Art Business 101: Event Planning

You’ve made some art and found a space to show it, but your work has only just begun!

Our sidewalk sign built by ChiPRC director John Wawrzsaszek helped bring in traffic

Our sidewalk sign built by ChiPRC director John Wawrzsaszek helped bring in traffic

Obviously, the aspects of the show that will be within your purview will vary based on the nature of the show. If you are participating in a big event that has its own staff, you will not get to choose the refreshments or the background music, you will not get to design the décor, you will not be in charge of promotion, and you may not even be allowed to hang your own work.

But if it’s a DIY show, then all of these elements will be your responsibility. Whether you are working with other artists or by yourself, it is a good idea to make sure these aspects are coordinated. For example, you should decorate your space with the same colors that appear on your promotional postcards and posters. If the theme is blue and white, then put white tablecloths and blue napkins on the buffet.

Playin’ Our Song

Tailor your background music to the art style. This is more difficult for a group show, but jazz has a way of working for all styles. Here are some more specific ideas that are suited to particular art styles:

Feed Me, Seymour

Many art shows include light refreshments for their guests. Don’t overthink this, and don’t overspend. You can quickly destroy your profit margin by splurging on food. Agallery-party-wine-2 simple cheese and cracker platter with wine and sparkling water would be appropriate. Your function is not to give your guests a meal. It is to make them feel comfortable while they peruse the art.

When I curate shows, I typically schedule the events between obvious meal times. That way, guests can go to dinner before or after the show, and they don’t come in expecting anything more than hors d’oeuvres.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The real secret to a successful event design is planning ahead. There are a lot of moving pieces, so you can’t leave anything to the last minute. For example, you will want your promotional postcards to arrive early so you can invite your guests before they make other plans.

If you are working with a group, each person can volunteer to manage one aspect of the event prep. That makes everyone’s job more manageable. Here is a sample plan based on some of my previous shows:

  • 12 Weeks Before
    • Establish branding and write up basic event description
    • Create event logo
    • Create Facebook event page and website presence
  • 11 Weeks Before
    • Establish a meeting schedule for everyone involved
    • Begin soliciting sponsors/donors
  • 10 Weeks Before
    • Reach out to Chamber of Commerce with sponsors as leverage
    • Begin social media campaign
    • Research refreshment pricing
  • 9 Weeks Before
    • Research print pricing and select a vendor
    • Determine print order date
    • Determine eBlast schedule and send off first message
  • 8 Weeks Before
    • Research décor pricing and determine purchase date
    • Complete graphic design for postcard front side
    • Put together projected expense list
  • 7 Weeks Before
    • Confirm all sponsors and collect their logos
    • Using logos, finish back side of postcard and create poster
    • Place postcard order
  • 6 Weeks Before
    • Distribute print media and begin hanging posters
    • Artist bios and websites due
    • Purchase beverages and cups
  • 5 Weeks Before
    • Finalize press research and write press release
  • 4 Weeks Before
    • E-mail press release
    • Design in-house brochure/guide with bios and websites
    • Plan artist name cards, door signage, banners, etc.
  • 3 Weeks Before
    • Print all in-house media
    • Purchase décor
  • 2 Weeks Before
    • Plan art displays and designate display areas
    • Schedule art drop-off/pick-up times
  • 1 Week Before
    • Purchase food, plates, and napkins
    • Art set-up

It looks like a lot to do, but there are never more than 3 things that need doing in one week. For my last group show, we had four participating artists. One person handled gallery-party-catprint materials, another handled décor, the third handled food, and I handled graphic design and web promotion. This sharing of responsibilities reduced the number of obligations each of us had to fulfill.

However you slice it, you are perfectly capable of designing and executing your event. Remember to have fun with it, and don’t expect everything to be perfect. Each event you create will teach you a little more and help you make the next one even better.

Art Business 101: Social Media

In my last post, I presented 5 ways to promote your art show. One of these methods, Social Media, deserves further attention.

In order to use social media effectively for promotion, you need to gain a following. Without a dedicated following, your posts will be like a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it. So how do you gain a following?

Body Building

The most fundamental thing you need to do is offer a body of content that is relevant to your brand. Take lots of pictures of your work to give potential followers a taste of what they can expect from your feed. Include not only finished pieces but works-in-progress. Fans will enjoy getting a glimpse of the work that goes on behind the scenes in your Art Boxes gridstudio.

As with physical bodybuilding, building your social media body requires moderation. Post or tweet regularly, but don’t over-post or over-tweet — followers who see a glut of content coming from you might interpret your feed as annoying spam and unfollow you. There’s no absolute rule as to how many posts or tweets are “too many”, but I personally limit myself to about 3 per week.

