Julie Guest Direct Response Copywriter, Marketing Strategist, Best Selling Author

Why Artists Are Starving

This last weekend I was at the Ann Arbor art fair, which is a pretty big deal in this part of the country. Hundreds of artists from all over the country sell their wares over a 4-day event downtown. The streets are closed to traffic and visitors flock to the event in the thousands. Unfortunately, the art fair ended up being held during the hottest week in recent history. Every artist I spoke to told me that this art fair was the worst one ever – many having attended for the last 10, 15, even 20 years. Weather aside, I made some very interesting marketing observations as to why these artists were REALLY experiencing slow sales, and none of it had anything to do with the weather.

  1. Very, very few of the artists greeted me when I came to look at their art. Most were sitting off at the back of the tent, fanning themselves with a newspaper or junk magazine, looking decidedly bored and frustrated. They didn’t get that people want to buy things from people. People want to hear stories; to understand how or why something is made. This is a HUGE mistake that, almost without exception, every artist I saw made.
  2. Very, very few people had any marketing collateral to give away – a few did have postcards, but there was nothing on them enticing to me to follow up with them. No irresistible offer - just pretty pictures; which doesn’t exactly get people rushing to the phone to place an order.
  3. I bought a couple of things including a pair of sterling silver earrings from a local metalsmith. NO ONE asked me for my contact information – not even for an email address. This is a giant mistake and shows that these artists have the mistaken idea that you get a customer to make a sale, instead of making a sale to get a customer. No matter how bad the weather, how poor the crowds, if any of these artists had been collecting contact details of past customers, they could have held a special pre-event show with special incentives next year for those VIP customers. After the art fair they could do a follow up “thank you” direct mail campaign to sell even more of their wares.

Instead the artists were 100% reliant on generating enough foot traffic and interest over the event not just to break even, but to actually turn a profit. I’m told that renting one of these booths cost in the thousands of dollars. Many artists schlepped their art, display cases and panels from as far away as California. No wonder they’re starving.