Audience Development and Open Studios

In my area, it is Open Studios time. These are events where artists open up their home studios to invite visitors to get to know them and to see their art that is for sale.   I go to this event almost every year to visit some of my favorite artists in the area.  I am a consumer of art and have several of my found treasures hanging in my hallways.  The good news is that I received several emails to remind me of the event from a few of the artists that I signed in with.  The bad news, these artists are not emailing me in an audience development way.

I am receiving a group email format, and most of these artists are sending them not in a blind copy email, so I see everyone’s email on the list.  So, this email is not really personal, and it is an invasion of privacy.  I rather not have my email be seen by everyone.

To my visual artist friends out there, this is your challenge.  You have an opportunity with these open studios to build relationships with everyone that comes into your door.  People seek you out because something about your art or description of your art has attracted their attention.  If you want them to become your special patrons, you need to start treating each and every one of these people as special.

What do you need to do to treat them special?  Start sending out personal emails.  One artist had 12 people on their list.  Only 12 people.  You can send out a nice message to each of these people.  For the artists that have more than 12, why not send out messages a little at a time starting two weeks in advance?  I am receiving an email on Thursday, the Thursday before the beginning weekend.  What if I already had plans for the weekend?  The email is a little late and shows the lack of real interest to connect with me as a person.  It shows you are too busy to take the time to email me directly, especially since you are sending the email so late.

I have not received emails from the artists I actually purchased from.  Interesting!  Aren’t you interested in building a relationship with me so I would want to buy more of your art?  I already proved I love what you do.

Visual artists, you have such an amazing opportunity with your open studios events.  The personal touch is needed.  You need to start having individual invitations and conversations with your patrons.  If you want me to buy your art, to continue buying your art, to tell others about your art, you need to start addressing me as an individual person and spend some time with me after I arrive, and then send a thank you follow up after I purchase (or even if I don’t).  People take the time out of their busy lives to visit you.  In this economy, when they purchase, you should make a fuss over them to thank them and get to know them as people.  It’s the least you can do for them.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”



Filed under arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

8 responses to “Audience Development and Open Studios

  1. A timely blog post, Shoshana. I’m leading some workshops on audience development this week-end for visual artists. I’ll share your recommendations with them.

  2. Definitely a good idea. BUT…

    I used to craft promo emails one by one and personalize them (and not talking about me only but also about the recipient). It was for me a good idea to build a relationship with the recipient.

    The results: none. I tracked these emails and opening rates as well as clicks was as high as these of a mass mailing. I saw no improvement but I lost a LOT of time. The experience lasted a little more than two years so I can have relevant stats, and I can say it didn’t affect the “sales”.

    You may say these emails were not well crafted. Maybe. Not sent as the right time or the right day. I respected standards and recommendations. At the end of the day, I came back to classic, nearly impersonal, emailing. I gained a lot of time, nobody is complaining, people are still reading what I send, I get more leads and more and more people want to receive my emails. I must say I’m pretty lucky, I have high opening rates with mass mailing.

    I think people know when it’s a marketing/promo email, no matter what you do, no matter how well crafted it is. Just the fact that you don’t just drop them an hello email, but an hello-and-I-have-something-to-sell email. So I decided to be honest, stick with mass mailing, and not pretend I’m writing for something else than promoting an event or something.

    • Hi Pierre-Arnaud,
      Thank you for stopping by. I think you have a good point here. If the only types of emails you send out to people are the “sales” emails, then you are right, people will still see your emails for what they are. I’m actually talking about taking the time to connect with people, not simply to sell to them. For example, if all I did on Twitter/Facebook was to post marketing tweets, I doubt people would want to follow and connect with me very much. If I offer friendship and other tweets that are helpful to them, more people will follow.

      It also depends on if you connect with people throughout the year and not only when you are trying to sell them something. This makes a difference too. If one of the artists I bought from sincerely followed up to make sure I’m still enjoying my painting, etc., not to sell, but to connect and see how I am, you bet that would make a difference. Selling art in my opinion should be a step above buying something like a pair of shoes. It’s not a one time deal to me. Art means more than that.

      Actually, I saw a news reel about a shoes salesmen that went beyond a typical sales transaction. He got to know his customers, remembered their names, called them when a pair of shoes that came in would be to their liking, got them coffee, and actually sometimes just called to see how the shoes were fitting and chatted a bit. He was probably the most successful shoes salesman ever with people saying that they would always shop there to get his service. It was on CBS News. Why is this type of service rare? This is the type of caring transaction that I am proposing for the arts.

      Thanks again, Pierre-Arnaud. I appreciate your feedback to continue the discussion!

      • Hi Shoshana,

        I completely agree with you. Besides, you were speaking about visual artists, a case that can’t be really compared to mine (concert pianist). Visual artists have direct contact with their end customers and can build a relationship with them.

        Social Media excepted, we have few real contacts with our audience, and most of the time, these are short and impersonal.

        Anyway, my comment was quite irrelevant, I admit it. Even if the story was interesting. Let’s see that as a feedback on mass mailing to other actors of the industry (yes, I omitted to precise this tiny detail). And from someone working way too much and trying to find good excuses to have more time off !

        To conclude, I definitely would love a shoes salesman like this! Maybe these high level services disappeared because the salesmen are not the owners anymore.

  3. Thank you, Denis. Good luck at your workshops this weekend too!

  4. Pierre-Arnaud,

    The shoesalesman did not own the business. This is what made this story so unique. He was simply a sales person who really enjoyed having relationships with his customers.

    I think every time you perform for an audience, you too have the opportunities to meet and greet your audience members. Even if you were hired for the performance under a bigger organizations umbrella, there are ways to have receptions, CD signings, and other possible additions to your concerts so you can be face to face with your audiences.

    Anybody and everybody can find ways to increase personal relationships with their audience members!

  5. nicky

    some artists are actually really busy MAKING ART and don’t want to spend their whole lives doing the admin that surrounds it. Most artists are freelance which means they have to do ALL of their own marketing, ALL of their own finances, ALL of their own tax returns, ALL of their own social networking, ALL of their individual artistic proposals, ALL of their own evaluations and ALL of their own sales. I think that you are expecting a little too much here, how many businesses do you know that actually send individual emails?

    And what time do you expect artists to actually spend making art?

    Most of the busiest people I know are artists, give them a break!

    • Thank you for your reply, Nicky. I appreciate you taking the time to respond and voice the other side of this discussion. I agree with you that artists have their hands full having to have time for self promotion, running a business and having time to create their art.

      I do feel though that time does need to be spent on connecting with people again. A shift in time management may need to happen if you want a successful art business. Of course, you want the majority of your time to be for creating your art. If you want people to connect with you and your art, you will need to time for this as well. It’s no longer a matter of “if you have time.” If you want to be successful, you do need to put some focus on people again.

      For example, I have not heard from the artists that I have purchased from over the years except for one or two. And, when I took the initiative to actually email a few of them, I did not even get a response. Are artists too busy for their patrons? Makes me feel very unappreciated, and it makes me want to consider whether or not I will purchase again from these artists, even though I enjoy their work.

      Why should artists be exempt from good customer relations? Simply because they are artists and feel that they don’t have the time? I feel that this attitude creates a barrier. If you are wondering why artists are having some trouble in selling their art, I do feel this is one of the reasons why.

      I do appreciate your reply and a chance to further discuss this issue. I do feel though if there is a will, there is a way. If you really want an audience and a purchasing audience at that, you will make the time to connect with people again and make them feel appreciated.

      ***I wanted to quickly add, if you do build relationships with people, you might be able to find volunteers to help you with some of the business stuff you rather not be doing.

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