February 28, 2018 | Alyson Stanfield

Why Nobody Came to Your Show

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why nobody came to your art show.

Let’s set aside the bad weather, natural disaster, flu epidemic, or major tragedy in the community. And not count people who are out of town or live too far away, or those who have tickets to the theater or are nursing a sick child.

We’re going to focus on the able people on your mailing list who would be most inclined to come out and support you. Except they didn’t.

©Marianne Gargour, A Single Solitary Moment. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. used with permission.
©Marianne Gargour, A Single Solitary Moment. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. used with permission.

The reason they didn’t come is because you assumed too much.

Let’s look at 4 ways this might have played out.

1. You didn’t tell them about it.

You assumed the venue would get the word out.

Oops! You’ll never do that again. Venues, regardless of the type of venue, have an entire program of artists and exhibitions lined up. Sorry to break this to you: you are but a small fish in their big pond.

What’s important to you isn’t always critical to them.

You can’t rely on the venue to get people to your exhibition.

©Pauline Johnson, Shedding Bark. Oil on canvas, 36 x 18 inches. Used with permission.
©Pauline Johnson, Shedding Bark. Oil on canvas, 36 x 18 inches. Used with permission.

2. You relied on a social media post.

You assumed people would see your invitation on Facebook.

You can’t post an invitation once or twice to social media and expect results (especially these days). I don’t know about you, but I miss everything on social media. My mom always updates me on family goings-on when we talk on the phone because I don’t see them in my feeds.

Even if those you wanted to see the invite did, people don’t usually hop on board until they have seen an invitation multiple times.

You need a variety of touch points scheduled for your fans and followers:

  • Send a postcard.
  • Place stacks of postcards in strategic venues.
  • Mention your event in your newsletter.
  • Blab about it on social media.
  • Post flyers.

But the best use of your time would be personal contact with those you want to attend. Nothing – Nothing! – moves people to action like a personal invitation. This could be an email, a text message, or a phone call, but it is sent only to them and comes from the heart.

Never underestimate the value of personal invitations when you seek action from others.

3. You were afraid to send email reminders.

You assumed that a single email would do the trick – and that they would actually read the missive you sent.

You assumed that people would write it down and remember. They didn’t.

Most of my students and members admit to being “afraid to bother people” with an extra email. They reconsider when I share the statistics of how much these last-minute emails increase the sign-ups for my programs.

©Gilly Thomas, Into the Light, Edition 2/9. Limited edition bronze sculpture made in the traditional Lost Wax Tradition, 9 x 7 x 13 inches. Used with permission.
©Gilly Thomas, Into the Light, Edition 2/9. Limited edition bronze sculpture made in the traditional Lost Wax Tradition, 9 x 7 x 13 inches. Used with permission.

In fact, the highest percentage of registrations comes when I send the “starts tomorrow” email. More importantly, the right people – the people for whom my message was intended – respond with gratitude for the reminder.

4. You let your list get cold.

You assumed you could count on certain people to show up for you even if you have been out of touch.

Scene: Me jumping up and down on the rooftop. Bold letters necessary. You have to nurture your relationships. You must continue to show people you care about them long after they’ve purchased from you, started following you, or asked to receive your emails.

This is why you have a strategy for staying in touch with your list on a regular basis. So that, when you ask something of them (like showing up to your opening), they remember you and are familiar with what you’ve been up to.

©Dawn Normali, Where are the Birds. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.
©Dawn Normali, Where Are the Birds. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

It’s not just uncomfortable for you to contact people only when you want something from them, it’s downright impolite.

Stop assuming so much. There are plenty of people out there who want to show up for you.

Make sure they hear from you and know that they are appreciated and needed.

63 comments add a comment
  • Every point mentioned above is crucial. Bravo! Our job, once artwork is completed and ready for display, is to promote. If we don’t do it, we are showing our client base we don’t really care.

    My expectation has always been a minimum of 200 people at an opening. I have achieved that at every show except 2 in the past 47 years. One of the ways I realized this success is by creating the most eye-catching posters (in visual info and dimensions)and going out and hanging each and every one of those posters (1000 in all) in the most prominent store windows of the various areas of the city. Commitment. That’s what it is all about.

    • Thanks, Bernard. I love the posters. I wish more artists would do them. Do you have an example of any of them that are posted online?

    • Terry

      Bravo, Bernard! The poster idea is brilliant! Although many posters go up around town, few are well designed to catch the passer-by eye. Your shows sound quite successful and though it may appear magical, you have shared the practical behind the scenes work…leg work that is.

      Alyson, another wonderful insightful, helpful, practical article. Well done!

    • I love the poster idea.

  • Alfred

    I think mainly, they don’t come because the event is not that important to them.

