What is the New Normal for Creatives?

If you’ve followed my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we stand as creatives during this crazy time of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Hopefully that content has been helpful to you.  I know it was very therapeutic for me to work through a lot of those issues.  Last week, I started to look forward a bit, guessing what it will take for us to start resurrecting our art businesses from the wreckage.

This week, Bogdan and I have been talking a lot about what the art world may look like when this crisis has ended. I know this may be a little like crystal gazing, but through all the chaos and fear, there do seem to be some common threads emerging.  As we all begin to re-begin, it might do us a lot of good to consider just what the business market is going to look like for creatives for the foreseeable future.

I think the first thing we need to accept is that people are not likely to return to large group events for quite a while.  That may seem devastating, because so much of what we do as artists, and performers, revolves around audience groupings.  Large concerts, art fairs, open studios, and gallery receptions may disappear for a while. The new trend seems to be the creation of “virtual” events that take place totally online.  I remember when there were uniformed men who pumped our gas, looked under our hoods, and checked our tire pressure. All of a sudden, they were replaced by self-service gas pumps.  At first we thought it was terrible, and a total lack of customer service.  Well, as it turns out, we loved pumping our own gas.  It was much faster, you didn’t have to figure out if you were supposed to tip anyone.  Businesses loved it, because they didn’t have to pay so many employees, just one kid in a booth with control of the pumps.  The same sort of shift has happened more recently with self-checkout at grocery stores.  I thought I would hate scanning my own produce, but I happen to love the convenience.  

I’m drifting off on these stories because I think we have to be prepared for people loving online art exhibitions too.  We recently had a very small opening for Bogdan’s new photography collection, just a two day show.  It cost us around $5,000 to rent the space, get security, alcohol, catering, printing invitations, and the like.  We had about 150 people show up, and it was a lovely event.

I have spent some time trying to investigate how many views these new virtual exhibitions are getting, and the numbers are quite high… much more than the 150 souls who came to our reception before the epidemic hit.  Think about the money galleries have to shell out for each artist they represent, and they must have numerous shows every year to stay top-of-mind with their collectors.  There may be quite a lot of interest in maintaining this virtual exhibition format regardless of today’s health scare.  

Are you ready as a creative entrepreneur to move to virtual exhibitions?  Have you taken the steps needed to make that sort of transition permanent?  Are you ready to host your own online exhibition?

It seems to me like it is time to make certain that your website is up to date, that your resume and exhibition records are current, and that you have organized your inventory well with all the titles, descriptions and prices figured out.  Is your artist statement ready?  Do you have templates for gallery queries prepared?  You may find that you will need all of these things quickly, and regularly as we move forward into a digital marketplace.

How are your communication tools?  Are you publishing a newsletter regularly? Do you keep in contact with collectors and new prospects?  How do you let them know about your online shops, contests, and exhibits?  Do you have enough information for them to discern precisely where to click to buy your work immediately?  If they’re not going to meet you at openings around town, or at scheduled art events, how are they going to know where to find your latest work?  Those communication tools are going to become even more important than they are now.  And what about new fans?  How will they see your work, and get to know you as an artist?  Do you blog, and/or vlog regularly?  Do you have a podcast?  Do you live stream?  They need to feel as though they have a relationship with you, as well as to be reminded where to find your art.

How are you promoting yourself on Social Media?  Are you finding any success?  We have made a real commitment to try much harder to stay relevant on these platforms, but it can seem so hard to calculate the return on all that hard work.  I was reviewing Pinterest today, examining one of the pins I created to promote a new series of paintings I’m working on.  I saw that the pin had only been seen by a little over 300 people.  At first I was discouraged, until I realized how thrilled I would be to have 300 people come through my studio door to see my new collection.  I know it’s not the same as having real bodies visiting, but the possibility of scale is enormous. Then when I found that I’m picking up new followers on Twitter and Instagram from all over the world, I began to wonder why I ever questioned the importance of these tools.  That doesn’t mean that any of those follows will turn into a sale, but neither does opening my studio door every Saturday for passersby.  This virtual art business really is something we’re going to have to embrace… and now.

Finally, I think we will find that we need to include some sort of experience for our collectors, the ones we would have invited to stop by the studio for wine and cheese, or for whom we would make a gift of our art on a coffee mug, or a scarf.  I believe that we will need to include virtual opportunities for that type of VIP treatment.  Are you ready to have subscription based content for collectors who want to support you online?  Have you signed up with Patreon, or created your own rewards based membership program?  I find this to be probably the most exciting possibility for my business.  Giving small rewards, exclusive content, and VIP perks to collectors who want to follow my work more closely… all over the planet.  I’ve seen this format at work, and it is an amazing relationship that is formed between these patrons and the artists they support.

I say all of this not to frighten or discourage anyone, but rather to sound the alarm a bit.  I think we’re looking at some basic changes taking place now that are going to take root during this difficult and confusing time, and blossom into the new normal of the creative business world for years to come.

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