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Debate: Should Artists Show Work in Doctor’s Offices, Banks and Other Business Locations?

Last week, I received an email raising the question of whether it would be worthwhile for an artist to show her work in a doctor’s office. The doctor would display the work for a set time and allow the artist to have a stack of cards or brochures available to potential buyers. If work sold, the doctor wouldn’t take a commission. I suspect many of you have had similar offers, and perhaps you’ve even had experience showing in similar venues. I’ve already written about the promise and pitfalls of showing in coffee houses, restaurants and other alternate venues, and much of what I said in my article there applies equally here, but let me reiterate my thoughts. There are some differences we should consider as well.

Here is the email I received laying out the circumstances of this offer:

A radiologist came into my studio [...] and was looking for some work to decorate his office. He said he wanted to change the atmosphere in the lobby and waiting areas in the facility by hanging diverse and interesting art for patients. We discussed how my beetles could be an engaging thing for patients to look at while they wait and he seemed interested and took my card.

Then I received an email from him asking if I would be interested in participating in a small rotating art feature/exhibit at his office.
They want to begin having rotating exhibits with several artists at a time. Artists can provide their bio and postcards and information will be posted to contact the artist if anyone is interested in purchasing a piece. He did not mention any commission, or the schedule by which he would switch out the work. He did say that he was reaching out to several other artists [...] as well.

My concern is twofold. First, I am in the process of relocating out of the area, so I would have to find a friend to hang the work for me and then ship it back when my “rotation” was over. Secondly, I am still building my collection and am not sure I should turn over part of it to him to hang in a location that isn’t an active gallery for an unspecified period of time.

I checked out their company and it seems on-the-level. What is your opinion on loaning out work to decorate a space in the hopes that someone notice it and ask about purchase? Should I participate just to get the experience and exposure, or save my money and target more conventional galleries?

If you don’t have time to respond, could you perhaps point me in the direction of some guidance on situations such as this?

Thanks, I appreciate it!

Linda

 

My initial response:

If you are ramping up and getting ready to present your work to galleries, you should be hesitant to commit the work to this venue where the chances of generating business are relatively low. With the work involved in handling the logistics of the display you would probably better spend your time on other marketing efforts. On the other hand, if the work isn’t likely to be in play with a gallery or other sales prospects, some exposure, no matter how unlikely to lead to a sale, is better than no exposure.

Add to the equation the fact that you are moving out of the area, leads me to believe that it is unlikely to be worth the effort for you, especially if you would have to pick up the cost of the shipping.

 

Linda’s reply:

It’s funny, I’ve heard some interesting opinions from friends and family on the subject. One friend was positively incensed. “They promise ‘exposure’ so they can use your art to decorate their place for free!” she said. But my husband, who spent his career at the National Science Foundation, talked about the artists they used to feature there and the great showcase they provided.

I’ve since responded to the radiologist with a “thanks but no thanks”, but he got right back to me saying he especially liked my bugs. He said this would be ongoing rotating exhibit, hoping he could contact me again, and asked if funding would make a difference.

I’ve been thinking about how to help him set this up so it would be successful, and maybe I would participate sometime in the future. I’d think that some kind of funding–for shipping, set-up expenses, promotion–should be encouraged. And having a plan for how he would promote the shows–on his website, local press, a reception–would encourage other artists. He could also partner with artists organizations and even local schools & universities to get a good variety.

Now that I’ve had a bit more time to think this situation over, I’ve had some additional thoughts. First, I don’t think that there’s is anything dishonest about what the doctor is offering, and he’s certainly not the first to do it. I’m familiar with many businesses, banks, attorney’s offices, hospitals and doctor’s offices that run programs like this. I’m sure that artwork has sold in some of these venues, though I’m also sure that they are not huge sales generators. No one would be forcing you to participate in it, and as long as they are note promising sales that they can’t delivery, no one is misleading you.

With that out of the way I want to share what I consider to be the pros and cons of this kind of venue:

The Cons: Reasons These Venues are not Very Likely to Sell Art

  • I would stand by my assertion that this kind of exhibition wouldn’t be at the top of my list of marketing tactics. Speaking as someone who is daily involved in the selling process, I can tell you that without a good salesperson on hand to promote the work, the likelihood of a sale is pretty low. It takes skill to interact with buyers and move them toward a sale. It also often takes follow up to close the sale. It’s unlikely any real salesmanship is going to occur in a lobby.
  • Knowing that the likelihood of a sale is pretty low, I feel your time and effort are better spent looking for venues (like galleries or art shows) where the focus is on sales.
  • When people are visiting a doctor’s office, or any other business, they are there with a specific purpose in mind – buying art is not going to be very high on their priority list.
  • There are real costs and risks involved in participating in this kind of display. There is time involved in delivering and installing the artwork. There is a very real possibility that the artwork might be damaged during transport, or while on display. These risks aren’t huge, but they should be considered.
  • As I mentioned in my reply, there is also a cost involved in taking your work off the market, or at least out of your usual sales channels. You have production costs and time now tied up in inventory that isn’t actively being promoted.

 

The Pros: Possible Benefits of Showing in Alternate Venues

  •  Some exposure is better than no exposure. Even though these venues are not necessarily going to be paying you in cash for the artwork, they are offering you exposure. You need to decide if the value of the exposure is worth the costs listed above.
  • Sometimes the clientele of these businesses will match your target audience. If the business draws an affluent and well-educated crowd, you may have a shot at making a sale.
  • You may have a captive audience. Waiting rooms and lobbies are often filled with people who are going to have some time to look at your work. Just keep in mind that you are competing with magazines, mobile phones and tvs, so you need to find some way to draw attention to your work.

Ideas for Maximizing the Exposure

I’m going to give some suggestions of things you might do to maximize the possibilities of making this kind of showing a success. Please keep in mind that these ideas are somewhat theoretical since I don’t have experience displaying or selling artwork in an office setting. These suggestions are ideas I’ve heard from artists, or things I would adapt from my experience selling art through the gallery.

  • Ask the organizer or business owner to host a reception where their best customers could meet you. A bank I’ve worked with hosts openings for artists as part of their rotating exhibitions. This is actually a win-win – the business gets to build better relationships with their customers and you have an opportunity to proactively engage with potential buyers.
  • Post statements about your inspiration and creative process with each piece of art. You might not be able to engage the viewer in person, but you can attempt to engage them with your writing. You should also have your biography available for potential customers to learn more about you. I would also suggest that you post a card that explains how easy it would be to buy the pieces on display. Give step-by-step instructions telling the buyer how to contact you, how you would arrange delivery, what forms of payment you accept and anything else you feel might be helpful. These kinds of instructions get people thinking about buying.
  • Check in on the display regularly to make sure your cards or postcards haven’t run out and that they are easily accessible.

Please Share your Thoughts and Experiences

Have you shown your work in a rotating exhibit at a business? What was your experience? What suggestions would you give to an artist who is considering participating in an exhibit at a business? What are your thoughts about this kind of show? Please share your input in the comments section below.

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