Debate: Should Artists Show Work in Doctor’s Offices, Banks and Other Business Locations?

Last week, I received an email raising the question of whether it would be worthwhile for an artist to show her work in a doctor’s office. The doctor would display the work for a set time and allow the artist to have a stack of cards or brochures available to potential buyers. If work sold, the doctor wouldn’t take a commission. I suspect many of you have had similar offers, and perhaps you’ve even had experience showing in similar venues. I’ve already written about the promise and pitfalls of showing in coffee houses, restaurants and other alternate venues, and much of what I said in my article there applies equally here, but let me reiterate my thoughts. There are some differences we should consider as well.

Here is the email I received laying out the circumstances of this offer:

A radiologist came into my studio […] and was looking for some work to decorate his office. He said he wanted to change the atmosphere in the lobby and waiting areas in the facility by hanging diverse and interesting art for patients. We discussed how my beetles could be an engaging thing for patients to look at while they wait and he seemed interested and took my card.

Then I received an email from him asking if I would be interested in participating in a small rotating art feature/exhibit at his office.
They want to begin having rotating exhibits with several artists at a time. Artists can provide their bio and postcards and information will be posted to contact the artist if anyone is interested in purchasing a piece. He did not mention any commission, or the schedule by which he would switch out the work. He did say that he was reaching out to several other artists […] as well.

My concern is twofold. First, I am in the process of relocating out of the area, so I would have to find a friend to hang the work for me and then ship it back when my “rotation” was over. Secondly, I am still building my collection and am not sure I should turn over part of it to him to hang in a location that isn’t an active gallery for an unspecified period of time.

I checked out their company and it seems on-the-level. What is your opinion on loaning out work to decorate a space in the hopes that someone notice it and ask about purchase? Should I participate just to get the experience and exposure, or save my money and target more conventional galleries?

If you don’t have time to respond, could you perhaps point me in the direction of some guidance on situations such as this?

Thanks, I appreciate it!

Linda

 

My initial response:

If you are ramping up and getting ready to present your work to galleries, you should be hesitant to commit the work to this venue where the chances of generating business are relatively low. With the work involved in handling the logistics of the display you would probably better spend your time on other marketing efforts. On the other hand, if the work isn’t likely to be in play with a gallery or other sales prospects, some exposure, no matter how unlikely to lead to a sale, is better than no exposure.

Add to the equation the fact that you are moving out of the area, leads me to believe that it is unlikely to be worth the effort for you, especially if you would have to pick up the cost of the shipping.

 

Linda’s reply:

It’s funny, I’ve heard some interesting opinions from friends and family on the subject. One friend was positively incensed. “They promise ‘exposure’ so they can use your art to decorate their place for free!” she said. But my husband, who spent his career at the National Science Foundation, talked about the artists they used to feature there and the great showcase they provided.

I’ve since responded to the radiologist with a “thanks but no thanks”, but he got right back to me saying he especially liked my bugs. He said this would be ongoing rotating exhibit, hoping he could contact me again, and asked if funding would make a difference.

I’ve been thinking about how to help him set this up so it would be successful, and maybe I would participate sometime in the future. I’d think that some kind of funding–for shipping, set-up expenses, promotion–should be encouraged. And having a plan for how he would promote the shows–on his website, local press, a reception–would encourage other artists. He could also partner with artists organizations and even local schools & universities to get a good variety.

Now that I’ve had a bit more time to think this situation over, I’ve had some additional thoughts. First, I don’t think that there’s is anything dishonest about what the doctor is offering, and he’s certainly not the first to do it. I’m familiar with many businesses, banks, attorney’s offices, hospitals and doctor’s offices that run programs like this. I’m sure that artwork has sold in some of these venues, though I’m also sure that they are not huge sales generators. No one would be forcing you to participate in it, and as long as they are note promising sales that they can’t delivery, no one is misleading you.

