Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Poll: Audience Engagement

Galleries and art institutions are always looking to find ways in which to engage the public with art, to inspire and grow new audiences. While we all wish the Field of Dreams quote, "if you build it they will come", would simply hold true, it never quite happens that way. Locally, aside from First Friday openings, most of the art galleries in town are near empty for a majority of their exhibitions run.

Some of the ways in which venues attempt to reach these audiences are through cross promoting events, hosting musical performances, beer/wine tastings, VIP/member openings, artist talks, lectures, educational classes, mailings, advertising (via postcards, posters, and/or calendar listings), websites and blogs.

What I have been interested in, when attempting to understand the local audience, is this, aside from quality exhibitions and venue accessibility, what might a gallery do or offer to further engage you and enhance your art going experience?

27 Responses to “Poll: Audience Engagement”

Anonymous said...
July 23, 2008 at 11:54 PM

Slow gallery traffic = Lack of Education/Culture in a given geographical area + Poorly Chosen Exhibits for that particular area.

You can bet that if the exhibits featured some type of exciting race or sports theme, with realistic portrayals (read: near-photo renderings/nothing left to the imagination) you'd have a constant stream of Hoosiers willing to buy the accompanying beer mug or t-shirt.

Am I being too real?

Part of the problem is getting the local media involved at the same intensity level they involve themselves (for free, I might add) in the above mentioned popular activities. A mention on WFYI's "Art of the Matter" simply isn't going to cut it.

Many a press release is sent out by galleries only to be ignored by the local media, including the seemingly art-friendly alternative papers.

First Friday openings are nice, free entertainment for the 20-something crowd and free wine drinkers. That's the only reason there's a crowd on those nites.


Scott said...
July 24, 2008 at 2:14 AM

You make a some good points though I do not agree completely with your calculation, though I do think I understand the point of it.

"Slow gallery traffic = Lack of Education/Culture in a given geographical area + Poorly Chosen Exhibits for that particular area."

The reason for this disagreement is that, even in the context of a well thought out and executed art exhibition, the targeted contemporary arts loving audience, quite often never make it out to see a show or only attempt to see shows on First Fridays. I am often bewildered by the lack of Herron students (and professors) that attend the galleries. What about IMA staff? I am not picking on everyone, there are a handful that do make the rounds regularly? I am guilty as well. I do miss shows I have every intention of checking out, be it bad timing, forgetfullness, procrastination, or simply overextended.

Typically I will attend First Friday openings, usually for the social aspect of them and to get a sneak preview of the exhibitions being shown. After surveying these shows, I often make a point to go back when traffic is significantly lower so I can truly check out the show in peace and quite (often being the only person in the gallery aside from staff). I quite enjoy attending Artist talks and lectures as well. This additional component often stimulates my thought process concerning an artists work.

Also, does anyone ever wonder what it is about an artist talk being held at the IMA versus one being held at say Herron or iMOCA? Hell, I have attended artist talks that have sadly had fewer than a dozen attendees. What is it about the IMA that makes their numbers that much better than other venues? The audience numbers and audience make up are often drastically different even when dealing with artists on a relatively equal footing. This is curious on many levels for me. Is it simply that the IMA is much better at promoting their lectures or artist talks? Is it that people are just more likely to support such a large institution? Is it really nothing more "THE place to be seen" by arts types? What might other venues do to engage some this audience?

Anonymous said...
July 24, 2008 at 9:21 AM

I've kept an eye on what has been showing this year in all the galleries. So far, there has been little to tempt me to come downtown and I'm an art buyer/art lover. Every year is different; two years ago, there were quite a few good exhibits and I attended several of them, both on opening nights and later.

Something else that seemingly has gone by the wayside: the total-building openings that were well-attended. The Murphy, The Stutz, the Wheeler, the Harrison... not so long ago, these "art centers" made sure nearly every artist was showing something and had their spaces open. It caused a great interaction between the public and artists and you could barely get through the hallways. Now when they happen, very few artists have their spaces open, as if they couldn't be bothered. In turn, it's made the traffic numbers go way down. The Murphy especially has seen a huge drop in numbers and in art-buying types of traffic. There are a lot of factors for this, of course.

