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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Suggestions for Plein Air Painting Festival Organizers

At the Opening Reception for the 2014 Grand Canyon Celebration of Art

To go along with my post on Etiquette for Artists at Plein Air Painting Festivals, which was directed at the artists, I thought it only fair to offer suggestions to the organizers of these events, too.  This is a more difficult task, considering that every event is different with its own agenda and goals.  However, I have some general suggestions that might be helpful.  Some of you already do these things; but if you don't, please consider them.  Much of it boils down to giving buyers long and plentiful opportunities to purchase paintings for a successful event.

  • First, if you haven't learned to delegate, learn.  This will avoid burn-out during the event.  Some organizers take on too much.
  • Limit the number of participating artists.  More artists means more paintings for sale, which, in a limited market, means fewer sales per artist, and that means unhappy artists.   Thirty may be too many for even a national event; try going with no more than twenty-five.
  • Don't wait to publicize your artists.  As soon as you have your roster, advertise it.  The earlier you can get their names out there, the better.
  • Offer free housing for artists.  For many festivals, artists dig into their own pockets for travel expenses and meals.  Free housing, especially in tourist areas at high season when rates are up and availability, down, will be most welcome.  Also, the interaction between artists and hosts can lead to new collectors.
  • Display artwork in your show space for the entire event, not just during the reception and sale.  This will lengthen the opportunity for sales.  Artists can bring artwork created earlier, and paintings made during the week can add to it or replace it.  This gives a changing and continuous display to create interest during the event.
  • Schedule artist demonstrations during the event to promote it and to educate the public.  They are a great way to build awareness and interest in the event.
  • Have an auction event.  You can really ratchet up prices this way and generate a sense of urgency.  Starting bids should be reasonable, however.  But don't try playing auctioneer yourself; get a professional.  Make sure he is prepared to read a short, written bio of the artist.  Don't let him do it from memory, unless you like the surprises a faulty memory can create.
  • For the exhibit, evaluate the display floor carefully.  If there is any clearly inferior area,  don't display art there.   This will avoid limiting some poor artist's sales opportunity.  As much as possible, artists should have equal access, lighting and display space.  Beware of corners, structural posts that could become barriers, etc.

  • Let artists hang their own work, but with rules and under supervision.  (You may want work hung only so high, or only so many pieces per artist.)  This will eliminate complaints from artists about how paintings are hung.  It will also make it easier on the volunteers, who are always very busy toward the end of the festival.
  • Keep the buffet table and bar far away from the display area to give maximum access to artwork.  You don't want twenty people crowded around the bar, blocking an artist's work.
  • Have plenty of sales people on the floor.  I don't like having to hunt down a sales person because my buyer might change his mind while I'm gone.  Nor do I like having to drag the buyer along with me on the hunt; I want to be available at my paintings for the next buyer.
  • Announce awards at the beginning of the opening reception, not at the end.  This will give people a chance to see the winning paintings and to make purchase decisions early on. 
  • Make sure you have purchase awards to guarantee sales.  I personally would prefer this to having a ribbon to hang next to the unsold painting in my studio.
  • Finally, when it's all over, select and advertise dates for the next event immediately.  Build on the interest you've generated before it fades.

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