Only this morning I was invited to a group show of M.A. students at a prestigious London art programme. Sadly, I’m not interested. The event to which I have been invited is the duration of the show (10am-6pm over a 10-day period). I have a demanding work week schedule and have other plans for that weekend. Furthermore, I am inundated with art invitations, this one doesn’t stand out amongst all the others. Perhaps the only way to interest me in a student show would be to give me an opportunity to meet the makers.
Talk with experienced artists and dealers, and they will tell you that the vast majority of exhibition sales take place at (or as a result of) special events, be they a private view, artist’s or curator’s talk or wine tasting. It is also at such occasions that the bulk of visitors attend.
With the increasing popularity of pop-up shows, it is essential to confirm access hours prior to hiring a space. One shocker that I experienced last year was being quoted £800 by a London gallery for opening late any single evening apart from the private view (which was included with the weekly rental). Being that the gallery was not open on Saturdays and in reality allowed for only a single evening event, we were giving our audience one opportunity to visit out of working hours, and that is not sufficient for Londoners’ hectic diaries. My fellow exhibitors and I (as I was showing my own fine art photography) viewed the show as a CV-building activity rather than a commercial one; otherwise such restricted hours would not have been reasonable.
So why is it that people want to attend special events at an art show? Surely the exhibition is itself an event of interest. Well it is, and your audience will still call in, however there will be significantly higher attendance if you specify special activities at specific times, in which you turn art shows into social occasions. In observing the popularity of the pieces on display, visitors will be more inclined to commit to purchases.
By holding events, you should anticipate an increase in passing trade. When somebody walks past a crowded gallery, they too want to take part. In an exhibition that I curated last year, a passer-by saw that tea and biscuits were being served in bright Union Jack china. Upon walking through the show cup and saucer in hand, he discovered the solution to a problem: the perfect work of art for his boardroom, a space he had been seeking to fill for no less than seven years.
So when planning your art show, think about what events you will hold, confirm the ability to hold these before committing to a hired space, and include these occasions in your marketing materials from day one.