Pros and Cons of Artists Showing Art
at Non-Gallery 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 your probability of making any sales 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 paintings available, fine, but even so think the circumstances through first. Opportunities to show (and hopefully sell) at non-art venues may sound great in theory, but don't always play out that way.
On the plus side, all you invest is art, potential buyers are referred directly to you, and you get to keep all profits on whatever you sell. That's good. In addition, thousands of new people will be exposed to your work-- a situation far preferred to having these paintings sit gathering dust in your studio-- and if you're lucky, word-of-mouth may attract even more attention. Now if you can get the owners to feature you prominently, either on the walls next to the art, on their website, in email announcements or by allowing you to provide business cards, brochures, 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.
The big unknown is whether you'll sell anything or be offered additional exhibition opportunities as a result of the exposure. A good idea might be to ask the owners whether they've had any similar arrangements with artists in the past and, if so, 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 shouldn't necessarily be the sole deciding factor in whether or not you accept the offer. If they have shown art, 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 making sure they 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 nothing for the artists and nothing sells. In the meantime, the owners enjoy no-cost interior decoration 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, 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 in case the exposure results in little or no attention.
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." The closer they can approximate a gallery setting where the artwork is clearly more than decoration and clearly for sale, the better.
Regardless of the specifics, you should seriously consider taking advantage of the opportunity especially if you're not getting much other public exposure for your work. One thing you might do, though, is speak with the owners 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 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, make sure 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 to anyone.
* 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 small percentage of the selling price if someone wants to buy on the spot.
* Ask whether you can have an opening event and invite collectors, friends, acquaintances, potential buyers and other interested parties. If you can get the hotel (or other business) to announce the opening on their website or by email, that would be ideal.
* 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.
* Ask whether the hotel (or other business) 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 only be usable if rooms are available (or if you're at a restaurant, if the place isn't booked, etc.). Or suggest that the trade-out only be good if at the end of the run, nothing has sold.
* The more the art looks like it's hanging in a gallery and for sale, the better. That should be clear to anyone who looks at it. Lighting is particularly important. Highlighting art with good lighting naturally draws viewers' attention.
* Make sure you provide full details about how any art that's purchased will be crated and shipped. The more of these kinds of logistical questions that you have answered in advance, the greater the probability that 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 probability that you'll make sales.
* Be clear about who covers insurance against loss or damage.
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