Painting PR: How Professionals Market Art and Galleries

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Posted on December 4, 2015, at 6:40 p.m.
by Caroline Giddis.

Bright lights shine down on canvases with beautiful splashes of color. Stimulating works of art hang in the windows, inviting strangers to come inside. From the perspective of a local art gallery, does the work speak for itself, or has the art world finally accepted the need for public relations?

Over the last 20 years, the world of art communication has grown immensely. From artists to art galleries, there has been a change of heart about the need to directly promote their works. Many in the past have been passionate about the stance that “the artwork promotes itself” and that further publicity is unnecessary, if not somewhat desperate.

“For commercial galleries, which had just lurched their way through a recession [in the early 2000s], hiring a PR firm was considered an extravagance, and maybe even a little gauche; the received wisdom was that if a gallery had good artists and exhibitions, the press would come clamoring,” explained Rozalia Jovanovic in her Observer article “Believe the Hype: How PR Took the Art World.”

However, times have changed, and galleries now either fully employ a PR firm or have an in-house system of promotion. Companies such as FITZ & CO, A&O PR and Blue Medium have established themselves as big names in arts communication. Each has found success in representing anything from artists to art fairs, museums, galleries or events.

“It’s a completely different world,” said Sara Fitzmaurice, co-founder of FITZ & CO, in the Observer article. “You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the art world who would say they didn’t need PR.”

Mark Karelson, director of Mason Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia, explained that “constant contact” is key. Mason Fine Art performs all communication in house by sending press releases and harnessing social media.

Websites like Burnaway.org, “The Voice of Arts in the South,” allow galleries like MFA to connect with the Southern arts community. Burnaway’s website states “[our] mission is to provide coverage of the arts in and from Atlanta and the South, to support the vibrant creative communities in our region, and to increase national recognition of our region’s artists and organizations.”

ArtsATL.com is another website that connects artists, galleries and reviews all in one place for the city of Atlanta.

As for ways that galleries can continuously improve their communication, Karelson said, “Use more data-based systems to connect specific individuals with the type of art they prefer.” He also noted that “longer term planning” and “allowing for better strategic marketing” would bring galleries more success.

“The website is a huge part of our PR,” said Whit Geary, owner of View Gallery in Jackson, Mississippi. “It’s something that people can do by themselves. They can get acquainted with the work, maybe see some things they like, and have some questions ahead of time. It’s also a way for them to go back and ponder all the things that they saw and digest it, so that they feel like they made a good decision.”

Geary, who opened her gallery in April 2009, believes in the power of word of mouth promotion for her gallery.

“It works,” Geary said. “If you get this work in people’s homes, and they see how it looks or how it changed their sister’s living room or neighbor’s home, that goes far.”

As a local who started with an interior design business out of her home, Geary didn’t have much art experience at first. As she got to know more about local artists and saw the undeniable impact that artwork can have on a home’s atmosphere, she became more passionate about it. She believes in using community relationships in conjunction with marketing efforts. They work well hand-in-hand when it comes to the art world in a mid-size city.

“There are many people who should know that I’m around, and they just don’t sometimes,” Geary said. “That shows me that you really have to keep it alive; you can’t lay low. You have to keep it fresh in people’s minds. Sometimes it’s just the power of suggestion that I think carries things on.”

Geary said that there were times in the beginning when she used ad placements, but they showed no return on investment. That’s where various social media come in handy for View Gallery.

“It was very unusual for someone to walk in and say, ‘Oh, I saw that beautiful ad in a magazine and I wanted to come in and look.’ It just didn’t work like that,” Geary said. “But I could post a piece of art on Facebook and get commission in 15 minutes — it’s just crazy.”

Geary has an open heart to all types of customers, but she also has a keen sense of the differences between her audiences and how their needs can be met.

“There’s a group of people who are serious collectors who want to get in on the next new artist, and they’ll never bring in a swatch of fabric,” Geary said. “They buy what they think is good, and what might grow in value.”

“And then you have a group of professionals, whose homes are important. They entertain a lot and want their surroundings to be beautiful, so their slant is a little bit different.”

Regardless of the purchasing style of each customer, Geary has taken a serious stance to make sure that her artists are represented well, simply because they rely so heavily on the gallery to sell and promote their works. Because buying art can be very intimidating, Geary wants to make sure that people leave their fears at the door when they enter View Gallery. Creating a warm environment for all types of buyers is vital for her business.

“I work really hard at making my gallery friendly and welcoming, and a place that is just as much for a casual outing as it is for a serious inquiry,” Geary said.

“Because you never know, down the road people may be succeeding financially with their jobs, and they remember that they saw beautiful works of art, and it affected them. You can only hope then they decide that maybe it’s time to buy their own,” Geary explained.

Key takeaways from Karelson and Geary:

• The Internet is a gallery’s best friend. With a limited budget to promote, websites like Burnaway.com are a perfect place for announcements and sharing information about new collections or events. Due to its visual nature, social media allows audiences to explore the works on display and for sale by simply scrolling through photos of them.

• Don’t dismiss the power of word of mouth and a close-knit art community. If information about an artist is passed from friend to friend, it can have a huge impact.

• The art does in fact sell itself, but if people never find out that the art is easily accessible, it will never sell. That’s where PR comes into play.

• If your gallery doesn’t have the right environment, it may change some customers’ opinions of buying work there. Make sure to know your audience, especially in the area that the gallery is located, and know how they want to feel when they walk into your gallery.

Secondary Sources
-http://observer.com/2012/06/believe-the-hype-how-pr-took-the-art-world/
-http://burnaway.org/about/
-http://www.artsatl.com/aboutcontact/
-http://masonfineartandevents.com
-http://www.viewgalleryart.com
-http://www.fitzandco.com/clients/
http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/9778/1049/Cultural_Snapshots_4_PR_Pros_Who_Are_Curating_Vibr#.VilH01ob50E

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