The IMA has a longer history, is member-driven (important point), has higher status and is overall a more professionally run atmosphere. It also has a much larger budget to promote whatever is going on. This attracts more people (and I'm sure a better-heeled audience).

I have a feeling you may be overestimating the numbers of "the target contemporary arts loving audience". Of course, there's no way to accurately guage what that number is in Indy, but I would imagine it's much smaller than any of us would like to admit.

And the economy isn't exactly helping. I know that I won't drive from where I live out of town to come downtown unless I have a damn good reason or several for one trip. When gas and food prices go up, luxuries like art and art talks become a low priority.


Anonymous said...
July 24, 2008 at 11:48 AM

How about not planning for the same evening? First Fridays are fun. Yes. But what about Second Fridays or third Saturdays? I find that on First Fridays most people commit to an area of town, coupled with everything ending at 9 (hello nap-town!) it leaves little flex time to expirience anything else. And! most people work. So... keep it open later, longer and work with those who are indeed interested
Art should be everyday not once a month.

Carla said...
July 24, 2008 at 8:49 PM

IMA's First Fridays serves free wine?

Scott said...
July 25, 2008 at 10:03 AM

Sorry Carla, you may have misread... I believe the free wine was in reference to many of the gallery openings during the IDADA First Fridays, which is not taking into account the IMA. And I know recently, a lot of galleries are now having to either stop offering wine or jump through the hoops to get a serving license because of misguided excise policy.

A part of me, is completely not effected by the discontinuation of serving beer or wine at an opening, it becomes costly (in time and money) for the venues to offer this to their patrons who are so greatful they leave their trash all over the gallery. I think it is completely possible to have an enjoyable art opening with out being inebriated. These same offerings being offered at VIP openings or more private events are a different story.

Lirio said...
July 25, 2008 at 7:35 PM

The people won't come to have to go to the people...and....folks seem to want a lot of "value" for their time and trouble these adding something for the kids to do, food, music and sight-seeing opportunities compound the interest. That's why Penrod, Talbot, etc do so well I guess. People have so much entertainment and beauty at their finger tips anymore. I think I'll go be sad now....;)

Lirio said...
July 26, 2008 at 2:10 PM

And is the economy....most people are buying gas and food, the 10 rich people who like to buy art have too much to hang now.....heh!

Lirio said...
July 27, 2008 at 10:30 AM

Oh geez...I'm sorry, brain diarrhea here....:blush:

"what might a gallery do or offer to further engage you and enhance your art going experience?".......

Have affordable items for regular Joes to buy (the people that can't afford $20,000 for a table for 10) be sure stuff is plainly marked and displayed, yet no pressure/guilt to purchase.

Perhaps IMA functions are well attended because people can step out of their routine, yet feel safe coming to look and enjoy, yet not feeling guilty or embarrassed about not buying. (the giftshop is there if you want to kick up your heels and spend though.....wheee!)

Membership holders probably do attend a few events to get their money's worth, and experience all the loveliness and beauty that is IMA.

So....back to "what might a gallery do or offer to further engage you and enhance your art going experience?"

Hmmmm....go to the people, (or be WHERE and WHEN the people will come to you) offer beauty and easygoing fun. Maybe having a type of "membership" might be intriguing. People do like *belonging*. So... a membership in a local art group where you immediately get something for your intial membership fee (how about a popular print by one of the gallery artists) and then you are *invited* to special events occasionally. Of course, these events must be fun....with no pressure to buy, but the oppurtunity should be available, in a way that people do not have to venture out of their comfort zone to buy. (people DO love to shop!) With the membership $$'s, the group might actually pay for ads where people would really see or hear them....making people want to be there. Good grief! blah blah blah....:blush:

Too much caffine....sorry.

