Crowds were nonexistent and shoppers scarce at the annual event. We didn’t know if it were the weather, the timing or something else that kept people away.
So the day loomed long and boring unless we could come up with ways to make something from a very slow cultural event. So we brainstormed lemonade ideas for artists at a slow art event. And then we spoke to some artists and arts experts for theirs. Here’s our list:
Create new art. Start new paintings, or finish a few embroidered pieces. Create rings or make a stack of mini paintings. Sketch ideas or capture the beautiful scene outside your tent. Live paint and make it a visible draw. Any of these uses your time effectively and also may entice the few guests to stop and watch your creative process.
Practice your pitch. Ask the artist next to you to serve as your faux customer and work on your customer engagement approaches. Or spend extra minutes with the few real guests who stop by, asking questions and trying out new ways to share your story and sell your work.
Look busy. "You want to keep the energy in your booth positive because you never know who is going to walk by next and want to buy your work. The trick is to not look bored or like you are waiting for the next person to pounce on,“ says Kristin Perkins, a glass and silver jeweler from Ypsilanti who has served as a Mint Artists mentor. Here’s her busy work: label packaging boxes or bags, replace worn looking price tags, polish jewelry, organize supplies, dust cases, tidy the booth. The trick though is to be busy but also approachable, and not too engaged in the tasks so customers will still talk to you.
Discover the busy best events. Visit other artists in the event, and ask them about their best shows, and why. Remember to ask if they’ve been at the event a few years. It’s easy to shine in your first year at a fair and you are seeking one where artists consistently earn good money.
Compare prices and displays. While you’re wandering around, compare prices on art or creative work that is similar to yours. If the artist has a wonderful display, ask if you could take a few photos. Just be respectful of their needs. "Don’t stand in front of the focal point of other artists booth,” said Mary Strope, artists coordinator for Integrity Shows and a long-time art events expert. (Integrity Shows is a major supporter of Mint Artists Guild, and invites us to a number of art fairs and events.)
Hold a contest or giveaway. Maybe it’s a small original painting or a lesson in jewelry making. “People are naturally interested in winning something,” wrote Carolyn Edlund, an arts educator and owner of ArtsyShark blog And you will collect emails for your e-letter list as people sign up for the contest.
Write thank yous or invitations. Bring along a dozen thank you notes or postcards for your next big event. Set a goal of writing to three or five customers who purchased from you in the last three months, an appreciation or a few notes on caring for the creative work they bought. If you are emailing them, ask for their home address so next time you may mail them a card or note. (Just remember not to get too engaged in this; look up regularly from your writing or typing.)
Perkins, the jewelry artist, shared a list of activities to skip, no matter how slow the show. She would never “text on my phone, talk on my phone, engage in private conversations with other artists, read a book, sit and stare, work on my computer. These actions signal to patrons that nobody is buying your work, you are bored, negative, unprofessional, too busy to engage them.”
She and others also caution never to leave an event early, no matter how slow. “If a patron is coming specifically to see you, you will appear unprofessional if you leave early. I keep telling myself we never know who will walk by next,” she said.
We’ve experienced that at Mint Artists too. One artist grew very discouraged on the first day as nothing sold. But on Day 2, she pushed to show interest and a positive attitude, and sold several hundred dollars in paintings in just a few hours.
(copyright c Vickie Elmer, 2016, for Mint Artists Guild )