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
I just finished a two-day open studio event, as part of a group that began a few years ago here in New Hampshire. I’ve done other open studios, on my own and as part of larger groups. This particular one is a good one to consider for what works and what doesn’t; we’re a small group (25 artists) and we’ve built it from scratch. It was our third tour and we finally started to see the results of all our hard work.
In the past two years, I felt fortunate to meet expenses. I had to find other ways to value the experience beyond sales.
Of course, there’s the reward of having a clean studio. In the two weeks I deep-cleaned my space, I finally found all my scissors. And discovered I have not one, not two, but FOUR paper cutters. (Yes, I gave one away.)
I’ve come to appreciate the emotional rewards of hosting such an event. It can be a great way to thank current customers—they love an invitation to see you in your little world!
I discovered the joy of sharing my space with a compatible artist and friend. We tag-teamed the set-up, food and demonstrations. The good energy we created was palpable.
I found new collectors, and met more people who support what I’m doing. I reconnected with long-lost friends and made new ones. A small get-together is planned for like-minded stamp carvers. A defunct artist support group now plans to get back together.
There’s no single right way to have an open studio, of course, and some people prefer not to do them at all. Sometimes our galleries encourage these events, knowing that creating that relationship between artist and collector will benefit all concerned. And sometimes our galleries don’t like it at all.
Here are some thoughts on what worked for us and how to keep everybody happy. It’s not comprehensive, but it may give you insights on aspects of planning that are often overlooked.
Feel free to add your thoughts and share your experiences, too!
It takes time.
You might get lucky and have a stellar event your first time out. I did in years when money was flowing more freely. Nowadays, it can take time. Sometimes you just have to keep doing an event until it gains momentum. That seemed to be the case with our tour.
Piggy-back on another tour/event/holiday.
There’s another more established art tour in our area that runs on the same weekend. Some of their members were miffed we did ours the same time. Others were thrilled. They knew that more options generates more opportunities. Yes, some of their “frequent fliers” tried our tour this year—some of these visitors said they simply wanted to try something new. Next year, our “regulars” will surely try theirs. It’s win/win for everyone.
We also picked a popular regional holiday weekend (Columbus Day) which is perfect for enjoying the fall foliage in New England. People are out and about and looking for things to do. “What a beautiful vista…. Hey! There’s a sign for an art studio tour. Let’s go see some artists!”
Which brings us to…
Marketing is important.
Our signs brought a lot of people in. We had great advertising, too, and snagged some good publicity (free!) in the form of newspaper articles, too. But signs hammer the point home. My husband drove around the area that weekend for a rock climbing venture. He commented that he saw our signs everywhere!
We tried to save money by making our own signs. They are eclectic and fun. But they’re not holding up well and a good wind knocks them off their pinnings. We may end up having signs made commercially—more money, but also more durable. If local politicians running for office can have decent signs, we can, too!
Create a great brochure and an excellent map.
We’re lucky--one of our members had these skills. He designed a lovely brochure using the theme and the rich colors of autumn to tie us all together. It’s bold, bright and professional-looking. He found an extremely affordable online printer and we placed them in key locations all over the area. I heard many compliments about our brochure. It just made us look like we really knew what we were doing! (I’ve included images of it. Forgive my lack of photographing skills with glossy paper…)
Tip: Targeting your audience gives you the most bang for your buck. I do a big retail show a month before the tour. I gave every customer a brochure with their purchase and offered them to anyone who expressed a wish to see my studio. Each and every one was delighted with this “personal invitation”. And a lot of them came, too. (I was touched by the collectors who couldn’t come and called to let me know—just as if they’d been invited to a party!)
Work with your galleries.
Some artists have a local gallery that represents them. One particular gallery is not happy when artists sell directly to customers. They believe all sales should go through them. If this happens, try to work out a compromise that keeps everyone happy. One artist only shows and sells work for the open studio that is not in the gallery. This can be work from a different series that’s not compatible with the gallery’s client base, or smaller, lower-priced work (the gallery doesn’t carry her miniatures, for example) or even unframed pieces. They are also more willing to let her sell for very short term events, like our local Art Walk.
You’ll also be wise to never undersell your gallery. That’s almost guaranteed to lose you your place with them. Instead, try the different series/smaller pieces/work-they-don’t-want-to-carry approach.
If your protesting gallery is a major account for you, you might even consider offering them a commission on the work you sell during this event.
Create groups within each location.
Your current customers may feel fine coming to your studio already. New visitors will feel much more comfortable if you have more than one artists in your location. It’s just human nature—multiple options make people feel they’re sure to find something/someone they like! Artists who double up (or even three or four) in a studio consistently report more visitors and more sales than lone artists.
I shared my studio with my friend and fellow artist, Nicole Caulfield. Her work is excellent and appealing, and her personality is, too. We love each other’s work and that showed in the energy level here all weekend. People commented on how wonderful it felt in our space, over and over.
Grouping artists together also allows you to grow your artist list without expanding your tour. We wanted people to visit “all 25 artists” on our tour and created a contest to encourage that. In reality, it would be impossible for someone to do that in two days.
Some folks in our group are talking about limiting the number of artists for that reason. But you want new faces on the tour because…..
….People love the new. They want to see new artists, new work, new studios. I’m going to suggest to our group that we allow new artists to join a current participating artist in their studio for a year or two. That will allow us to grow our artist list slowly, without adding more stops for a few years. (We’ll be able to reuse our “studio number” signs for a couple years, too!)
Jury your artists (or at least know the quality of their work) for a consistent tour. But don’t worry about having only “proven sellers” on your tour. We have both big names and emerging artists on our tour. People love to see artists at all stages of their careers.
Create variety in your stable of artists, too. Some people get picky about what is “art” and what’s not. By adding a few woodworkers, a potter and a jewelry artist to the tour, we created more buzz for the tour and offered something for everyone. (Why do you think fine art museums have gift shops?)
Let your friends and current customers know. And use social media, too.
I used to do a full postcard mailing for these events. Last year, I finally created an email group for my customers, supporters and friends. A few weeks before the event, I did an email blast and a couple Facebook announcements. I added photos of my studio and images of new work.
I was astonished how well that worked! The times they are a-changin’…..
I’m always astonished at the folks who can barely tolerate children in their booths or studio. It’s true, usually people with kids are too busy with the kids to actively shop. But it allows people to come who otherwise would have to hire a sitter. We found little things for kids to do and enjoy. Not only were parents and grandparents grateful, I think my friend lined up a few portrait commissions. (She captures children beautifully in her work.)
And tell yourself you are laying the groundwork for a future generation’s appreciation of art and craft.
Remember to have fun.
In our culture, where money is often the measure of our success, it’s good to remember that an open studio doesn’t have to be just about the sales. Yes, I want my work to sell. But I also value the relationships I have with my collectors. At my open studio, they are my guests. Treat your open studio as a way to thank your loyal supporters, consider sales the gravy, and you will never be disappointed.