I do a lot of art shows. Most are successful, some are so-so, a few get bumped from my list. I have often pondered what makes a show successful. Better minds than mine have written volumes on the subject. However, I have a few thoughts.
There are countless factors that have an impact on a shows success or failure. Is it a good area? do the promoters advertise well? is it a good mix of artists? is there good parking? is it easy to find? Weather is always important and unknown at the time the show is set. Even really good weather can decrease attendance, especially if it is right after a spate of bad weather.
One consistent thing that I think has possibly the biggest impact on a show is the artists self-promotion. What? The artists? We are paying to be in the show! Our art is supposed to be the draw! It's the job of the promoters we pay to bring in the crowds, to choose the right mix of artists, etc., etc.
One-on-one and word of mouth beats any form of advertising.
If every artist collected emails, was active on Facebook, promoted the show to their respective crowd (friends, customers, church groups, social groups, civic groups, etc.) via whatever methods make sense to them then we'd have packed shows.
Note the word "every" in that first sentence. Many of us are great at spreading the word. Many of us, maybe more than many, aren't. We never think about it, see it as the job of the organizer, aren't social, don't see the importance and on and on the list of reasons goes...
Think about a show with 100 vendors. If every participant put out flyers, sent out emails, posted on our fan pages, sent out photos via Instagram, mailed post cards, etc., then we could potentially reach thousands...and thousands. Combine that with what the organizers are doing and you have a real crowd of interested buyers.
My neighbor at the last show I did sent out post cards. I was amazed at just how many people mentioned they'd received the post cards. Some bought, some didn't. I noted that some who didn't had art they'd purchased from other artists. I didn't get a chance to talk with him but I'd bet he has lists that are organized by city and simply pops something out to that list.
These days a snail-mail card can have a lot more of an impact than emails! You don't even have to mail them if it's a local show. Hand them out. Put them on bulletin boards at your gym, etc. Make them on your computer, print them on your home printer to save money.
I've heard some say that they don't want to keep asking their friends to come buy their work, they already have enough. Tell them about the other artists. Yikes, promote someone else? I want them to buy from ME, me, me. But you've already said they're overloaded with your art. But if the artist across from you did the same thing then maybe their friends and customers would buy from you.
I love looking at other artists work. I love it when I hear that one of my customers also bought from someone else. I love it when I hear that a fellow artist recommended my art.
Many have a difficult time patting themselves on the back. It's easy to talk glowingly about another artist. We've often joked at shows that maybe we should all switch tents, sell for each other! I'm not saying to send a jewelry buyer of yours to another jeweler (although sometimes that is good), but you can sure promote a painter or fabric artist.
Our outreach and involvement in selling our art is very important. Simply being a fabulous artist isn't going to move a piece from your studio to a new owner's home or office. We have to be pro-active.
Side note: Choosing the right show for our art also falls on the artists. A show can be great for one artist and horrible for another. We
learn from doing shows or doing good research prior to choosing a show. A show that turns out to be bad for us doesn't necessarily mean the show is bad or the promoters didn't do their job. Sometimes we're just not doing our homework...or maybe we did and the stars just didn't align for us.
Thoughts on Organizers / Promoters
It is true that the promoters or organizers should advertise. There are many ways of reaching out and the show organizers I know do an outstanding job of marketing their shows. It is essential that they do as much as they can. But if you really think about how you look at advertisements you'll soon realize how difficult that task might be, especially if you start adding up the cost to advertise.
Newspapers --- how do you scan the paper, if you read it at all these days? How many ads do you see? News articles are the best, especially if they have photos. We tend to look and read those with pictures.
On-line --- do you look at those Facebook ads along the sidebar or that are in the middle of your news feed? Do you see the ads that are at the top or on the sidebars of the news site you view? If they pop up do you immediately click that little x to make them go away?
Billboards --- do you drive the route where the billboard happens to be? Do you ignore them on your commute? If you happen to see them how often do you manage to read the info? write it down? remember it when you get home? Do you even live anywhere near the route?
Mailers --- these might be one of the better methods if it's a stand-alone postcard. But who should the promoter mail the cards to? the area around the venue? their lists (probably)?
Email --- nice as it goes to those who've signed up, have an interest. But if the list is the same one that received info about the last ten shows how likely is it that they'll buy your art this time if they didn't the last time.
TV --- costly. Not to mention it's almost impossible to figure out which station to advertise on...and when. For many those 3-minute ad breaks are for making a drink, running to the bathroom or switching over to another station to see what we're missing.
Radio --- how many stations are there these days? do you push the button on the radio to another station when an ad comes on? or tune out?
I didn't list all the methods organizers use to get the word out. Given the overwhelming numbers of ways to advertise these days you can go broke trying to reach "our" market!
My main purpose in making that list of ways to advertise was to get you thinking about what kind of advertising reaches you. You might scan the newspaper from cover to cover but your neighbor on the left who is an avid art buyer trashes them along with every other piece of advertising that comes in the mail. Your other art-loving friend only does Facebook and social media but ignores the ads. Some never watch TV. Some only listen to one or two radio stations. You get the idea. Ask ten people what reaches them and you'll get a wide range of answers including "nothing".
That's why I think it's up to us to do our part. We can't sit back in this world where we are bombarded with ads and simply leave it up to the organizer.