Seven factors bringing people to a Cambridge Open Studio

Fern section

How DO people find a studio? This is a key question for any exhibiting artist looking to attract visitors and here are my seven key factors, based on four years of exhibiting with Cambridge Open Studios and supported by hard facts and figures gathered in 2010.

They are: Collaboration, Friends, Broadcast, Attraction, Location, Reward & Contact.

1. Collaboration
The lone artist in the garret may be the traditional perception yet most successful artists have been gregarious, whether communing in cafes and bars, forming rebellious movements or exhibiting in galleries. There is good sense in this for a number of reasons - sharing experiences, access to larger audiences, better advertising/marketing by combining resources and greater attraction by exhibiting together. I joined Cambridge Open Studios in 2004 and have appreciated the benefits of almost 300 artists collaborating in our region.

2. Friends
Most likely, the first people to appreciate and even purchase your artwork would have been people you know, friends and family. Treat every new person introduced and appreciative of your work as a new friend; treasure and cultivate them! For they are the most likely to come to see your newest work and recommend it to others (if they like it, of course!). In 2010, at least 27 of my visitors were people who had come in previous years, many being familiar faces.

3. Broadcast
To come to your studio, people need to know about it, but what is the best medium? Results from talking to visitors to my 2010 Cambridge Open Studio gave the following counts for the primary source of finding out about studio and coming:

57
 Cambridge Open Studios Guide book (57 out of 30,000 copies)
27  *Visitors from previous years (see friends above, 27 out of circa 70)
20
 Brought along by others (some more reluctant than others!, 20 out of 113)
07  Passers by
02
 Cambridge Open Studios website
00  Own Web pages relating to COS (0 of 56 visitors to pages)
00  Newspaper and Magazine articles
00  Radio/TV
00  Social media (circa 500 own contacts worldwide, some expressed interest in COS)
113  TOTAL responses

*Note: many returning visitors/friends also had guides!

Taken at face value, there are three main conclusions, 1. Collaboration by artists in self promotion and returning visitors are clearly the most important source of visitors for me; 2. Conventional media such as the press and radio/tv appear to have no effect; and 3. web and social media similarly appear to be unsuccessful.

However, whilst conventional and new media appeared to be poor prime drivers for visitors, they can still be influential in terms of giving supporting information and impetus to visiting Cambridge Open Studios. Indeed, one visitor specifically complimented the website because it allowed them to check out artists further before making a decision.

Perhaps the most important lesson here is to measure the effectiveness of different advertising routes for events as done here.

4. Attraction
Whatever your medium for advertising, the message you give has a big influence on success. visitors told me that the guidebook image for my studio attracted them, then the curiosity aroused by the subject (involving microscopes) in the brief description.

Don't take your text and images for promotion lightly - test them out on others to see which works best. Again, measure the success of the ad so you can adapt in future.

5. Location
Geographic location has a dramatic effect on visitor numbers. Situated on the outskirts of Cambridge, visitor numbers are dramatically lower by about a factor of 2 compared to some of the central studios. Numbers drop off further in more outlying villages or quiet side streets.

This can be combated in several ways. For example by having several studios open close to each other at the same time or even at one location, making it easier for the visitors to optimise their visits to several artists.

Also, be easy to find. Alison Hullyer and I exhibit in a quiet close off the main road; with over 13 yrs of experience, Alison has direction flags at locations leading visitors from the main street in Milton to our studios.

A radical alternative is to choose to move an exhibition to a more central location.

6. Reward
Visitors will hopefully come for your art! That does not stop you from making the experience even more positive. In the July heat, many Cambridge Open Studios offer drinks and the culinarily gifted food. Having a range of products for all price brackets; additional information , interactivity are other options.

But the most important is a welcome, a feeling that you appreciate their visit, that they can actually talk with the artist.

7. Contact
Your visitors have come, they have enjoyed the visit - ask if they would like to leave a comment in your guest book and (optionally) contact details to let them know of your future events.

If a visitor has enjoyed coming to your studio and appreciates your art, they are far more likely to come back again, so keep in touch with your new friend if you can.

These 7 factors will help bring visitors to your next open studio or exhibition. Start now at point 1, finding other artists to collaborate with.

If you are in the Cambridgeshire area, I thoroughly recommend joining the vibrant and co-operative Cambridge Open Studios - see www.camopenstudios.co.uk.

Chris Thomas, www.miltoncontact.co.uk, helping you communicate in pictures, print and person.