Find a way to welcome these younger visitors to your work, your vision, and the world of art. It pays off for everyone.
I had an open studio last weekend, a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.
I spent the week before clearing clutter, arranging and pricing new work,dusting (I decided to call it ‘patina’ instead), in preparation. True to form, I was also making new work up to the day before. I get my best ideas with the pressure of a deadline!
There are two things I did/didn’t do that may astound you.
I DON’T offer refreshments for visitors in this studio.
I DO provide small gifts for children, and encourage them to touch my work.
You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine. The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holy, one artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.
I quit offering food in my show booth because I don’t need it anymore. It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping the wife’s purchases. But now, instead, when I greet visitors, I tell them it’s okay to touch the work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else.
So why do I welcome kids in my art space?
Because it is an act of generosity, compassion, good will, and education. And it’s the best gift I can offer visitors, especially those who are new to my work.
First, welcoming kids means you are also welcoming their parents, or grandparents. Few places accomodate kids. Find a way to do that, and you’ll earn the undying gratitude of their accompanying grown-ups.
Second, being open to kids lets the grown-ups actually shop. If not today, then when the kids are older.
Third, the peace of mind you create in your space expands to all your booth/studio visitors. When others hear you giving permission to engage, they relax, too.
Finally, the education bit. Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.
I cannot tell you how many creative people tell me that “people don’t appreciate fine art/fine craft” anymore. Or how “schools don’t teach that appreciation to young people anymore.”
I’m baffled by this. When did regularpeople ever appreciate fine craft or art?? I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.
When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing and paper mache and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations, there was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teacher simply didn’t have the time for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (She was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year.) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go. I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as “home ec” and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.
We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade and fine art. People can easily find craft and art online. It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.
So who will teach the art-makers of the future? Who will share the vision, and encourage the connection for the collectors and admirers of tomorrow?
When we engage people with our work, we share something powerful. Inspiration, artistic vision, professional goals, our process, our materials (and why we choose them) are ways to educate (gently), connect (authentically), and encourage our audience to buy and collect handmade. People are genuinely hungry for this.
I get that not all work is touchable, or safe for young ones to handle. I’m fortunate that my artifacts are sturdy. In fact, their touchability is a strong selling point, too. But we’re creative people. We should be able to come up with ideas that work.
I have several. I keep a box of shiny, pretty beads on hand. I’ll ask young ones to pick one, and then offer to make a necklace for them, using inexpensive cording and slip knots.
I keep some samples of animal artifacts on hand, too. I’ll ask a youngster if they’d like to hold a bear or a horse (or a bird or a fish). They’re so unnerved, they’re usually speechless, but also intrigued! I let them hold the animal while their parents look around, and retrieve it when they leave. Parents are so grateful!
I freely hand out business cards with images of my work on them, or old show postcards. Again, a well-appreciated gift, and also a reminder of their visit to my space.
Touch is such a compelling instinct for all humans, not just young ones. So much so that Bruce Baker, noted speaker on professional development skills for artists, advises, if your work is too delicate to touch) having a sample of your work on hand that is touchable, even for grown-ups: A sample of the handmade paper you work with for people to stroke, or a piece of the roving you turn into handspun yarn. For fine 2D art, perhaps a scrap of paper with a bright daub of paint on it, or the experimental work you made to figure out color mixes, cut up into pieces for them use as a book mark.
Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block.
At the very least, try business cards featuring images of your work. Moo is an online printing company that offers small business cards. They cost more than other brands (watch for their sales!), but you can customize them to the point where you can order 100 cards with 100 different images of your work. So cool to say to a child, “Would you like a picture of a bunny, or a bird?”!
It’s worth brainstorming about how other art and craft media could be presented in small samples or even inexpensive “gifts” to kids. I’d love to hear your current strategies, ideas, and suggestions in the comment section!
P.S. I can’t seem to post images in the comments section, but I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth! Send your pics, and I’ll add them!