Bodies vs. Buyers
When artists do not cover their expenses it is often because there were not enough qualified buyers at those events. This has happened to all of us. The issue is simply “bodies vs. buyers”, a concept we are all intimately familiar with. In a time where artists are failing at record numbers, the Show Director’s responsibility should be that of a ‘conservationist’. By ‘conservationist’ I mean how does the show; 1 – protect the artists as a national and cultural resource and, 2 – perpetuate the growth and quality of the event. For without artists, there is no event. And without buyers, artist will stop applying and as a result, there is no longer a meaningful fine art event.
The objective for the Show Director is therefore not how to get more bodies through the gate, but how to get qualified buyers to the event. Expanding this concept, the success of an event should not be based on attendance but on sales of art.
Art shows that generate money from their event to pay for other projects shouldn’t be limited to counting on the gate (if there is an admission charge) and jury/booth fees. They should be looking for sponsorship money to help underwrite the show and fund their ancillary projects.
Sponsorship money can be derives from potential sponsors that can see that the demographics of the attendees are also their own demographics for their products and services. When potential sponsors see these demographics, it is far easier to obtain national sponsorship dollars for the event. A further benefit of the financial investment by sponsors is that it helps underwrite the event’s media campaign that will further work to attract more qualified buyers.
We are now seeing “fine art shows” that have either added a craft section or incorporate such items as packaged food or non art items to fill their event. This also includes the “jurying so there is something at every price point” model.
A recent conference presentation advocated mass dancing and letting people take pictures of art with their smart phones to make art shows more family-oriented so as to bring more people through the gate. If a carnival atmosphere is considered by a Show Director to be the attraction, then the focus is not on fine art and those shows are no longer for artists or our customers.
Word will get around among the artists and the quality of these shows will begin to drop, making it even more difficult to bring qualified buyers in, resulting in a downward spiral that is next to impossible to reverse.