Success Story: An Artist’s Collective Turns the Corner

The CLIENT

The arts economy in New England in general and Greater Boston in particular, is significant.  ArtsBoston, a 175-member not-for-profit arts service organization that researches  important statistics regarding the local arts community, found that more than 18 million visits are made to arts and cultural events every year, ticketed and free events, including dance, musical and theater performances; visits to museums and art galleries; and attendance at ethnic cultural festivals.

It has been my pleasure to work with two of the three most respected collectives of visual artists in Boston including the largest, whose membership exceeds 200.  Eighteen months ago,  the larger organization referred to me the smaller, 80-member, loosely  affiliated sister organization. The two have overlapping memberships, where nearly the entire membership of the smaller are also members of the larger group.  The membership of both collectives consists primarily of painters, sculptors and photographers, with a smattering of ceramacists and artisans such as bookbinders and calligraphers. Management for each group is separate and independent.

All artists in the collectives maintain studios in an art and design district consisting of several 19th century former warehouse buildings and the artists of the smaller collective are all located in one of those buildings.

Both collectives offer nearly identical special events programming as a method to reach out to potential art collectors.  Each holds an annual open studios art walk event, where member artists open their studios and invite the public in at no charge to see, discuss and when visitors choose, purchase artwork.  Since 1986, the larger group has held its signature open studios event in September and the smaller group holds its annual event in May.  Additionally, since about 1998, the smaller group has held the monthly open studios event branded as First Friday.

The CHALLENGE

The smaller arts collective was facing increasingly diminished audiences for First Fridays, which are held on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 – 9:00 PM January through December.  Attendance at its May open studios event was likewise softening. Artist membership in the group had stagnated.

Competition between the local artist collectives has in recent years become intense, the result of a proliferation of open studios events that has diluted the target audience of middle class to affluent collectors who reside in the tonier city and suburban enclaves.  Boston has 22 neighborhoods and 12 annual open studios events, with dates coordinated by the city and held from April to November each year.  Additionally, nearly every city or town contiguous to Boston, plus numerous outlying suburbs, have over the years launched open studios art walks.  In July and August the action moves to the historic summer artist colonies in MA, including Cape Ann, Provincetown and towns in the Berkshire mountains that beckon to vacationers from around the country.

The DECISION

The collective is managed by two member volunteers.  They reached out to their counterparts in the larger organization and asked how that group managed to maintain attendance for its annual open studios event, which has reversed previously declining numbers.

Within two weeks I met with the leaders of the smaller collective and after listening to their story,  recommended that an energized marketing plan would most likely provide the remedy.  Over the past three or four years,  a shortage of time and a dose of complacency had caused the managers to slack off on marketing their events to the target audience.  Recently, First Fridays had been listed in only one print and three online events listing services.

Member art sales were shrinking because fewer collectors or potential collectors visited studios.  Membership in the collective was dropping slowly, as artists re-examined the value of the collective at renewal time.  Operating income was negatively impacted. Artist participation in First Fridays waned, which could only cause the target audience attendance to wane.  It was an impending death spiral.

The SOLUTION

A comprehensive and consistently implemented marketing campaign was launched in an increased number of targeted print and online media outlets, which was the core of a strategy to greatly improve outreach to collectors and potential collectors.  More visits to studios would enhance the possibility of art sales and promote the conversion of aspiring collectors to collector status.  Over the subsequent months, additional media outlets were identified and included in the campaign.  Presently, 14 online media outlets and five print outlets now carry the First Friday listings each month and the listing for the annual open studios event in May.

A paid display ad (one-quarter page) will now appear annually in a free print publication that has high readership among tourists to Boston, since outreach to that group has become a priority.  To estimate the potential impact of tourist dollars on contemporary art sales in Boston, in 2016 the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, which features 21st century art only, received 210,000 visitors, according to the Boston Business Journal (and the Museum of fine Arts, the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science each received in excess of 1.1 million visitors).

Content marketing is also part of the campaign launch, designed to reach the collective’s members and non-members through the collective’s newsletter.  Membership retention and recruitment are in many ways the heart of the marketing campaign for without active and engaged members who believe in the mission and are happy to carry it out, the collective will cease to exist.

The monthly newsletter now includes a member artist spotlight that features an image of the artist’s work plus a brief artist bio.  The artists volunteer to participate and the response has been enthusiastic.  As a way to persuade the 10 -15 non-members in the building of the collectives’ benefits, an annual newsletter customized to provide an update of the work that the collective’s members find especially useful and making an appeal to join is now being sent.

The RESULT

The number of visitors to First Fridays has gradually climbed to about 500 on average each month.  As documented by the managers, historic lows occur in January and February, when attendance can dip as the temperature drops, the snow piles up and only 200 or so art aficionados will attend First Friday.  Months with the highest visitors are April through June and September through December, when up to 700 visitors may appear.