    I was once in an artists support group. I was in a show, I let everyone in the show know that I wanted them there. I told them in person, sent printed invitations and e-mailed. One person in the group actually lived only one block from the gallery. He had to pass the gallery to go to the market. Not one of the support group members came to the opening. This happened three times, for three different exhibitions of mine! I left the group after that, telling them exactly why. None of the members even understood what the big deal was about and each of them had their own excuse.

    By the way, I attended every event they were having.

  • This is a fabulous reminder of how to have a great turn out. I’ve been doing fairly well getting people to come to my art events in the past, but I will admit…I need a new list because most of my regulars are starting to get “bored” of giving continued support. Which means they aren’t really collectors, they have just been a good cheering squad! But I’m working hard this year to identify new enthusiasts.

  • Alyson, this is a terrific reminder to stay in touch with your list. Sometimes artists (including me) think we are “bothering” people by sending more than one announcement. Start early and space your invites out, using all the mediums.
    I personally think the old fashioned snail mail works best. How nice to see a real invitation in my mail box that is typically filled with bulk junk flyers.

  • Excellent tips Alyson! There is not one that should be missed in our efforts. I know from experience, the best advocate happens to be ourselves. Thank you! Wishing you a pleasant day :)

  • Great timing Alyson! I actually had to stop in the middle of reading this post because I realized that I hadn’t done my blog post or FB post for my reception tomorrow! Your advice is so generously given and it is so appreciated. Thank you.

  • Alyson, very helpful points. How would you approach telling your list even if the show isn’t in your town or their town? Doubtful they’d trek to the long distance event, but could ask them to share your announcement email/FB post, etc.?

  • Alyson–Thank you for the laugh at your line about the rooftop. I love the visual image of you jumping up and down on the rooftop–that and the silliness after just brightened my day. As always–you are a source of inspiration and I love you. Thank you for being a voice of guidance for artists…

  • I shout from rooftop all the time: SEND REMINDERS!

    And I love your excellent point, Alyson: if they unsubscribe, they are not your followers. Doh! When I write that out in plain English, it’s SO obvious!

    Just treat others how YOU really want to be treated, right? I tell my clan to think of what it means to them when they get a reminder about something they have even a vague interest in and they often admit that it’s welcomed. If I learn of some event a month ahead, I may be interested, but not focused. When I am reminded a week before the date – well, I am always ready to re-visit my desire at that point and pull out my calendar. If I had already decided to attend from email number one – I am even more grateful for the reminder. Now I can start planning! Who might I go with? Dinner plans? What will I wear? Not everyone pulls out a calendar btw. YOU are the notification system!

    PLUS: We are all so busy and see so many offers that committing to attend any event (or sign up for a webinar, or attend a seminar or any gathering) needs at least ONE last minute reminder to force ourselves to look at our schedule and examine our desire and weigh the pros and cons. The closer the date is, the more URGENCY we feel to make a decision and that is why that last minute reminder is SO effective. We don’t want to loose out and when the date is eminent, we are generally thankful for that reminder. We may still not attend, but we at least had the choice and know we were “reminded”. I always appreciate reminders. I always feel cared for when Alyson sends that last minute nudge.

    Of course, Alyson’s reminders are sweet to the core and we know she cares about our careers and is trying to bring something good to us. That can be translated into ALL invitations and last minute reminders. We can all nudge effectively – especially if we have used Emailing Best Practices and have a good base of fans and followers who care about us because we stay “in-touch” and keep them involved.

    Thanks for the “reminder” Alyson!

  • Dawn Petrill

    This was such a timely and much needed article for me. I have a Studio Open House in 2 weeks and have said a little about it but have been afraid to say too much. It all makes so much sense the way you put it! Thank you for being the voice of reason and telling it like it is. I continue to be inspired and empowered by your wisdom and advice!

  • Hello Alyson, I remember you mentioning at least some of these points last year, I believe. The reminder email idea came on my horizon shortly before my fall studio show. I am one of those who is always concerned about bothering people. I decided to get over it and follow your advice. That email reminder, along with the other points you mentioned made such a huge positive difference in the success of my show. Even though the weather was poor and my studio is out in the country, attendance and sales were still very good. Thank you again for the little kick :-) Happy gardening!

  • Fian Arroyo

    Great article! I have art in a show this weekend and I will send out last minute email reminders today and tomorrow. Thanx!

  • Bob Ragland

    I always do out reach by postcard.
    I send out career updates all year.
    I stay in touch with people.
    If I were in a gallery, I would send out
    handwritten postcards mid show to nudge
    my peeps.
    I at some point have a show is a person’s home.
    I never leave PR and such up to anyone else.^

  • This may sound like a silly thing, but I really wanted to save your post as a pdf for future reference, and I found the “other options” share option, and in that, a printer-friendly option, which had a pdf option.