With that out of the way I want to share what I consider to be the pros and cons of this kind of venue:

The Cons: Reasons These Venues are not Very Likely to Sell Art

  • I would stand by my assertion that this kind of exhibition wouldn’t be at the top of my list of marketing tactics. Speaking as someone who is daily involved in the selling process, I can tell you that without a good salesperson on hand to promote the work, the likelihood of a sale is pretty low. It takes skill to interact with buyers and move them toward a sale. It also often takes follow up to close the sale. It’s unlikely any real salesmanship is going to occur in a lobby.
  • Knowing that the likelihood of a sale is pretty low, I feel your time and effort are better spent looking for venues (like galleries or art shows) where the focus is on sales.
  • When people are visiting a doctor’s office, or any other business, they are there with a specific purpose in mind – buying art is not going to be very high on their priority list.
  • There are real costs and risks involved in participating in this kind of display. There is time involved in delivering and installing the artwork. There is a very real possibility that the artwork might be damaged during transport, or while on display. These risks aren’t huge, but they should be considered.
  • As I mentioned in my reply, there is also a cost involved in taking your work off the market, or at least out of your usual sales channels. You have production costs and time now tied up in inventory that isn’t actively being promoted.

 

The Pros: Possible Benefits of Showing in Alternate Venues

  •  Some exposure is better than no exposure. Even though these venues are not necessarily going to be paying you in cash for the artwork, they are offering you exposure. You need to decide if the value of the exposure is worth the costs listed above.
  • Sometimes the clientele of these businesses will match your target audience. If the business draws an affluent and well-educated crowd, you may have a shot at making a sale.
  • You may have a captive audience. Waiting rooms and lobbies are often filled with people who are going to have some time to look at your work. Just keep in mind that you are competing with magazines, mobile phones and tvs, so you need to find some way to draw attention to your work.

Ideas for Maximizing the Exposure

I’m going to give some suggestions of things you might do to maximize the possibilities of making this kind of showing a success. Please keep in mind that these ideas are somewhat theoretical since I don’t have experience displaying or selling artwork in an office setting. These suggestions are ideas I’ve heard from artists, or things I would adapt from my experience selling art through the gallery.

  • Ask the organizer or business owner to host a reception where their best customers could meet you. A bank I’ve worked with hosts openings for artists as part of their rotating exhibitions. This is actually a win-win – the business gets to build better relationships with their customers and you have an opportunity to proactively engage with potential buyers.
  • Post statements about your inspiration and creative process with each piece of art. You might not be able to engage the viewer in person, but you can attempt to engage them with your writing. You should also have your biography available for potential customers to learn more about you. I would also suggest that you post a card that explains how easy it would be to buy the pieces on display. Give step-by-step instructions telling the buyer how to contact you, how you would arrange delivery, what forms of payment you accept and anything else you feel might be helpful. These kinds of instructions get people thinking about buying.
  • Check in on the display regularly to make sure your cards or postcards haven’t run out and that they are easily accessible.

Please Share your Thoughts and Experiences

Have you shown your work in a rotating exhibit at a business? What was your experience? What suggestions would you give to an artist who is considering participating in an exhibit at a business? What are your thoughts about this kind of show? Please share your input in the comments section below.

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29 Comments

  1. I have shown in restaurants, schools, banks, nursing homes, drum studio and pop up one day shows
    None of these venues sold anything or generated future sales even when we tried a reception
    The other issue is the lighting is not always very good for showing any art
    I can add these places to my list of ‘shows’, which looks exciting but that’s about it.
    Currently a gallery which was showing my work has placed 2 pieces in an upscale, well known furniture showroom
    They look great but no sales or interest has come of that either and I am now living several states away.
    I’d say this idea has been a ‘mixed’ blessing’ as they say

  2. Many of the revived downtown districts of cities around me are doing Art Walks and the businesses in that district participate by hosting artists. Some of them only for the hours of the walk, others for the month until the next walk. In downtown Little Rock, Argenta Counseling has their lobby set up to be a little gallery and they participate with that area’s monthly art walks. I’m going to be their artist of the month starting next week. I’m curious to see how it goes, but will keep in mind that this whole coronavirus thing is likely to have impact on how much participation the walks get right now.

  3. I have often had offers to show in a business space. My experience mirrors Jason’s expectations and Gary’s experience. I was able to negotiate with one attorney that they could show my work free of charge for a set period of time and after that I would come back with an option to rent or buy. That way they have lived with the work long enough to know if they like it enough for an investment but I am guaranteed a return if they want to keep any of it. It turned out they did want to keep about half and are now paying rent monthly on it. We are 7 months into this deal.

