Pros and Cons of Artists Showing Art
at Alternative Venues--
Hotels, Restaurants, Coffee Shops, Boutiques, Etc.
Q: The owners of an upscale boutique hotel have offered to display my art free of charge in their lobby. They say the exposure will be good for me because hundreds of people go through that space every week. They want eight large paintings and want me to leave them there for a year. All interested buyers will be referred directly to me and I get to keep all the profits. What do you think of this arrangement?
A: You're being asked to make a significant commitment here-- tying up eight of your paintings for a year-- which means you have to be aware of the pluses and minuses before saying yes. Not only do you have to figure out the chances of making sales, and approximate how many people will be seeing your art, but you also have to consider any potential downside to not having access to any of these paintings for that period of time. If you have plenty of other art available for sale or you can produce a number of comparable works in a reasonable time, then going ahead with the arrangement makes more sense, but even so, think it all through first. Opportunities to show (and hopefully sell) at non-art venues may sound great in theory and often are, but don't always play out that way. So you have to research each opportunity on its own merits first.
On the plus side, alternative venues are becoming increasingly attractive for artists who are just starting out or who otherwise have not been able to get much gallery exposure. As businesses increasingly realize the benefits of displaying art, not only as potential profit sources but also in terms of enhancing and beautifying their spaces and increasing their traffic, more and more alternative venues are becoming known for regularly showing art. The best of these venues present consistent calendars of quality shows and actually get reputations in local art communities as being pretty much the same as galleries.
Additional benefits to showing at alternative spaces are that each show is a line on your resume, each is an opportunity for people to see your art who would never otherwise see it, and each show demonstrates to anyone who follows your career that you're serious about being an artist and getting exposure for your work. Even in the online age, real world face-to-face art shows still count. Frequency of exposure no matter how or where you get it, especially early on in your career, is key to getting the word out about your art and establishing yourself as someone dedicated, committed and determined to succeed. Furthermore, unless you get your art out there in front of the public, you'll never know who might see it, how much they'll like it when they do, who'll become your biggest fans, and what they might be able to do for you if they really really like your work a lot. Always remember-- anyone under any circumstances has the potential to fall in love with your art, make a purchase or otherwise spread the word about what you do, and the more you get your art out there, the greater the chances of good things happening.
Regarding this specific situation, all you have to invest here is eight paintings, potential buyers are referred directly to you, and you get to keep all profits on whatever you sell. That's good, in fact better than what most alternative venues offer artists. In addition, depending on the traffic, thousands of new people may well be exposed to your work-- much preferred to having these paintings sit around gathering dust in your studio-- and if all goes well, word-of-mouth and online postings may attract even more attention. Now if you can get the owners to feature you prominently, either on labels next to the art, on their website, in email announcements or by allowing you to provide business cards, brochures, your resume or other forms of contact information at the front desk or in a well-trafficked public area, you'll be in great shape. The object here is for the art to be clearly available for sale as opposed to looking like it's part of the hotel's permanent collection-- which won't really get you anywhere. No matter what the venue, make sure it looks as much like a gallery as possible, especially the fact that it's for sale.
Something else you might ask for as part of this arrangement is a reception or opening to celebrate the installation of the art. An event like this not only gives you a chance to show how good your art can look on display in elegant surroundings, but it exposes the hotel to new people as well. It also makes clear to everyone involved that the art is available for sale and is more than just lobby decor. If during the course of the year you can occasionally use the lobby for meetings with potential buyers, that would be an additional bonus. See whether the hotel would be amenable to that.
The big unknown is whether you'll sell anything or be offered more exhibition opportunities as a result of the exposure. Before signing on, a good idea might be to ask the owners whether they've had any similar arrangements with artists in the past and if yes, how they've worked out. The best non-art venues for exposing your work are those that already have reputations for showing art on a regular basis-- but that should not necessarily be the sole factor in deciding whether or not to accept their offer. If they have shown art, perhaps contact several of the artists they've shown and speak with them directly. You're pretty much on your own if there's no history of the hotel showing artists, but having some assurance they're willing to work on your behalf can certainly increase the odds of success in your favor.
On the minus side, some business owners take advantage of artists by making big promises in order to get free art for their walls and pedestals. They entice artists by intimating that the exposure will be good for their careers or that the art will likely sell when, in fact, the exposure does little for the artists and nothing sells. In the meantime, the owners enjoy no-cost decor as well as the prestige that comes with displaying original works of fine art. If they want to simply hang your work with little or no fanfare or attention to you, where they seem to get everything they want and you get little more than storage space, then maybe speak with them about that or ask to make the terms of the arrangement more flexible or favorable, like maybe bartering guest rooms in exchange for the loan, for example.
