Our third Living from Art exhibition took place at Parabola Arts Centre from 2 – 5 June, with 12 different member artists exhibiting a wide range of art, cards and merchandise. I want to reflect on this exhibition: the new lessons I’ve learnt and which insights from the last time have been confirmed. I hope this will be of interest to all artists thinking about their own exhibitions as well as the people who enjoy visiting art exhibitions and want to learn more about them from the artists’ and curator’s viewpoint.
Once again, I am very grateful for the support we received from Cheltenham Ladies College, Eve Jardine-Young, Pauline Stead, and Hannah Dwyer who made this opportunity possible. The Parabola Art Centre is a beautiful venue and a wonderful place to show the work to best advantage. I was also delighted that, despite it being half term, a number of staff and pupils from CLC visited us over the 4 days. I hope these connections will grow further.
As for the previous exhibition, the dates were confirmed and the whole thing planned in a very short space of time, due to the ever-changing Covid situation. Once again, we had restrictions on numbers, masks required and temperature checks on entry and fortunately no need to use the contact details we collected for track and trace. I sensed a weary acceptance of all this as part of life, but I, for one, long to greet people without a mask and offer them refreshments and the opportunity to sit and stare or chat in groups for as long as they want, without our stewards having to keep an eye on numbers and social distancing. I know the uncertainty of where we will be and what is going to be possible during the coming months has been a real challenge for us all. Accepting uncertainty and a lack of control is a hard lesson – but I think artists are naturally resilient people who have always welcomed change and therefore the opportunity for growth.
We had a wonderful range of artists – in the nature of their work, their experience of exhibiting and whether they had a defined style/body of work or wanted to share the variety of work they created. At this exhibition, almost everyone offered greeting cards and prints as well as a range of pieces of different sizes and prices. We missed having glass and jewellery as part of the offer, but for the first time we were able to offer visitors textile art, scarves, bags, cushions and lampshades, and these were all popular purchases.
I was very proud of the number of comments I received about the professional appearance and organisation of the exhibition and how much people enjoyed the variety of work available. It was a great opportunity to find the artist whose work really ‘speaks to you’ and maybe the styles or mediums that don’t move you in the same way. For artists visiting it was a great opportunity to compare hanging arrangements, framing, and pricing.
Living from Art membership is for any artist, at any stage of development in both their artistic and business journey. Any Living from Art exhibitions need to be an opportunity for all my members, especially those who have not previously exhibited with us. Many experienced members were unable to take part because they were committed elsewhere. It demonstrates just how hard artists work to line up a programme of exhibitions – solo and shared. I am delighted at the different formal and informal groups and networks being set up for the purpose of exhibiting. For this exhibition we had a good mixture of people who were new to Parabola and those who had been there before and this certainly added to the camaraderie and mutual support - a great thing to have for any exhibition! Opportunities for everyone and building a strong community of artists have always been part of Living from Art’s guiding principles.
The purpose of an exhibition is to share the work with other people and sell some of it! Someone buying a piece of art is both a validation that your work has value for others, and also a financial imperative for most artists. I’ve learnt from my exhibitions and from conversations with artists that you really can’t tell who is actually going to buy a piece, but even so, the potential for sales at an exhibition is about getting enough of the people who might buy a piece to visit. I’m certainly still working on this! If I had the magic recipe to attract buyers to my exhibitions, then my membership would be huge!
It’s also about making every visitor feel welcome and aware their support is valued, whether they’ve had a chat with the artist or bought ‘just a card’. Hopefully, they will have taken the artists details with them and left their own details, so they will get interesting newsletters updating them about the artists’ work and future exhibitions. This can never be a perfect process – and getting the balance between encouraging this and making people feel uncomfortable is a fine one, and things get lost at busy times, but I felt we had taken a step forward at this exhibition. I am very grateful to everyone who visited the exhibition and gave me their details, and hope people will find my ‘Art Supporters’ newsletters interesting and worth subscribing to as well as a couple of planned monthly meetings that will be of interest to Art Supporters as well as artists. If you would like to join, contact me through the website and tell me you are an art supporter rather than an artist, so I only send you relevant stuff.
The value of inviting people who personally know you, want to support you and like your work was very evident at the exhibition. Our top-selling artist had a steady stream of visitors asking for her in person. Many of these people had been contacted through personal emails, phone calls and face to face conversations, rather than social media. I know some people feel their personal contacts and sales ‘don’t really count’ and feel uncomfortable about inviting their friends and colleagues. I understand where the feeling comes from, but all of these visitors I talked to were pleased to be told about the exhibition and delighted with their purchases.
There are certainly figures quoted about the effectiveness of email communication rather than social media, but social media still has to be a very important part of marketing an exhibition. Of course in a group of 12, not every artist has the same appetite or skill for social media, but I know we moved up a notch marketing the exhibition this time, particularly with using a unique hash tag, sharing the same images at the same time, and reposting each other’s work. We were also fortunate to have artists able to put together and share videos. Even my bad ones had noticeably more hits than my static posts. I’m really pleased to be offering a monthly meeting on using video to promote and sell art on 15 July, with video professional Pam Jones from eight-interactive.com. I have great expectations for our videos at the next Living from Art exhibition.
And finally – the weather! I am used to commiserating with artists who have several days of their exhibition almost wiped out by torrential rain. It shows what a difficult and risky business putting on an exhibition can be, and how artists need to be ready for a lot of ups and downs. However, I have now widened my view of bad weather for an exhibition. It seems when the sun is beating down on a glorious Saturday, many people just want to sit in their gardens or a local park, and it certainly reduces visitor numbers,
My grateful thanks to everyone who did visit – on Saturday or any of the days or evenings we were open. Thank you also to all the artists who took part – you were a great group to work with and I wish you all the very best.
Anna Poulton Living fromArt