Jessica said...
July 28, 2008 at 1:29 PM

I agree that First Fridays need to be longer.

More family friendly events would be great. I've taken my kids to First Friday events, but I always end up being more sheep-herder than art patron. It's hard to expose them to art when I'm afraid they'll accidently knock something over.

The Julian Opie exhibit was great for them, as well as the Spring Gallery walk with the tire "sculptures". The art parade was a blast as well. None of these events were all that well publicized outside the art crowd.

Art in this town tends to have a hands-off attitude, which adds to its isolationism. Compare that to the top floor of the Contemporary Art Aenter in Cincinnati, and you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...
July 29, 2008 at 11:16 AM

I don't think there's a clear, all-encompassing answer that would gather the masses to a gallery event. I think different audiences are looking for different things, and judging from the poll results so far, there are pretty varied tastes when it comes to what people want to walk away with from a gallery experience.

I think the reason that the IMA tends to be more successful in community engagement than the city's smaller art spaces relies simply upon that fact that it offers something for everyone. Children and families can enjoy things like the Star Studio, and art classes, "Highrollers" and those wishing to hobnob can attend the more swanky IMA affairs and member events, The more traditional art lovers are free to roam the american and european galleries, and those of us with an interest in current art trends can browse the Contemporary and Forefront galleries for a taste of what we're looking for. The IMA has both the manpower and financial presence neccessary to offers such a cross-section of events and exhibitions to the public and I really think that's a key reason for the museum's success.

Anonymous said...
July 29, 2008 at 4:26 PM


Galleries and gallery events are competing for the public's time. Going to a gallery requires a person to make the effort and decide it's a worthwhile way to spend their time. First Friday was put in place to make this as easy as possible. To give the public one day a month when they could count on the galleries being open, hopefully exhibiting new and exciting work.

On First Friday, my gallery is open from 5 until 9PM. I'm usually finished with my last visitors by 9:45. I can't say extending the hours would have an impact on the the size of the crowd or the sales I make. Most people are ready to move on with their evening by 10PM, generally with a late dinner or drinks.

The IMA has a captive audience thru its membership and the resources to reach the public. I would also guess that many of the people that attend IMA events do so because they like going to the museum. For a variety of reasons, they are more likely to see an exhibit at the IMA than travel to Fountain Square or Mass. Ave.

In my opinion, the best course of action for local galleries is to: mount quality shows, maintain consistent hours and work together to build a better art community. In the end, the city will get the art experience and art community it deserves.

Anonymous said...
July 30, 2008 at 7:43 PM

On the many First Fridays that we've attended at only one gallery (Flux) have we ever been greeted and made to feel welcome. Most times the gallery owners, staff and artists stand around and act unapproachable. Since Indy isn't exactly the art capitol of the world, I'd think the galleries would try to give up the arrogant act and try to get to know some of the people that spent their time and made the effort to come into their gallery. All of us aren't there just for the free cheap wine.

Lirio said...
July 30, 2008 at 7:51 PM

Well there's some feedback for you!

Scott said...
July 30, 2008 at 8:08 PM

I too am a fan of Flux and I look forward to them reopening again next year. As for the unapproachable gallery owners, staff and artists, I can not say that I agree at all. At least in my personal experiences. Mark Ruschman for example has continuously been one of the most generous and approachable gallery owners in the city.

Having worked at Big Car for the past year, I don't think we are ever intentionally stand offish to our patrons. First Fridays are often so busy and the staff have been busy with their day jobs before showing up to work all night at the gallery. They are often simply tired or busy.

Artists are often not very good at being outwardly social but if approached are usually willing to talk about their work and the show. I know on these sort of nights I am not the best social bee in the hive but when approached I think I am quite generous with my time and actually enjoy talking art with others. But just as I hate being approached by salesmen when I go into a store, I do not really like to blindly approach strangers in the gallery. That said, if someone seems to seriously be looking at the work (and I notice they are) I often make it a point to approach them and let them know I am willing to answer any questions.

