An art opening at an art gallery is always a momentous occasion. The atmosphere is festive; the art is fresh and new. Everyone from the artist to the gallery owner is optimistic about the prospects for healthy sales and favorable reviews. In a sense, the art will never look as good as it does during its opening, and as such, this particular circumstance always represents an opportunity for significant advancement in an artist’s career.
A successful art opening creates a buzz in the art community, not only about the art and the artist, but also about the gallery. The better the opening, the more people talk; word spreads and subsequent attendance at the show increases. And we all know that the more people who see the art, the greater the chances of making sales. With these facts in mind, the following pointers are designed to make your openings successful in terms of publicity, attendance, and sales.
The best way to make an art opening work for you is to create, in advance, a level of anticipation that encourages as many people to come and see your art as possible. Craft a compelling announcement or press release, disseminate it as widely within the art community as possible– typically at online art and event websites– and make sure that everyone sees it in plenty of time to make plans to attend your show. This announcement should be clearly written (so that ordinary people can understand it) and contain two to three paragraphs of two to three sentences each– nothing more– keep it simple. In addition to events websites, email it to relevant local arts organizations, newspapers that list local events, and any local radio or TV stations or shows that regularly cover on local arts and culture happenings (including community access channels). If your gallery has an advertising budget, make sure your show notice appears in as many local and regional visual arts publications and on as many community events calendar websites as possible.
Once people know about your upcoming show, the fewer obstacles they have to overcome in order to attend and enjoy it, the better. Number one on the “remove all obstacles” list is DON’T charge admission. Artists and galleries, particularly those with low budgets or who haven’t been in business very long, occasionally decide to charge admission in order to help pay the bills. This is always a bad idea; art openings should be free.
Know up front that art collectors are not in the habit of paying to see art in order to buy it. Even a modest cover charge may discourage serious buyers from attending. Instead of your opening, they’ll go to someone else’s. Can you imagine paying for every art opening you attend? If you’re like many artists or art collectors, you go to dozens every year. You’d be penniless in no time.
Some artists and galleries try to justify admission charges by promoting their openings as parties with music or other forms of entertainment. Either you’re having an art opening or you’re having a party. Serious art buyers usually spend an average of fifteen to thirty minutes at any given opening. They are not interested in staying for hours and partying. Party people, on the other hand, will pay admission and will stay for hours, but they rarely buy art.
Charging for refreshments is another obstacle that discourages people from buying art. This is not nearly as bad as charging just to get through the door, but when you’re trying to sell items that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each, a little complimentary cheese or alcohol never hurts when the time comes for on-the-fence buyers to seriously consider loosening up the purse strings. Sure, a few freeloaders always come to drink for free, but that’s how art openings are. If you have a low refreshment budget, buy cheap wine. For you who still insist on charging admission or selling drinks, at least have the common sense to comp your best collectors and their friends.
Also comp media people like critics or art writers, no matter how small or insignificant their publications or websites or how much you disagree with their views. You want your shows to be reviewed, so make sure you know your local reviewers and chat them up at your opening. Publicity is always good, no matter where it appears or what it says. When someone writes about you, that means you’re worth writing about. And who knows– that rapscallion blogger who writes for iliketowriteaboutart.com may one day become the art critic for The New York Times.
Make sure all art is priced on the walls or pedestals, and that your price list and resume are visible and within easy reach of anyone who wants to learn more about you and your art. Art buyers who are see an artist’s work for the first time and who like it would rather review prices and career accomplishments in private than ask about them. First, they want to decide whether they can afford the art. Those who can afford it and who are impressed by your resume will then speak with either you or your dealer or agent.