In Part Two of her interview with Artsy Shark, Suzanne Connors, owner of SaxArt Gallery in North Carolina, talks about success, overexposure, and partnering with artists.
AS: What are some creative ways you brand and market your gallery and your artists?
SC: There are quite a few ways we do our branding and marketing, including:
- Using consistent logo and marketing tools
- Creating a whole experience at the gallery, making people feel welcome and comfortable.
- Coffee with artists every Saturday morning
- Using the gallery space for community outreach
- Summertime Outdoor Art Festival alongside the river (Saxart River-Walk Festival, 3rd Saturday of September, annually)
- Saturdays in Saxapahaw weekly Summer Farmers Market held in gallery parking lot
- Weddings and events in gallery space
- Plein Air Festival planned for Spring 2013
- Workshops and classes
- Annual Holiday Market Events
- Monthly Artists Receptions and Openings (1st Sundays 2-5 pm)
- Wine Bar opening in gallery “Meet Locker” (Jan 2013)
- Social media – regular postings
- Participation in community events/ Biz Group
AS: What is your experience in dealing with artists you feel are over-exposed?
SC: While the SaxArt Gallery does not require Artists to be Exclusive, we have had the experience of featuring artists who have in our minds oversaturated the local art scene. . . Being a destination gallery, this is very important when we plan an exhibit and an opening reception. Why would people travel to our gallery to see the work of an artist who is also showing in a location near their home, or in 2-3 locations within a 50 mile radius during the same month?
With this many exhibits, the artist cannot be fully present at any of the events – and unless this artist has produced a new body of work that is taking a new direction, the collector is not going to leave with an experience they remember. It all looks the same!
And if there are several concurrent exhibits, the artist shows up with several new pieces he just threw together in order to have enough work to display everywhere. How many exhibits will the artist’s contact list support within a short period of time? Surely, the artist’s contacts will not attend all the shows. This artist is relying on the gallery’s contacts to show up and purchase their art.
An opening reception costs the gallery quite a bit of money. There is the cost of postcards, postage, e-mail marketing, wall lettering, printing, music, food, wine, flowers and photography. There is the time involved to patch and paint walls, to curate the exhibit, and to reset the lighting. Inventory must be updated, and labels made. Somebody must prepare and circulate press releases, attend to the social media and clean the gallery. And then there is the promotion and selling of the work.
The night of the opening reception, the artist makes his appearance and stays an hour or so, then leaves to make it to another opening scheduled the same evening. Sometimes they do not even mention the exhibit on their website or Facebook page.
Like every business, we have learned by experience. We are now going to make tougher decisions on whose work we exhibit. We cannot afford to do this very many times and exist as a first class gallery. We cannot be just another place to show an artist’s work. The gallery needs to make money in order to survive and in order to do this we must make sales. To make sales, we must have collectors.
I work very hard promoting the art in the gallery and bringing people to Saxapahaw. I cannot afford for anyone who is not serious about working with us to take up valuable real estate in the gallery. I must be more selective over who gets the prime exhibit space in the gallery. I must have work that people will make the trip to come see- and it must not be the same thing they can purchase down the street.
On our website is the following, under a paragraph that asks who we are looking for. Even though it was originally written for a Co-Op Organization, I think that in order to be successful the same applies to the current Gallery:
– our dedication to making the Gallery and Art-Center a success is of the utmost importance!
– Who we are looking for: Talented Artists, Driven personalities, Inspirational Visionaries. Respectful Humans, people with a love of art, creativity, and common sense. Most of all artists who want to work with other artists to succeed.
AS: You give your collectors exemplary customer service, with excellent results. Could you list some of the ways you do that?
SC: Yes, I’ve listed some of them below:
- Letting collectors take artwork home to see if it works for their space.
- We have large works of art and are able to deliver and install sold work
- We have taken 3-4 pieces of large art to a collectors home, so they could see if the art worked in the setting. This has led to art sales.
- Customer referrals from free gift wrap
- Free design services leading to sales of art
- Sending suggested items to a customer after getting to know them; customer made purchase
- Repeat customers and referrals from customers who enjoyed the gallery
- Word of mouth advertising
- Gallery images sent to us from a photographer who shot a bridal shot in the gallery
- Reputation building
AS: What do artists need to know to make the best impression on a gallery?
SC: Do not just arrive at the gallery with your portfolio- Please follow gallery procedures for Gallery Application; this includes submitting the application, good images in proper format, complete bio and artist statement.
Once your application has been submitted, wait for the gallery to get back with you. Sometimes the gallery does not need a particular genre at the time you are applying, but they will at a later date. I always try to get back with an artist as soon as possible. The first and last weeks of the month are typically overloaded with taking down and setting up new exhibits. You are most likely to hear from us in the middle of the month.
If you are asked to bring in art for review, please bring work that is professionally framed, clean and ready to hang. Always take a hard copy of inventory and a CD with images of the art you are taking. Professional images are preferred and professional correspondence is appreciated.
Most galleries will have strict art delivery and pick-up dates. Please deliver and pick up work on the dates indicated. If you cannot deliver work by the scheduled drop off date, you will need to wait for the next cycle to be hung. In our gallery once I start curating a new exhibit, it is difficult to fit new pieces in the mix.
Just because a particular piece of your work is not hanging in the gallery at a given time does not mean it is not liked, or that you have been looked-over. When curating an exhibit, we try to hang every piece so that it complements the pieces on each side of it. It does not do either artists’ work justice to hang a piece of work for the sake of hanging it. There are extra pieces of work taken for inventory with every re-hang.
We try to use everything we can and have the show curate well. Until we start hanging, I do not know what will be hung. Plan to leave work at the gallery for the entire duration of the contact time. We cannot have artists taking work in and out. If the work is not in the gallery I cannot sell it.