The Key to Success at Art Fairs? Building relationships.
Fairs boast the highest concentration of art-world professionals around; that reason, along with innumerable Instagram-friendly installations, is why thousands of seasoned pros and spectators alike flock each year to see and be seen, mingling amongst the new and noteworthy of the contemporary scene. And at the core of every one of those social interactions, however nascent, is a personal relationship.
For artists and galleries new on the scene, navigating how to make and maintain relationships while burning the candle at both ends can be exhausting. Having a booth at a fair might seem like a sure-fire way to make new connections, sniff out fresh leads and even potentially secure sales in the moment, but there’s no way to do it all after 4 frenzied days of non-stop madness. Relationships take work – but with a friendly touch approach, you’re sure to make crucial lasting connections during your next art fair appearance.
Networking: It’s a lifestyle.
No artist or gallery is an island, and many art fairs provide opportunities for participants and collectors to mingle and get to know each other outside of regularly (and often, tightly)-scheduled fair time. Don’t be intimidated by this cold networking approach, though – everyone might seem cooler, more established, and more qualified than you – but chances are, they’re not! One of my favorite and most effective ways to tackle networking anxiety is to look myself in the mirror and repeat: “every interaction is an opportunity” until I feel my confidence levels restored and I’m able to face my peers again (embarrassing, but undeniably effective).
Whether it’s mingling amongst press, collectors and artists while sipping cotton-candy topped champagne at Superfine!’s Twilight Vernissage or vaping in the bathroom during an after-party at the Public Hotel, opportunities abound for you to meet someone new and jot down their Instagram handle. And don’t forget: the most important thing about networking isn’t the initial meet-cute, it’s the follow up...
Clienteling is key.
It’s crucial to have a relationship-first mindset – every moment of your fair experience should be spent making connections. Have an easy-to-access email notebook available where visitors can write their information down. Make sure your website and social links are clearly displayed in your print materials so that collectors can follow you in the moment or later on. And most importantly, reach out with a timely and personalized “thank you” email (there’s no better time to learn how to do a merge) after the fair. Your new contacts will be sure to notice!
Serve up fresh, steamy content.
So you know how to build relationships with other artists and art-world professionals, but how do you maintain relationships with the laypeople? Take time and make the effort to produce quality content (aside from your artwork or curation) that engages your fans and clients and keeps them coming back for more. Send a newsletter reminding collectors to come visit your booth, post Instagram stories during installation, and keep a fresh stream of main-grid posts coming to tease out your offering to your followers. These simple actions help those who can’t personally attend the fair to stay engaged, and they’ll feel a more genuine connection with your mission and personality.
Few artists can brag about the prowess of their social presence like Canadian artist Andy Dixon. Carefully curated behind-the-scenes content mixes with install shots, personal views and professional happenings. While it certainly doesn’t hurt that his signature pastel-hued work is easy on the eyes, the success of Dixon’s social strategy and engagement rates really take center stage for our purposes.
Invest in PR!
Before you get noticed, you need to invest in the right tools to hone and pitch your story before the art fair even begins. Finding the right PR representative is a total necessity when it comes to building relationships with press, collectors, and other art professionals. You might be inclined to think that paying a firm or individual to sing their praises to the masses means you’re selling out – but the fact is, everything boils back down to the network, and it’s proven science that PR makes the world go round.
Relationships start with enticing information, and PR is exactly how you get that info out into the world. Alexandra Fanning, who specializes in communications, publicity and events for galleries and artists notes, “apart from paid advertising and social media, a traditional PR campaign is crucial for spreading information about an art fair, it’s vision, the type of artwork visitors are expected to see, the caliber of galleries involved. Not only do you want to drive ticket sales, collector, gallery and press interest, you want to inform the world of who you are and why your fair is unique.”
Whether you’re new on the scene or a jaded professional, there’s no escaping the fact that relationships are the meat and bones of the art world. Networking, clienteling, and maintaining an always friendly touch with your connections will get you far! Now go forth and build those lasting relationships.