Hashtags

A hashtag is a word or group of works preceded by the pound sign (#). These tags act to categorize tweets or posts based on topic. In other words, when users add the hashtag #drawing to posts, the posts will come up in a search for “drawing”; and clicking on a hashtag in one post brings up a list of posts using the same hashtag. This handy tool makes your content searchable and therefore discoverable by potential fans. You will gain followers simply by including hashtags in your tweets and posts.Best 9 grid

There are a few rules for hashtags. If you want to make a string of words into a hashtag, don’t include spaces. For example: #LifeDrawing is the correct format for a post about life drawing. Capitalization doesn’t matter, but many users capitalize the individual words in a hashtag to make them more readable. (#LifeDrawing is a little easier to read than #lifedrawing .)

Numbers work in a hashtag, so you could post something like #MyTop10Artists , but punctuation does not work. Omit punctuation, even when you would normally use it. For example, the topic Dean’s List would become the hashtag #DeansList .

Most social media platforms support hashtags, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest. There are slightly different “hashtag rules” for some of the platforms. For example, many Twitter users limit themselves to 2 hashtags. This is due to the fact that Twitter is text-heavy, and lots of hashtags can make for difficult reading. Instagram users, on the other hand, frequently include 10 or more hashtags in a post. This is due to the fact that Instagram is image-heavy, and the accompanying text is often skimmed or ignored.

Follow For Follow

This rule can be summed up with the old saying, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” If you like someone’s content or follow their feed, their social media app will notify them, and they might return the favor. Basically, users are more apt to “like” your Self Portrait gridtweets and posts if you like some of theirs, and they are more likely to follow you if you follow them first. So how do you find these potential followers?

Remember our old friend, the hashtag? Do a search on your preferred social media for artists who are doing work that is similar to yours. If you are a pop artist, try searching for #PopArtist . Follow these artists and begin to cultivate a network of like-minded and mutually supportive creators. Next, choose an artist’s post or tweet that shows work that is most like yours. Follow all the people who liked that post or tweet. They will receive a notification, and they might follow you back.

Building a following takes a long investment of time. When I was first getting started, I would literally spend entire evenings looking for people to follow. If you put in the time, your commitment will eventually pay off.

Best App for Artists

In my opinion, Instagram is the dominant visual platform — at least right now. As an image-heavy app, it is the ideal platform for artists to share and promote their work, ideas, and events. In fact, I notice a lot of younger artists using Instagram in place of traditional websites.

It is not a bad idea to diversify your online presence with accounts on multiple platforms. You might reach completely different audiences that way. But if I were to recommend the best place for you to invest your time and energy, I would point you to Instagram.

Art Business 101: Promoting Your Show

Unique Techniques display

So you’re in an art show. Now what? The first thing you need to do is promote it across multiple platforms. Even if you are in a well-known gallery or major festival, you can increase the potential turnout by taking the initiative to spread the word.

  • Print – Order postcards and mail them out or leave stacks on community tables in local retail spaces. Ask businesses if you can hang a poster for your event. Remember to make the image eye-catching and easily readable, with all the pertinent information (date, time, location) prominently displayed. There is a cost for print materials, which you will have to try to recoup.

The good news is that the other options are free!

  • Eblast – Sign up for an eblast service, like Mailchimp. You can construct nice, professional-looking evites and newsletters using their templates. Subscribers can opt out of the emails without contacting you directly, and you have access to analytics about how well the emails are being received. At each of your events, you can increase your outreach by inviting visitors to sign up for your newsletter.
  • Social Media – Create a Facebook event page, and invite your friends. Promote the event on social media like Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. If you are involved in a group show, each of the artists can use a shared hashtag to connect the posts and make them searchable. If 5 artists succeed in bringing just 15 friends each, that’s 75 guests!
  • Community Website – Find a website for your community that includes a calendar of events. The one I always use is Chicago Artists Resource. It is free to post, and the information reaches outside of my normal circles. If you have connections in your Chamber of Commerce, they might also be willing to put your event on their web calendar or newsletter.

Press Release – The final free option requires its own section, as it is a little more involved. First, you need to do some research online. Track down the e-mail addresses for the arts editors of your local print or web papers. Next, write up a detailed description of your event and the people involved.

One month in advance, send it to the arts editors at the start of a business day. (This will ensure that they see your e-mail at the top of their Inbox.) On the subject line, write “For Release”, followed by the name of your event. In the body of the e-mail, include gratuitous details, because the editors may whittle it down as they see fit.Dean's art in the Redeye

They might not choose to publish your release at all, but if they do — it’s free publicity that will reach a huge audience! A release that was picked up (right) for an art walk I organized accounted for about 50% of our attendance.

Unique Techniques crowd 2There is nothing as satisfying as standing back and seeing people at your show. You realize that have you turned a simple idea into a reality. It’s not luck or chance. When there are people at your show that you have never met, you begin to understand the power of promotion and marketing — your power.