I can only hope that gallerys and their staff are not stand offish to their guest as your experiences appear to have been. For that I am sorry, viewing art should not feel exclusive or cliquish.

Good Luck at future events and if nothing else, I am always willing to chat with you for a bit at an opening. ^^

Anonymous said...
July 30, 2008 at 10:55 PM

I've never found Indy gallery owners to be stand-offish or rude. I would guess that they're more just frustrated.

If you consistently go to gallery openings and drink the wine and eat the food there is an implied social contract that you will eventually and at least occassionally buy art.

In Indy, we think of gallery openings as social events rather than opportunities to purchase art. If commercial galleries can't sell art, you're going to end up with non-profits (e.g. the Harrison Center, Big Car) and people who own a gallery merely as a hobby as the only survivors. While FLux is/was a nice gallery, it was never commercially successful.

First Fridays has exascerbated this trend of gallery hopping as a social activity. It has also killed the other three or four weekends of the month. There used to be openings almost every Friday.

Anonymous said...
August 2, 2008 at 4:36 PM


I appreciate scott's kind words about my efforts to make my patrons feel welcome in the gallery. It's not only good manners, but begins the process of building personal and professional relationships. It's what my artists expect of me. I know many of the other gallery owners in town and I have always found them to be friendly and approachable. Like anything, there are probably exceptions to the rule.

I admit, the First Friday schedule is a tradeoff for openings during the rest of the month. But with so many venues, I think the consensus among gallery owners was that we were wearing out our patrons. How many Fridays evenings in the course of a month can you expect your patrons to devote to art openings and the gallery scene. The younger crowd might be able to hang with it, but if you've got kids, etc... you have to plan in advance to make it happen. To date, The feedback I've received has been very favorable. Also, First Friday's don't prevent anyone from opening on another Friday evening (or any other evening for that matter), it's just there to let everyone capitalize on the audience it generates.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...
August 3, 2008 at 11:31 AM

I don't think of gallery owners here as rude, but i do find may of them too indifferent to making connections with patrons during First Fridays or otherwise. Part of being a good host is connecting with your guests. I'd have more greeters at gallery openings ... even if they are volunteers. I'd also make the takeaway info available more interesting. There also has to be the equivalent of a docent role at a gallery opening for someone who wants more info. Maybe listening stations at select works where the artists shares the story behind the work, etc. If not done at the gallery that would be an easy thing to do online.

I also think gallery web sites need to essentially offer virtual openings with much more information about their individual artists, the works on display and available, etc. If I see something I like at a show often I try to later share it with a friend online, but the only image on the site is the one used in the opening postcard. I often wonder if galleries thought of their sites like realtors do with the houses they represent (both for preview and repeat view purposes) if we might see more interest and purchasing.

Anonymous said...
August 4, 2008 at 3:59 PM

I agree with Jeffrey. Just as the artists of Indianapolis should be making connections with potential buyers in other cities, our galleries need to post every work in every show online. Sales should not be limited to only those who come through the door. What if my work would most appeal to Germans?

Hmm... If a painting is created in Indianapolis and no one sees it...

Scott said...
August 4, 2008 at 4:28 PM

I think Jeffery and the following anonymous both make some excellent points. Better take away material is certainly an interesting and possbily low cost solution to helping make that connection (unless you decide to print in color on high quality paper). Then again if artists and their gallerys work together on creating a brochure, catalog or some other physical take away supplement and decide to spend more money on making a nice product, these could last much beyond a single show and could be sent to past clients, future venues and prospective buyers. Making particular hand outs broad enough and quality, will help prevent disposal waste and the ability to use the product for months or until supply is depleted. While I do not really like the idea of listening stations placed in the gallery next to works, if a designated computer in the gallery allowed this sort of option, that would be quite exceptable and the inclusion on their website is very much a good idea. I too would like to see more of the works shown in the galleries, viewable on the web.

