Interview with an Art Show Promoter

by Carolyn Edlund

Advice for exhibiting artists from a long-term show promoter and organizer.

Jodie Woodward is the owner and Show Director of the Virginia Beach Surf Art Expo. Each year she promotes the show and its artists by producing a calendar featuring their work. She agreed to give her viewpoint on the current state of retail shows and how artists can better market and sell their work.



AS: What mistakes do you see artists making in marketing themselves?

JW: Here’s a pet peeve of mine. Artists who have unprofessionally made websites are not doing themselves any favors. They should invest in a web designer if they don’t have the knowledge on how to create a website. There are plenty of freelance web designers out there – they are artists of their own trade. This is your electronic showroom – it’s that important!

I go to a lot of art shows to meet and find artists who meet the criteria for my event. If I am following up with an artist at a later date, and directed to their “contact page” from their website, it really bothers me if I have to fill in the blocks and give my info and then they will contact me. That’s defeating the purpose. I am the one trying to make the contact and can’t because they don’t have an email on their website or on their business card. Artists – actually anyone doing business – should be as accessible as possible for potential sales. What if a buyer is interested in purchasing their art? It doesn’t make sense.

AS: As a promoter, what are you doing to create visibility for individual artists, and also educate them on how to sell more work?

JW: To feature an artist, we select one person who designs the poster art and Official T-Shirt of the event. This creates a marketing profile for the individual artist. We continue to use their theme in our print advertising and event signage. We have a huge 15′ high x 35′ wide scaffolding where the artist’s work is transferred to the scrim that covers the scaffolding.

If I’m working with a new artist, I suggest they subscribe to Sunshine Artist Magazine. That trade publication really helped to get me on my feet. It’s a great resource. I still subscribe to this day and enjoy reading it and seeing what other shows are up to. I also recommend that the artist know about Etsy and Facebook. To be prepared for the event, I suggest that the artists have items for sale in every price range. You have to be accommodating for every customer in this economy.

AS: Do you know any success stories of artists who went above and beyond to create a lot of buzz and improve sales of their work?

JW: What comes to mind are the artists who set up demos and paint at my show.  People really like that and it motivates sales when they see how art is made. Not everyone can do that, it’s hard to stay focused on creativity and sales. In addition, the artist we select as the Official Poster and T Shirt design gets a lot of buzz as well. Being a surfing event in conjunction with the Virginia Beach Surf Art Expo along the boardwalk, we are capable of really blowing up this artist’s work that is very visible, due to the event signage is on a huge scaffold . It’s a focal point of the event. I love how delighted the artist is when they see their artwork at such a large scale.


Surf Art Show


AS: In this tough economy, exhibitors are critical of shows in general and concerned about their sales. What is your viewpoint on the current state of shows, and what have you found to be effective in gaining attendees and driving sales?

JW: Event attendance is down and so are sales nationally. We are all working twice as hard for less money. Economies are cyclical – we are just in it deep right now, but I am grateful that I can promote art in a beautiful setting with the Atlantic Ocean as our backdrop.

I’m fortunate that my event is in the heart of a resort town that has a substantial marketing budget and Memorial Day Weekend is one of the most promoted weekends as it launches the beginning of the summer season. The Steel Pier Classic & Surf Art Expo is held on this 3 day holiday weekend at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, so there is built in tourism traffic. The City of Virginia Beach resort and tourism department loves our event as it gives the tourists more to do. I showcase the local artists who live here – so that tourists can take home something handmade and remember their visit with a beautiful painting or artifact.

We also honor our military on Memorial Day Monday with a Paddle Out Ceremony and a moment of silence. A paddle out is when all surfers – children, parents, anybody who has a surfboard – takes a stemmed flower with them as they paddle out into the water and form a circle. We conduct the ceremony to remember those whom we have lost, and to pray for those who are fighting for our freedom. This is a very special part of our event.

We get a lot of tourists, although our attendance is 80% local. Surfing is a stong family event and there are surrounding neighborhoods that support us. Surfing is an art, several of my artists are surfers…..surfing, surf art…….it’s my passion to put the two together. There is something spiritual about the ocean that I’m drawn to. This is my contribution to the arts.


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  1. I asked my web designer about replacing the info boxes with my email address on the contact page, and she warned me that it would bring in a boatload of spam, since spam companies harvest emails from websites, which is why the other method is used. It may make contact a little more roundabout, but it’s actually a protective measure.

    • Hi Charlotte,

      Thanks for the feedback. I completely understand about the spam issue. All I was highlighting was that format is a little stand offish, and you are most likely missing good quality leads for your business. Your web designer can get around that spam issue and make your contact page more accessible. As long as you have anti virus in your email provider, you should be fine.

  2. Same here. I had my email address visible on each page of my website and used to receive a lot of spam. Removing it has made a big difference. Instead, I just the the contact page and list my phone #.

    • I agree about avoiding spam, but I also understand Jodie’s point. Some website owners have gotten around this issue by listing their addresses as websiteowner (at) website (dot) com.

  3. One thing that really peeves me about some artists websites is the old school “enter” site page. Don’t do it. Extra efforts to contact you or see your work will turn me off like lights in a storm. Also, do not fall for the splash or flash page. Very rarely is flash done well enough to make me want to wait out the load time.

    Also, it pays to know why we look for things on a web page in certain places. There is this thing called eye tracking. You don’t need to be an expert, just understand what it is and where to put things accordingly.

    I also think that shows need to be, over all, better juried and curated. That being said, it pays to know your audience. Same thing with your website. Know your audience.

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