Sunday, March 22, 2015

Should the “Opening” just be Closed and put out of business?

Mariachi Band playing my Laredo, Texas opening 2007
Openings, as far as the arts are concerned, have been an industry tradition for probably a century or more. However, it may be time to put this one out to pasture. I invite your comments, input and discussion about this topic as it affects all of us artists and gallery owners and even the public at large. Patrons is a more appropriate word to end that sentence, but not an applicable one as I don’t believe “patrons of the arts” exist anymore in the spirit for which the term was coined.

For those who are unfamiliar with the definition of an “art opening”, the term refers to an event (usually a couple of hours on a weekend night) when an artist’s (or artists’) work is able to be viewed by the public for the first time, debuting to a new audience, showcasing a new body of work, or presenting a thematic group show.  Often nibble snacks are served (at the expense of the artist or venue owner), music may be provided (ditto the payment) and if possible, wine (ditto again). Now unless a museum or some such equivalent caliber venue is involved, rarely is a fee required. Openings are free and the goodies provided, free as well to the attendees. The artist(s) are usually present and sometimes even asked to speak a few words to those gathered, about what is on display.

As have many of my fellow artists, I have had my share of this time honored tradition…and this specific blog will focus only on the solo (or perhaps dual) show opening experience. Group shows have built in audiences to attend the openings because want to see what others have entered, who gets awards and do the old “see and be seen on scene, booze and smooze” circuit. Solo shows are a whole different ball game.

A solo show represents months (and sometimes years) of effort on the part of the artist. To get a show on the walls, requires lots of paperwork, often transportation (perhaps requiring hotels, trailers, meals and so forth) that entail a financial commitment. In actuality it is far more complex than I have room to explain here. On the part of the venue or gallery owner, the previous show is removed, walls patched and repainted, new work inventoried, hung up, labeled, lights adjusted, music perhaps lined up, food and drink purchased and set out, PR sent out including pictures and details, websites, newsletters and newspapers, and sometimes even postcards printed and mailed. For which the venue will get paid back only if a piece of work sells and the 35 – 40% commission can be taken. So….what does that require after all the work on the part of the artist and the venues?  In blunt honesty….people to get off their butts, often drive to the location, come in the door, look at the work, speak to the person who made it, and if possible, purchase something….but many of us would be happy to just get the first 4 off this list.

Let’s start with “get off your ____ butt”. Guilty as charged, so I am a kettle, I too have found myself too lazy to put on clean clothes and make my way to another city (even 20 minutes, let alone an hour or more)  to view work that I really, really want to see, but just can’t muster the…..what?  Most recent openings of which I have heard or seen, comprise the artist, their immediate family and a small sampling of friends….but rarely do others show up, at least not on purpose. Sometimes those passing by to dinner will drop in to warm up or see food and happen to stop in. What makes us all so busy? Life. I get it. Kids have required activities and need driven, the yard requires care, other plans have already been made…whatever the excuse, if it in fact exists, we are just not going anymore. Heck, I can view the work online, I may know the artist and don’t need to see the work again, I can see the show while going to something in or near the venue on another day….seen, heard and been guilty of all these myself. As the artist however….openings are “our party”, our chance to shine, often our underlying need to be validated. All too often however, we end up hurt, embarrassed, disappointed, and downright discouraged. We send emails, postcards and personal invitations and still, nobody comes, thinking maybe others will go and we won’t notice. But we do, and are often too gracious to say thing to you later….we just suck it up and hope for the best next time.

The gallery owner, or venue person in charge often ends up feeling the same way...embarrassed that the loyal following did not turn out, disappointed that all the time and effort and investment has gone to waste, and discouraged, wondering whether it is worth it to even have such a designated time set aside to debut someone. Cost of investment has to equal the cost of return at some point or the plug has to be pulled. Who loses in the long run is a matter of perspective.

Some of this shift in interest is a sign of the times, “art” is everyplace now, in the restaurants, coffee houses, bars, hotels, airports, internet, because we are trying to get it in front of your face anyway we can, because you are not coming to us. Therefore are people visually overloaded and don’t need to go see one more collection of work? The economy can’t be denied as a factor too. Gas is expensive, expendable income is practically nonexistent, and space is limited and must be used wisely. Mindsets have changed too, younger people do not want “stuff”, and to many, art on the walls or pedestals is just “stuff”. Small copies can be made off of internet pictures, small prints are less space than original works, and face it, images are cheap cheap cheap at the local craft store. The value of original art as an investment does not register with many people. And so too, commitment is a thing of the past, even for weddings for gosh sake, let alone an opening…”of course I am coming! (Unless something else comes up that could be more fun and I will just go to it instead.)

So….is it time to stop the practice of “openings” and just put up new work and hope it gets noticed? Personally, I hate my own openings, I’d rather not have them. I feel stupid sitting around hoping the people will talk to me or not shy away in “fear” that I have approached them to converse about what is on the walls. Ohio is not NY, or any other metropolitan city with money to burn on this social scene staple. I have no answers…do any of you? How are your “openings…are strangers showing up to see your efforts? Do you cover your expenses to hold these things? Do openings meet your expectations or are you going through the motions? Maybe as a community we can come up with some solutions to either maintain this tradition or be willing to declare them a thing of the past and focus on new ways to promote ourselves and the work of others who share our passion.

 I will start off the discussion with an idea….what if all the openings were held on ONE day from late morning until into early evening (11 to 7), the SAME day and time for all locations, like a big art walk open house type of thing? NOT a First Friday vibe, not an Akron Art walk vibe, just art galleries, studios and the like. No bars, no restaurants, no street vendors or face painters, no outdoor music folks, no “extra fun” activities, just a focus on the visual arts. I remember doing the Farm Tour with my kids. We had a map and drove from place to place, to see only farms….one focus, one purpose, one day, one intent….one common goal. Could you see people driving to Minerva, Alliance, Canton, Massillon and wherever else with their map and their locations planned out?

Okay, now it is your turn…..


  1. If I understand your idea correctly, having openings all on one day would necessitate getting all the downtown gallery owners/curators to agree on communal schedules, wouldn't it? A logistical nightmare? You bring up some challenging points...I'm afraid we may have pre-conditioned Canton public to equate openings with First Friday as all part of the downtown entertainment package. I will continue to think long and hard about your very valid concerns. Might need to respond with my own blog entry!

  2. I try to attend the openings for the artist and to see my art community friends, then I typically go back later to view the art unobstructed. Many times I've fallen for a piece at an opening, then decided after a few days of it on my mind that I can't live without it and go back and buy it later. I will say marketing is a necessity not often high on the list, but is much needed. Folks can't come to that which they don't know about. Personally, I'm much more likely to attend if a colorful postcard for an opening is by my purse than I if hit 'join' on an online invite. But that costs more. Second, the public needs educated in original art versus those cheapies in a craft or furniture store. Lastly (sorry, didn't mean to write a book here, lol.), maybe in the early '90s they held open studio days similar to the one day event Judi mentioned, maps, times, etc. throughout Stark County on the same day. I can't recall the name of it, but it had a name and publicity. In the end it fizzled out ... due to lack of people showing up ... Not sure what the answer is.