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Marketing Your Artwork in a Coffee Shop

From time to time, I am invited to exhibit my sculpture at venues that are not commercial art galleries. While I respectfully decline the offers, I do see a benefit for emerging artists taking advantage of these situations. There are far more artists looking for representation than there are art galleries to handle them, so I think it is wonderful to see other types of businesses offering a venue for artists to exhibit their work. Restaurants, coffee shops, spas and hotels are among these.

However, while I am all for more opportunities for artists to get exposure for their work, it should not be at their own expense exclusively. I have noticed that in several instances, these venues have crafted unfair regulations which disproportionately benefit them over the artist.

So I would like to offer a few tips so that if you are considering exhibiting your own art work in one of these types of venues, you might avoid some pitfalls. For ease of argument, let us take the example of the coffee shop as the type of venue in question.

Offer to exhibit your artwork free of charge in exchange for free exposure. Make sure a determined start and finish date for the exhibition is agreed upon. You are responsible for delivering and curating the artwork and the removal at the termination of the exhibit, and for insuring the artwork while on display. You are responsible for handling any sales that may result from the exhibition.

The coffee shop receives value by having artwork to make their interior more attractive, but they do not have to pay for it. In exchange, you get an opportunity to expose your artwork to a new audience and potentially generate sales.

The pitfall is when the coffee shop wants to charge you for exhibiting your work. This is usually in the form of a commission paid by the artist upon the sale of an artwork to the coffee shop. If the venue were a proper commercial gallery, with a dedicated staff to promote and market your work, then a commission is valid. However, it is a coffee shop and its staff is not trained to sell art, nor is the staff knowledgable about you or your artwork. The coffee shop does nothing to justify a commission for a sale.

Make sure the artwork is tastefully  displayed as for sale. This can be achieved by placing printed tags next to each of the artworks. Make sure you include the art work title, the medium, your name and the retail price. Dimensions of the piece are also helpful.

Have business cards and possibly biographies available and display them conspicuously to entice people to take one.  Don’t depend on a prospective patron to remember your name after they have left the coffee shop. A business card with your phone number and email address will go a long way to help encourage a sale. A prospective patron will write a particular title down on the back sooner than trying to recall you from memory after they’ve left the shop.

Be sure you can bring your own prospective collectors to the venue without conflict. While it is ideal to have the process generate new patrons, you should also be able to use the venue to bring those you already know to see your exhibit.

Remember, your artwork is an added bonus to the coffee shop by providing decor free of charge. A successful sale should therefore be yours entirely. Free decor for free exposure.

Sound fair? I think so.

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