What Happens Next Artist Shares More About Planning an Art Show

May 2024, by Scott Obernberger

In the last issue, I started writing about all the things that go into organizing, planning, and running an art fair. 

There is so much we take for granted as artists because we do not see what goes into putting together an art fair. Last time, I touched on working with your municipality, checking ordinances, trying to appeal to artists, and estab­lishing rules for the event to help assure everyone’s success and safety.  

In this issue, my focus includes marketing — both to artists and potential customers — as well as setting up a jury panel, working on getting volunteers, and establishing artist amenities. Jefferson’s Best Dam Art Fair is not going to organize itself you know, so let’s go! 

I Wanna Dance With Somebody 

Art fairs do not just advertise to find customers, they also advertise to attract artists. Each requires a different approach.  

Artists want to know that partici­pating in your show will be worth their time and energy. There are only so many weekends each year, and doing your show means they will not be doing others.  

So, how does one attract artists? Advertise using as many sources as possible, communicate what you will be providing, and repetition.  

First, team up with other organiza­tions and artist groups. By doing so you broaden your reach, and those groups will help you get the word out. Our organization, the Jefferson Main Street Association, Inc., has partnered with the city of Jefferson and the Arts Alliance of Greater Jefferson.  

By working with the Arts Alliance, an organization that runs the plein-air art competition and the public art project every year, both of our organizations benefit by sharing our knowledge and experience about putting together events. We can get the word out to more artists, and our odds of making the event a success improve. 

Reach out to other artist organizations to let them know about the event and ask them to promote it to their members. Most organizations are looking for opportunities that could benefit their members, so let them know about yours.  

Obtain lists of potential artists and send out emails announcing the event. Just like customers must see an ad multiple times before they see it, artists are no different.  

Do not be afraid to send them out to the same list every couple of weeks. I understand there is a fear people could feel badgered (sorry, I had to work in a shameless Wisconsin plug), but the real­ity is artists get tons of emails announc­ing show opportunities every day. If we are not interested or are unavailable, we delete them.  

No one is going to become outraged by being asked to be a part of an event. I often get an email for a show, think it might be one I am interested in, set it aside, and then forget about it. The second or third invite reminds me to get the application in, and then I act on it.  

Use traditional social media to get the word out. While your audience on Facebook is extremely broad, you can tailor boosts to try to get your ad in front of artists and those interested in art.  

This is an inexpensive way to get the word out. You also get a second benefit with social media advertising — your message begins to reach potential customers as well! By doing this early, you improve your chances of convincing artists to take part, because they see you are already working to get them customers. 

Hungry Like the Wolf 

As artists, what is the primary reason we do an art show? For me, the single most important amenity is a solid turn­out of customers who are looking to buy. 

Knowing a show promoter is working hard to reach those customers and trying to convince them to come to the show helps me make the decision about which one to do. As a businessperson, I want to know if the show I am participating in will provide me with the best chance of success. The more a show promoter advertises, the better my odds. 

When developing your advertising and marketing strategy, determine your demographic and your geographic audi­ence. Since we are about 35 miles east of Madison, 25 miles west of Milwaukee’s western suburbs, and 40 miles north of Rockford, Illinois, we set those as our target markets.  

By setting our advertising range to a 30- to 40-mile radius of each, they over­lap, and we end up covering our whole area and including our major population centers. As for our demographics, our focus is primarily women in the 30-70 age category. Most shoppers (and social media followers) fall within that group, so it is the most effective group to reach out to.  

Investigate which local newspapers and online news services have free calendar postings. You can often have community events included on those calendars for free — be sure to take advantage of the free media opportuni­ties available to you.  

Write a press release and get it out to your local media, as well as the media in your target markets. Your press release does not have to be a Shakespearean work of prose, but it does need to be upbeat, professional, and include the critical information — the what, who, when, where, and why about your event.  

Keep it to about a page and use quotes from your organization’s leaders to answer those questions. Many local newspapers are looking for positive, local news stories and are happy to write about your event. They are even more likely to print it if your press release writes the story for them.  

The primary methods of advertising have shifted over the years. It used to be flyers, posters, and newspaper ads. 

While those approaches still have some value (especially with crowds over age 50), their reach has dimin­ished as their costs have skyrocketed. Circulation rates for newspapers have dropped as internet use has become an everyday approach to gathering information. Still, do not forget about reaching out to your local newspapers, as the 50-plus crowd is a valuable crowd of potential customers.  

As with trying to reach artists, social media is the most cost-effective way to reach the public and your customer population as well. Create an Event Page on Facebook, post information about the event at least two to three months in advance, and do not be afraid to promote individual artists who will be participating in the show.  

Not only does this give customers a glimpse of what they will find, it shows artists you are truly working to promote them and help them succeed. When an art show posts my work online, it tells me it is a show that has my back, and I remember it.  

Lastly, be sure to develop a simple poster. It does not have to be expen­sive, and it is amazing what you can design on your own with all the free or low-cost software available. Distribute the posters throughout your communi­ty and your target markets. Marketing is the most critical task of any event, so be sure to spend a significant percent­age of your time and budget on this element. 

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