What I Learned from Finder Quigley

On June 4th I sold over $2,000 worth of artwork in a private invitation only show. That number includes a certain amount of "Pay What You Think It's Worth" support for The AP Collection as well. The artists walked away with 100% of their sales with one commenting that is was the most they had sold in one show at one time. The event was one night only, access was by invitation only, and the guest list was capped at 25 guests. The only people who knew about the show where given hand printed invitations with a description, date, and time on them. 

Long before this event I had a conversation with Tara Sherry-Torres about the idea for this show. I was so nervous and definitely overthinking how (if) it would work. She told me to step back and said that I had an assumption and this first event was to test that assumption. If it failed then I could reevaluate and try again. Taking a step back, I realized that the assumption was thus :

Based on the relationships I've built after two and half years of interviewing creative Pittsburghers, could I create an exclusive environment that built relationships with new art collectors and facilitate the sale of their artwork?

Tara agreed with this assumption and recommended a number of ways to collect data about how the event went. Since Thursday night, I have been looking over the surveys and information collected at point of sale. I've talked to most of the artists and just sat and thought on my own experience. I can say it was a success. Here is what happened.

This is what it took to get Finder Quigley off the ground

Infrastructure: This show required an art space that wasn't visible on a main street. To create a sense of exclusivity, I needed the right balance of private but accessible that I could also get food in and out of and have the space to decorate as I saw fit. A friend of mine with connections at a large art institution in Pittsburgh recommended a locale business that held a private event curated by some local art scene heavy hitters (I don't know if I can name names so I'm gonna be vague). All I got was an email through a friend of a friend. I pitched the idea for this show, set up a meeting, and it turned out the space was perfect for a secret but easy to get to art show. I'll be using the space in the future so in order to keep it a secret I won't name it here. 

Timing: I prepped for months to figure out the best approach for both artists and collectors. The goal was to make everyone feel special about a secret art show. It's the kind of secret that you have to tell people a little bit about but not enough to totally spoil it. this required emails, face-to-face networking, texts to friends, and blindly approaching people with handmade invites via snail mail after getting their address from someone they knew—I did it all. In one instance, I started chatting with a total stranger in the middle of a restaurant in Oakland and mentioned I was working on an art show. They wound up introducing me to a network of interested art collectors—five of which came to the event and four of those folks bought artwork. 

Collectors: In the end, networking through friends and texting was the best way to get people there. I got blown off, some people just never really got it, others didn't pay attention to the stuff I sent, in several cases people never followed through with things they promised. The thing I learned was that none of that stuff mattered. With every dead end I just found a new path to take and kept on going. If I didn't know someone I asked for an introduction. In an age where we get a million Facebook invites and unwanted emails, the text or direct message(s) asking people to be there and answering questions was the way people got into it. Like a wedding, a save the date was helpful... but most people really committed within a month of the event. I invited closer to 30 people with about a 75% attendance rate. Moving forward we are doing a completely online registration process with a fee to secure their invitation. Only 25 spots will be available so exclusivity is maintained in the rarity of the invite.

I've also talked to organizations about hosting their own private events... The possibilities are endless.

The crowd that gathered on Thursday night was young, somewhat new to art collecting, professionals and students, and not necessarily directly involved in the art. I would say they were tangental supporters of the arts. This is exciting to learn...

Artists: Keeping things as simple as possible for creative people with a million things going on was kinda key. Also making sure to update them semi-regularly was helpful for everyone. The next time we do this, (October 15th) I'll be doing a call for artists. Learn more here. Basically it will be an open call with a fee to apply. There are many reasons for this method, (fee up front is less than a commission from art sold, money is used to get the event off the ground before than rather than cover costs afterwards, it's not a high barrier to enter and if the artist isn't chosen it won't impact an application for a future show, artists I've talked to have said it's a reasonable risk to pay $15 for the chance to show especially for a show where they have the potential to sell really well).

Everything else: I learned so much and this is already a really long article. Here's a list of miscellaneous things that I'm still chewing on.

  • The older the guest, the less likely to RSVP or even show up. The guests at the first event where all under 40 years of age and interested in being a part of something new and different. The major thread connecting guests was their curiosity.
  • The more involved in the arts (artist/work at art non-profit) the less likely to want to collect art. One person I contacted stated that because they made art they weren't interested in collecting other peoples. However at the actual event, artist bought other artists work and I heard rumblings of possible collaborations... :)
  • Price point wasn't really a reason for not buying. The survey's revealed that those who didn't purchase just didn't find the thing that spoke to them.
  • Cheese plates are out.
  • Alcohol is not mandatory. The Arnold Palmer with mint that was available went way faster.
  • While the average sale of work was $150–$200 (within an availible range of work from $25–$500) the next show will have work of increased value. As one artist stated, "You have to raise the expectation to get people used to the value of the work"
  • Bigger isn't better. The more targeted and personal the approach, the more likely people are to attend, develop connections with artists, and buy artwork.