Artist and gallery owners speak out for sales: artist lectures and gallery talks work to inspire and educate gallery-goers

Artist and gallery owners speak out for sales: artist lectures and gallery talks work to inspire and educate gallery-goers

Jessica Lyons

In the never ending quest to find new customers and draw them through the doors, some gallery owners have found a new approach: They’re using speaking engagements and lectures to promote art.

“The more publicity an artist receives, the better for the artist. Gallery talks are just one more form of publicity” said Catherine Edelman, who runs Catherine Edelman Gallery, a photography gallery in Chicago. “The public benefits because they have the opportunity to ask artists questions directly related to a visual experience.”

“You’ve got to find other ways to bring people in,” said gallery owner Judy Broadhurst. “That’s why gallery talks work. People don’t feel any pressure. They don’t need one more invitation to an opening that implies ‘buy.'”

Broadhurst owns Broadhurst Gallery in Pinehurst, N.C., a gallery that displays original paintings and sculpture. She opened her gallery in 1990 after moving from New York.

“This area is a retirement area,” she said. “[When I got here], I realized I was going to have to get out there and educate people–or at least expose them to the art.”

Inside the gallery, Broadhurst hosts a series of free gallery talks, with artists sharing examples of their work and answering questions. Recently, the gallery has also been the site of a series of art-history lectures by artist and Sandhills Community College Art Professor Cliff Stuckey.

Broadhurst also speaks at events for garden clubs, religious groups, retired military wives and others. She always brings a few paintings or a sculpture with her.

“I try to gear the talks toward the audience,” she said. At the garden club, for example, she spoke about design principals, which apply as much to art as they do to gardening and flower arranging. She accompanies her talks with PowerPoint presentations and handouts, if necessary.

“It’s always about art–never about actual sales, of course,” Broadhurst said. “But it’s obvious the work is available at the gallery if people would like to come down and take a look.”

Often, when she’s speaking to a group, Broadhurst said the group members will do the work for her by asking questions or convincing other lecture-goers that they need a particular piece. “I just stand back and answer questions,” she said.

Some gallery owners have taken speaking events to the next level and put them on par with their other business ventures. William Mangum, a Greensboro, N.C.-based artist and a gallery owner as well as an award-winning author, said he uses speaking engagements to complement his painting and publishing business.

“If you’re not your own biggest proponent of what you’re doing, you’re going to get lost in the dark,” said Mangum, who began using speaking engagements to market his art after he started publishing books. He said it has become fairly lucrative, as well as a great marketing tool.

Over the years, Mangum has been asked to address widely varied groups, from civic clubs and golf tournaments to professional retreats and national organizations with a couple thousand attendees. He has also created a short videotape that he sends out to potential clients to give them an idea of what his program can add to their corporate outing.

Mangum doesn’t pigeonhole himself as an arts-event lecturer; indeed, many of the groups he speaks to aren’t art-related at all.

“Some bring me in as a motivational speaker,” Mangum said. “Some bring me in for sheer entertainment. Whether you talk about how you paint or your career as an artist, it’s quite entertaining. I’ve woven these topics into corporate events; many times I’m the lighthearted speaker.”

Mangum tells stories about his humble roots and how he purchased a 59-cent tray of watercolors to paint a Christmas present for Iris mother–the catalyst for the creation of more than 1,800 original paintings.

Mangum, whose paintings often capture familiar, North Carolina scenes and landscapes, also incorporates the state’s heritage and scenic beauty into his speaking engagements, often using his second book, Carolina Preserves, to illustrate the lecture.

And then there’s always the topic of educating the public about how an original painting is created. Mangum incorporates an audio-visual segment into his presentations so that rather than simply talking the audience through the creative process, he can show them his studio and his environment as he creates his art.

“To so many people, artists are like magicians,” he said. “They have no idea where you even begin.”

Mangum said the lectures benefit his art and his skills as a communicator. “It hones your skills for developing relationships with people. Ninety-nine percent of my art is bought for collectible purposes, not for decor, so the people who are intrigued with what I do typically want a relationship with the artists. It’s amazing, artists are still stereotyped as being reclusive; they don’t want to talk about their art. I’m just the opposite of that.”

Additionally, listening to an artist talk about his or her work makes it more accessible to an audience of non-collectors, and encourages them to visit galleries. “You break down the barriers and the intimidation of art,” Mangum said. “I don’t think there’s anything more intimidating than going into an art gallery. They can be so museum-like–you don’t know what to say or how to talk about the art.”

Likewise, Linda Goldenstein, owner of Goldenstein Art Associations in Sedona, Ariz., compares art-focused speaking engagements to wine-tastings events, because they make art more user-friendly and accessible.

“People ask me, ‘How do you sell art?'” she said. “I say, ‘I just tell the story.'”

Goldenstein hosts gallery talks and does lectures with art examples at nearby junior high and high schools. The city’s only live performance theater is located next to her business, so she often uses it for talks and artist interviews, in which she discusses the artist’s background, inspiration, subject matter, medium and technique.

“So many people don’t understand what they see in art. If it’s representational, if it’s what morn and dad owned, they get it. But if it’s abstract, they say, ‘wait a minute.'”

She explained that new and long-time art collectors want galleries to be more than simply a space where art hangs on the walls–they want to know about the piece and the artist who created it.

“It used to be people relied on galleries, but now I think people want a little more. People want that personal touch,” said Goldenstein.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group