Artexpo took place over a month ago, and I feel like I am finally able to come up for air. It was such a busy, crazy experience! The first thing artists ask me about the show is “was it worth doing?”. My answer is a definite, but conditional, yes. My experience at Artexpo was a resounding success, but it was one based on the very focused goals and expectations I set for myself. Your experience at a show like this is based a lot on what you hope to accomplish. Some come hoping for big sales, others want to land that one big deal. So let me go through my goals one by one, and explain what I feel I managed to accomplish.
(1) My first goal was to prove to myself I could do a show like this.
I’ve been a professional artist for 10 years now, but have never done a big trade show, or art show of any kind. I have often visited them, exploring the booths and wondered if I had what it takes to pull it off. But nerves — about the work, the expense, and peoples’ reactions to me — all held me back. I finally decided that I needed to do this show. Avoiding it was a stumbling block in my career that would keep me from moving forward until I gave it a try. Even if I failed, this was something I felt I needed to do.
Result: Great. I proved to myself that not only can I do a show like this, I can do it really well. I discovered that I had all the skills I needed — it was a lot of hard work, but was never difficult or beyond my capabilities. In fact, I found that I really loved all the work involved. It was a challenge I found exciting and fulfilling. Even more importantly, I discovered that my instincts for how to plan my show were spot on. Everything I felt I had to do was, in the end, the right choice. Every decision yielded exactly the results I hoped for.
In other words, I discovered that I did indeed have “what it takes”. Even if the show ended up not having much of a financial impact on my art business, the confidence I gained will help me tackle whatever problems or opportunities come my way.
(2) I wanted to test and refine how I market my art.
I have been crafting a market message about my art for the past year, refining my message, my website, and my marketing tools. But from the safety of my studio, I wasn’t sure if it was working. It all felt right, but without some direct face-to-face interaction I couldn’t be sure. I needed to see if my instinct for how to market and sell my work was sound.
Result: Success. My marketing communicated exactly what I wanted about my art. From the text in the brochure, to the way I designed the booth, to the art I chose to show, everything flowed into one consistent message that people seemed to instantly understand. For example, the owner of a gallery who specializes in painting visited me. After seeing my work and talking with me about it, she was convinced that my abstract, painterly photography would work well alongside the traditional paintings in her gallery. Then armed with only my brochure and her confidence in my art, she was able to get potential collectors interested in it too. Because of my marketing at the show, she understood my art well enough to communicate its value and purpose, even without the art in hand.
(3) I wanted to make some significant contacts.
While I welcomed sales at the show (and sold enough to pay for half of my hard expenses), my main goal was to make long-term contacts. I wanted to reach people who were influencers and connectors; people who could become my evangelists and help sell my work into the future. A key reason I chose to show at Artexpo was their focus on bringing art professionals to the show, exactly the kinds of people I wanted to reach.
Result: Success. I met a lot of people, and talked to a lot of people. And I believe I turned a significant number of them into newly-minted fans of my art. Many were individuals looking for art for their home, but a significant number were gallerists, art consultants, designers, and licensers. While some interactions were limited to “I like your work, add me to your database”, a significant number were much deeper. I had great conversations with designers and consultants about how my art could help with their projects. I signed on with new partners and galleries, and made some important new connections for future projects.
So, was Artexpo worth doing?
Yes, for me it definitely was. I wasn’t going there to rake in the sales, I was going there to market myself and my art. The show gave me that opportunity, and I took it. Everything I set out to accomplish, I did. Every goal I had, I met. But when an artist asks me if I’d recommend that they do it too, my answer is that it all depends on your budget and what you hope to accomplish.
Artexpo is an expensive show to do. It’s a significant investment, and risk. When I decided to go, I put most of my marketing eggs for the year into this one basket. While a risky move, I felt it was worth it. The show allowed me to introduce my art to people who I found hard to reach via my normal marketing methods of cold calls and emails. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this risk is worth it for you.
I also believe that my goals were realistic for what Artexpo could offer me. If I was just hoping to sell a lot of art, I probably would’ve been disappointed. If I was hoping to land that one career-making gallery contract, I probably would’ve been disappointed. All I can recommend is that you do your homework, hone your goals, and be realistic about what you hope to accomplish.