I understand the issue with this ability to show the works on the web, to some degree, as most of the galleries in the city do not officially "represent" artists. Most work with artists only during the exhibition and once the artist goes their way, that is it. I think it could be benificial to galleries and artists still to get their work online. (Note: make this easy for the viewer with as few clicks as possible)

Anonymous said...
August 5, 2008 at 4:45 PM

m. ruschman

Concerning posting images of the current show on line, if you visit my web site, and click "Current Exhibition" you can see several works from the show, giving anyone interested an overview of what they might find if they choose to make the trip. Not sure I need the entire show, but I might be wrong.

I'll bring up some of the suggestions stated in the previous comments at the next IDADA meeting and see what the response is. I tend to be in line with Scott on most of these issues. But again, I'm willing to listen.

Scott said...
August 5, 2008 at 4:55 PM

This brings up a good point. For those of you who are memebers of IDADA, as well as those of you who are not, IDADA holds meetings each Wednesday following First Fridays to discuss issues and concerns of interest to the local arts community and the organization. The public is generally welcome to sit on these meetings. While the meetings are only an hour long and often things can be rushed, these meetings are a wonderful way to bring to light new ideas and thoughts about the current and future practices and events in the Indianapolis art scene. If you have some ideas on how IDADA can better serve the arts community or you want to become more active in the arts, by all means check one of these meetings.

Anonymous said...
August 5, 2008 at 10:35 PM

It's not like these aren't good ideas everyone is bringing up, but I don't think any of them are going to revolutionize the gallery scene in Indy.

Providing better information may help someone eke out a few more sales, but its not going to change the big picture. There's just not enough demand for purchasing art here. There really isn't much of an art market in any mid-sized city, except for some resort towns.

Anonymous said...
August 6, 2008 at 12:10 PM

As to gallery owners being stand-offish, one need simply go to Carmel to compare Indy galleries with their's. I've been to nearly every one in Carmel, and only ONE person greeted me and made me feel welcome (Thank you, Frazier Pettee). And the worst offender was Evan Lurie, who sat at his big, shiny desk and totally ignored us. He could use some lessons on "Hooser Hospitality".

By comparison, Indy galleries at least say "hello" and welcome you in, which is the least any gallery owner can do. Indiana is not a state where snobbish attitudes go over well. Are you listening, Carmel?

Anonymous said...
August 6, 2008 at 2:44 PM

After attending the VisualFringe opening this past Friday I'm happy to report that many galleries had more people greeting and making sure we knew who to contact if we had any questions. (Unfortunately there still was one major exception) The greeters for VisualFringe were very good at pointing out what work was a part of VisualFringe. All in all it was a great evening, there was a lot of energy and there was a lot of great work to see. We purchased a painting while in Fountain Square.

As for Mr. Lurie, I couldn't agree more. Sorry to pile on but, he appears to size people up immediately upon entering his gallery. If he doesn't think you can afford his status art you are ignored. We've attended five different functions and have visited his gallery three other times and never has he nor his staff approached us. He really seems to be a piece of work. Maybe he's perfect for Carmel.

Anonymous said...
August 7, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Ohhh, c'mon Anonymous at 2:44... you've gotta share with us who the exception was... after all, you're anonymous!

Lori said...
August 7, 2008 at 7:31 PM

I went to some of the galleries for Visual Fringe and was actually quite bothered by the "overgreeting" going on. Three people met me at the door of one space offering info and asking questions. It's nice, I know, but I don't like being greeted at Wal-Mart (which they only do to cut down on shoplifting anyway). I LIKE walking anonymously through shows, taking in the art at my own pace, without feeling obligated to schmooze the artist/gallerist. And let's be honest, I'm probably not buying anything anyway.

Making fun of Evan Lurie is such great entertainment it should be a board game, but in truth, I want information available in galleries only when I request it. The hoosier-hospitality-make-everyone-feel-welcome idea works well for entry level arts venues (Harrison Center), but I'd hate to see our arts experiences watered down just to make everyone feel at home. I don't want to feel at home. I want to feel like I'm in a gallery, appreciating some good art.

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