Monday, January 16, 2012

Artists Face the Economy

Artists use the tools of business to meet the market challenges of the economic slump.

Artists Andy Moerlein (L: Yearning) and Donna Dodson (R: Cardinal) are building a market for their work despite the slow economy. They are proving that they can succeed in the creative market by applying the tried and true methods of commercial enterprise: build name recognition, seek clients outside the familiar gallery setting, keep the attention of their established collector base, look for overseas opportunities, and encourage brand loyalty.

For the past two years the artists have been showing at Gallery Ehva in Provincetown MA. Dodson had an established reputation in this vital arts community, but Moerlein was a newcomer on the scene. To assure the newly established gallery was frequented by the important eyes on the cape, gallery Director Ewa Nogiec invited Moerlein to install several of his large outdoor sculptures in front of the gallery. These notable marks on the roadside art scene drew attention and sales.

Both artists recognized the value of the Provincetown Art Association Museum to the culture of the community and became members, adding their work to the annual shows and contributing to fundraisers. To enrich her familiarity with the collector base on the cape that frequented Gallery Ehva, Dodson took regular trips south from her home in Jamaica Plain for receptions and networking opportunities. She made over a dozen trips to meet interested people, be with peer artists and contribute socially to gallery events. Print ads by Dodson and Moerlein increased foot traffic inside the gallery. Each of these very active investments contributed to the artist's recognition in the community and generated an interest in their work.

Both artists have blogs and maintain extensive email networks They actively seek out interesting community leaders and engage them in conversations about art. Dodson is a connector for Boston World Partnership and Moerlein created a large scale art installation as part of the Concord NH Chamber of Commerce dinner. A fan of her work, businessman and designer Joseph Knight created a line of jewelry based on Dodson's elephant carvings. This relationship has lead to social and exhibition opportunities in the fashion centers of major cities. Exposure to a nontraditional art clientele has proven to be an education for both the artists and the fashion enthusiasts encountered.

Dodson and Moerlein sought opportunities overseas and were invited to a sculpture residency in Verbier Switzerland. The trip was an exceptional opportunity to experience how a small but dynamic mountain village invested in art. Community visionaries recognized that internationally acclaimed artists building sculptures in the heart of downtown could serve as an economic engine to awaken a quiet early summer season. This region of the Alps is known as a destination for alpine skiing, trekking and the renowned Verbier Music Festival. The residency is seen as a cultural draw for the quiet early summer months, as well as an all-season tourist attraction. This vision has resulted in the worlds highest mountain sculpture park.

Upon their return from Switzerland Dodson and Moerlein had a rich body of experiences they hoped to share with other artists, their collectors and curious curators. They invited eight artists who had traveled to make art in similar settings to a panel discussion on international residencies and symposia. The aim was not only to build a deeper dialogue about art as an economic and business catalyst, but also to connect diverse art interests in one room. Attendees included a representative from the state arts council, board members from a variety of nonprofit arts organizations, educators and business leaders. In a quiet economy, this diverse population of interests needs to gather and share information on how the arts can prove to be an catalyst for community growth. Moerlein and Dodson felt the outreach kept their international activities on the radar of people in the community who could most impact future opportunities.

Currently Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein each have solo shows at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Avenue. Boston Sculptors Gallery is a cooperative gallery. Each artist plans their shows and publicity with only limited structural support. The single part time gallery employee helps with ideas and address lists, gallery members share in the gallery web site and press dissemination, but individual artists are tasked with making their show as success.

In the lead up to this show the artists have put together an ambitious series of incentives aimed at reaching a deep audience. To meet their business goals Dodson and Moerlein presented a teaser exhibit at Gallery Ehva in Provincetown MA this summer. They advertised both on the cape as well as in the broader New England art market covered by ArtScope Magazine. This exposure caught the attention of art critic Elizabeth Michelman who wrote an article about the couple's solo reputation and collaboration works. By fall there was good attention on the upcoming shows. The goal is to draw a familiar crowd out by assuring that they are aware of the shows and curious about the new body of work these two artists have spent the past two years creating. In a debut show, sales are very important to growing the reputation of an artist such as Moerlein whereas for Dodson, repeat sales on the heels of a successful first show solidify the market value of the new work.

A Facebook presence was key to their plan. The artist community is active. Images of their work in progress drew lively commentary that contributed to the ideas the artists were developing. These social network contacts often grew into dialogue and friendships. Both artists also use email notice to keep a large contact base informed of their concepts and works in progress.

Moerlein's home studio in Bow NH draws an audience from a very different network than the one Dodson has cultivated in Jamaica Plain. To draw their fan base close in the lead up to the show, the artists began a series of dinners and brunches. As with the audience of their panel discussion, the invited guests were selected from a diverse spectrum of community leaders. Increased sales were not a direct goal of these social events. Increased dialogue within these often isolated studio practices was important to the artists and they trusted that using a business model of increased visibility would have increased yield. The reputations exposed by their panel discussion, news articles and several visible commissions allowed the artists to send invitations to well established artists, important museum curators, busy collectors and generate a generous outpouring of well designed social events. The six meals were attended by over seventy five dynamic arts invested community leaders, most of who met together for the first time.

As part of one of these gatherings a bank president suggested that he would like to organize an event in the gallery, featuring the artists. He offered to bring notable clients from his community if Moerlein and Dodson could bring an interesting group of fellow sculptors for an exciting mixer. This event is an unexpected consequence of the pre-show social gatherings.

This week the artists set up their work in the gallery. They are both satisfied that they have laid the solid foundation for a successful show. Their preparation included the usual press releases to all the important news venues, but they also used the tools of good business:

1. Name recognition: Preview show, ads and articles in news venues, blog and Facebook presence.

2. Seek clients outside the familiar gallery setting: Invite creative arts board members to talks and meals. Travel overseas and build friendships/creative communities. Identify arts friendly business people and engage their interest and enthusiasm. Attend events such a fashion previews so they can learn from a similar, yet unconnected business model.

3. Build brand loyalty: The diners and brunches were well attended by collectors who owned the artist's work and by curators who had featured the artists in shows or collections.

4.Create a buzz: The artists understand that in the current economic climate an exciting preview and full frontal presence on social media are required to leverage reluctant investors. Their email lists are broadly selected and their postcards were mailed to an audience that has been chosen for reputation growth as well as future cultivation.

Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein have made a determined effort to create a show that is not just an opportunity to present their work, but is also a vehicle for success beyond the sculpture shown. They are inspired to awaken a fan base that will take notice and grow with them as they build a career in a most unstructured creative market during an unsettled economic present.

1 comment:

  1. A version of this very article was published on today...Congratulations Donna!