The challenge for artists displaying art in non-art venues is that people frequent those venues for purposes other than to buy art, unless of course the venue has a history of showing artists. Imagine yourself checking into a hotel or having dinner at a nice restaurant. Are you interested in getting a good night's sleep or having a gastronomic experience... or are you interested in buying art? People who are serious about buying art normally go to art galleries or art events to do so; not that many are inclined to patronize establishments that are not known for showing or selling art. So if you intend to go ahead with this arrangement, the owners will hopefully present more compelling reasons for your doing so than "if you hang it, they will buy." For example, the closer they can approximate a gallery setting where the artwork is clearly more than decoration and clearly labeled and available for sale, the better.
On the plus side, getting experience showing at non-art venues is great practice for eventually showing at galleries. Every such opportunity is a chance to get feedback about your art, engage in face-to-face conversations, learn to answer all kinds of questions people will have about your art, and gain a greater overall understanding into how people respond to your art-- in particular, what they're most attracted to, what they tend to ignore, what they might find confusing, and so on. Understanding how other people react to your art and what it communicates to them is instrumental when the time comes to present your work to galleries and hopefully start getting shows.
Regardless of the specifics of any alternative venue offer, you should seriously consider taking advantage of the opportunity especially if you have plenty of other art for sale and are currently getting little or no other public exposure for your work. One thing you might do if the hotel has not had much experience with art and can't provide much in the way of feedback about whether or not anything will sell is to speak with the owners or individuals in charge about relaxing the one-year hanging requirement. That's a pretty long commitment especially if the hotel hasn't done this before. Suggest perhaps that you have an option to replace paintings with equivalent ones after a minimum hanging time of say three months, or in case you're offered a better exhibition opportunity. Or maybe suggest an arrangement where you rotate the show every three or six months; that may turn out to be better for the hotel as well. Whatever you do, you want to make sure the art isn't tied up if nothing's selling and something better comes up. At the same time, if you commit to having eight paintings there for a year, one way or another, be sure before saying yes, you fully intend to honor that commitment.
Several additional points to consider when exhibiting at non-art venues:
* The ideal arrangement in this situation is for your contact information to be on full display, preferably next to each artwork and also at the front desk, main counter, etc. Make sure it's clearly visible and accessible to anyone who's interested in learning more about you.
* People buy art on impulse with some regularity. Even if the hotel (or other business) offers to refer all potential buyers directly to you, offer them a modest percentage of the selling price as a commission to complete the sale if someone wants to buy on the spot. Also allow them to discount the asking price 10-20% if someone makes a reasonable offer.
* Ask whether you can have several events during the course of the consignment period where you can invite collectors, friends, acquaintances, potential buyers and other interested parties. If you can get the hotel (or other business) to announce any such openings or events on their website or by email, that would be perfect.
* Make sure your art looks good wherever it hangs or is otherwise displayed. If the space is empty, the furnishings and carpet are worn or shabby, or the area is one where people walk through rapidly, maybe rethink the offer. Lighting is also incredibly important. Be sure the art is well lit.
* Talk with the hotel owners or people in charge about what kind of art they think would appeal the most to their clientele. You might even invite them to your studio to see the full range of your art. The more satisfied they are with the art they have on display (and your willingness to work with them), the more inclined they'll be to draw attention to the work.
* Ask whether the hotel (or whatever business you get involved with) is willing to offer trade in exchange for being able to hang your art, say rooms at the hotel for instance or complimentary meals at a restaurant. If the owners are hesitant, suggest that the trade be usable only when rooms are available (or if you're at a restaurant, only when the place isn't booked or sold out, like during the week, off nights etc.). Or suggest that the trade-out only be good if at the end of the consignment period, little or nothing has sold.
* As for how you display the art, the more it looks like it's hanging in a gallery and for sale, the better. You want the fact that it's for sale to be clear to anyone who looks at it. You don't want the art to look like it belongs to the business or is a permanent part of the decor.
* Lighting is particularly important. Highlighting art with good lighting naturally draws viewers' attention. You don't want the art to be on display in darkened areas, narrow hallways, way up near the ceiling or in places where it competes for attention with too many other furnishings or decorative objects.
* Make sure you provide the hotel with full details about how any art that's purchased will be crated and shipped, whether you are willing to deliver or hang it, whether potential buyers can see the work in their homes or offices for a trial period, and so on. The more amenities you offer and logistical questions you answer in advance, the greater the chances you'll make sales.
* Accept multiple forms of payment-- credit cards, PayPal, etc. The easier it is for people to pay you, the greater the chances you'll make sales.
* Be clear about who covers insurance against loss or damage.
(glass art by Matty Harvery)
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