Membership in the collective has risen over the past 12 months from just over 70 to 80 members.  There remains 10 -15 artists in the building who are non-members.  The group hopes that one or two non-members will sign up each year.

I hope you enjoyed the case study.  Thanks for reading.

Kim

 

 

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Case Study and Client Success Story

It is cause for celebration when your Freelance consulting expertise helps a client to achieve important objectives.  In previous postings I’ve recommended that you add to your website,  LinkedIn or Google +  sites case studies,  which are client success stories,  to demonstrate how you work with clients and the excellent outcomes that are realized when you arrive on the scene.

Business strategy development,  facilitation of business strategy meetings and marketing campaign development  (that is sometimes the result of a business strategy meeting that I’ve facilitated)  are my consulting specialties.  Special event and conference planning,  along with event marketing PR,  is an important niche market.  Also,  I develop curriculum and present workshops in business plan writing,  sales skills training and networking skills training.   My client list consists of small and medium-sized for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and except for teaching,  I connect with clients through referrals and personal introductions.

"Cooling Water"

“Cooling Water”

In November 2011,  a friend introduced me to the artist.  She is mixed-media collage painter and occasionally,  she sculpts brightly colored decorative bowls.  Her work had been featured in a small local museum that is far from the tourist areas and in solo or group shows in modest art galleries.  Over the years,  the artist had received several opportunities to enhance her career,  but she was often unable to follow-up and many slipped through her fingers.  Members of the creative class tend to have little energy available for business strategy and marketing.

She sold a few original paintings and her prints and decorative bowls sold reasonably well,  as did the greeting cards that featured images of her paintings.  The artist had recently earned a career victory,  when she was named the coordinator for a community arts initiative that is based at her alma mater.  She asked to meet with me.

We discussed her primary goal,  identified potentially promising opportunities and made a list of objectives that would serve as milestones.  Solo and group shows at more prestigious galleries,  an exciting offer to illustrate a children’s book published by a small local house and the formal launch of the arts project of which is coordinator were the defining objectives.

A business strategy and marketing campaign that would guide her choice of projects to accept or pursue,  to advance the primary goal of upgrading her brand and attracting higher-end collectors,  was developed and implemented.  Integral to the campaign was a revised marketing message and PR communications strategy.

The ArtMobile encourages local children to be creative

The ArtMobile encourages children’s creativity

Good results came quickly and serendipitous fortune appeared.  The university agreed to sponsor a big launch party for the arts project.  Outreach to the local cable television network led to the artist’s appearance on a talk show.  Two gallery shows were scheduled and offers for two more came in,  when gallerists who had been acquainted with her work,  but had not been moved to offer her a show,  learned of her affiliation with the community arts project.

One of those galleries is located in Martha’s Vineyard,  in the town where the President and First Lady,  who are known to be art lovers,  vacation.  The artist’s paintings sold well in Summer 2012 and she was invited to show her work there again this summer.  We have our fingers crossed and hope that the Obamas visit the gallery.

To review and evaluate the book illustration contract,  I referred to the artist an acquaintance of mine who is an intellectual property attorney and he gave the thumbs-up.  Because the book is based on a historical figure,  the artist felt that period research would be essential to her creative process.

I contacted a local college that has a well-regarded library and information science master’s degree program.  Within two weeks,  I was able to speak with four potential candidates who both concentrate on that period and have an interest in art.  I sent them to the artist for interviews and she hired two: one to perform research for the book and the other to catalogue her archive of paintings.

On the evening of July 3,  the artist hosted a large opening reception and birthday party at a restaurant that is now displaying several of her prints.  I contacted a pastry chef and asked him to create a special cake for the occasion,  a cake that depicted one of the artist’s paintings in butter cream frosting.  He chose to portray  “Never Walk Alone”.  A local newspaper was contacted and the editor sent a photographer.  Guests were wowed by the cake.  It was beautiful to behold and delicious!

The artist and the pastry chef

The artist, the pastry chef and the cake

The crowning milestone achievement was reached on July 16, 2013,  when the artist was sworn in as a committee member of the Boston Arts Commission,  a 123-year-old agency that chooses the art that will be displayed on City of Boston property.  This prestigious honor is a 5 year appointment.  The artist was nominated for the appointment by the arts association in the neighborhood where she has lived since childhood.  She leads art walk tours that highlight the distinctive architecture,  cultural institutions and public art in her neighborhood.

Swearing-in at the Boston Arts Commission

Swearing-in at the Boston Arts Commission

Signing appointment documents

Signing her appointment documents

Thanks for reading,

Kim