    THAT, my dear, is customer service! Yay you!

  • Meghan Rheynolds

    I just had an artist exhibit with us, and we made a video, similar to an advertisement of him flicking through his notepad of his portraits. We then included it in the newsletter invitation and it was well received. We also made several other small video’s during the exhibition then we had a closing party, which was a lot less attended than the opening, but we sold 21 works that night, which was 20 works more than the opening. So plugging away during the show really worked on this occasion. All the best.

  • kazeem oyebowale

    I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR ENCOURAGEMENTS ALL THE TIME… YOU ARE TOO MUCH.

  • I try to get an email announcement out a week before the event and a reminder 1 or 2 days before. My question is, I’m in a Garden show almost 2 hours away from my local collectors. How can I encourage people to drive that far to see my work?

  • Wonderful post Alyson.
    #4 – Don’t let your list go cold.

    I’ve learned that staying in touch is SO important and to use other ways, like postcards. Most of your list will hang on to that postcard for a while. They will even give it to a friend and ask you to send another. How great is that?

  • Great advice as usual.
    I am finding a new assistant to take care of these tasks. My last assistant that i hired after biz breakthrough took care of these things and it was great. Thank you for posting my painting.

  • This is something I struggle with. I hate doing all that promotional material such as a newsletter and social media ads or events. It’s not that I expect people to “just know” about my shows or by osmosis! It’s just that I hate doing it and I’m not good at it. Also, I also hate to be considered spam to others.

  • I have been blabbing about it all over the place, including email, so I hope I will get some results from the one I launched today (March 1-14)

  • itai Nyama

    You got me and I must say, thank you Alyson

  • Cristina

    Hello, Alyson!
    And what happens when you have done all that, 2000 people visit your exhibition and nobody buy you a painting?
    I can’t understand it.

    • Cristina, I hear you. It really sucks! I read somewhere that people have to see your work 7 times before they buy it. I try to remember that sales can come even months after a show. Hang in there!

    • That’s a different subject, Cristina. Who were those 2000 people? Where did they come from?

      • Cristina

        Well, there were tourists, neighbors, friends, students, businessmen, employees and colleagues. Most of them, tourists, businessmen and professionals, such as doctors. By the opening 170 people came. The rest, during the month and a half that the exhibition was opened.

        • I guess my question, Christina, is this: Did you invite any of those people yourself? Tell me about those numbers.

          • Cristina

            Well, I delivered 250 postcards, by post and personally. Then, to other people by e-mail or by telephone. There was a good coverage in newspapers and many people had seen the photos of my paintings on it. I received many praises in the press and from the public.
            The exhibition was in a former Renaissance fortress, which the Town Council uses as place for exhibitions and many tourists visit it. In addition, it were organized inside the exhibition a spectacle of dance and concert of strings and another of a choir. After one month and a half, the visitors were exactly a 2073 people.

  • Lee

    Thanks for this. Upcoming is a Studio Tour, with 64 studios. The tour organizers do a great job, but we’ll work hard as a group to enhance and personalize it. Our little town needs to promote separately and additionally, and get our audience in to our 3 studios with 9 artists. I’ll use this as a template for our group. In our case, maps of town with studio locations are key,as well as marketing within the town business district — lots of locations will put up posters for us!
    Thanks for the timely reminders.

  • I literally JUST got home from taking down my (not hugely attended) show when I got this email. I had to laugh! I’ve started to make a show ‘post mortem’ list of things I did well and things I wish I’d done for next time. It’s helping. I think the thing is that I dislike doing the marketing work, so I procrastinate. Then there isn’t enough time left to do some of the scarier things that would probably get people to come to the show, and I’m off the hook. I love the poster idea. I’m going to plaster my city for my next show (promise).

  • This is a wonderful list! At my last group show, everyone said out loud that they forgot to sgare the event on FB… and I very nervously mentioned sending personal reminders to people I wanted to see. Even the ones who didn’t come have been more supportive and active on my fb page sense then. I have a lot of learning and practicing to do, but I know it’s all in my hands, and I have the power to build my success as an artist– even if my artist friends roll their eyes at my business-like approach.

  • Excellent article :-)

    Many artists are having problems with reaching out and contact old and potential customers. The excuses are many: They don’t want to disturb them, they are afraid of being rejected, they are insecure regarding the exhibited artworks.

    Today one of the most crucial skills of an artist is an ability and willingness to interact with art buyers. It is almost impossible to have success if you don’t.

    Don’t be afraid, not all people have to love your art. Its OK if only some like it and consider buying it.

  • I love the entire idea of this article. I once did the same. I thought I shouldn’t place my art online because nobody would buy it, but I never knew until I actually publish it. The same idea whit a show, if you have the courage to plan the show, you need to have the courage to go all in in marketing and letting people know about it.

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