  4. I tested this model repeatedly with my art with little success. however a local gallery/shop operator who specializes in lower end high production art [more into the gift market ]by a variety of local artists used this successfully to build a business model flowing 2 million per annum. she demanded shows and premium space as well as invites going out to the clients patrons. IT WAS AN ACTIVE NOT PASSIVE SALES PROCESS. the passive sales did not work for her either. She turned such opportunities into a major simply run business model in 4 cities. unless your willing to be active at the approach walk away politely . [i did a couple of shows with the operator as intermediary and did quite good sales at each one, however it did not suit my marketing model overall so did not continue] richard

  5. My inner entrepreneur is hopping up and down. This was a perfect opportunity to posit the idea of the medical facility actually leasing works, creating a leasing program. (It’s a medical facility, there IS money, even a modest budget could be created.) It seems to me that once the work is on someone’s walls –talking alternative space here, it’s sort of out of circulation, and likelihood of a purchase from a medical center is relatively low, unless the medical center is doing the buying.

  6. You know, a radiologist makes a hell of a lot more money than most artists I know, including myself. How about he supports us and buys the work? Does he not value it enough? I’m really sick and tired of this approach to selling art because it’s really not about the art or artist but about the walls they are decorating that promotes the business in that space.

  7. Years ago my dentist wanted me to show a small series in his office. I did this happily as it was much better than what he had had previously. It always made me smile when I went in for a visit. I had a contract and I did rotate some work in and out but the original series he wanted to keep there. Eventually he retired and the next dentist kept the work. I did remove some. Then the next dentist replaced it. I asked about the work and she was unaware. I asked if I could have it back and she did not have it anymore. I lost 7 pieces and I had no recourse because I did not have a contract and she thought it went with the business when she bought it. This is partly my fault and my original contract was not binding for the new proprietor.
    So yes, a mixed blessing. My advice is to have a contract and stay on top of it. Rotate the work, hold a small reception that you fund, and never leave the work too long.
    I know that art is healing in a medical facility as I myself have experience the uplift I felt when a friend’s work was showing in a local hospital. So do not write it off completely. Art heals the spirit. It is essential in our lives.

    1. Wow. There is a moral to that story.
      We keep records, dates, titles, costs, etc… on EVERYTHING shown in our Public Art System through EAFA (the evergreen association of fine arts, based in Bellevue, Washington.)
      The nonprofit organization does get 15%, but handling the display, lighting & any transactions — it is well worth it.

      We are ecstatic to congratulate & applaud sales, pretty much every month.

      The Overlake Medical Center has invited EAFA to add their new wing to our list of venues.
      SCORE!

      EAFA.org

  8. To me, it’s called “giving back”. I donated a very placid Mississippi River scene to a local hospital. It hangs behind the registration area where patients are nervous, anyway. I donated a painting to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital so maybe the sick kids can have a pleasant picture to look at while they’re being treated for pain. I donate to a lot of my paintings to local charities and fund-raisers. My “folk art” scenes hang in our post office, community center, and other public buildings. I do not expect anything in return.

    IMHO, sometimes an artist has to forget about the money-making and marketing angle and just be happy to provide a nice moment for people. It’s not like any of us EVER gave away free paintings anytime in our careers.

    CraigE

  9. There are a myriad of reasons why not to show in non gallery venues such as restaurants, offices etc. An important thing for the artist to consider is how they want the public and the gallery system to view them as an artist. Galleries are not generally receptive to artists who show outside of galleries. It can injure the trust factor with the “artist / or potential artist” to a gallery. It also can cast a negative light on the artist, that their value or integrity as an artist is not that great if they have to show outside of a gallery. My advice as a gallery owner is if you truly want to build your name within the gallery system, don’t waste your time with non gallery venues. Generally people rarely purchase art off of restaurant or office walls when it is beyond a certain price point. A big part of the gallery’s job is to build your name, and reputation. Showing in a non gallery venue such as a restaurant inhibits the gallery’s efforts.

  10. As usual Jason… you are bang on with your comments – exposure is a good thing but only if the time and effort is justified and if other marketing opportunities are not available to maximize sales.
    Del Foxton

  11. Absolutely I show my work in venues that align with my ideal customer and align with my values!

    I’m picky, however – I’ve politely declined venues that just want art for their walls. But have kept paintings up for many months in venues where the patrons feel uplifted by my work. For instance, my women paintings have resonated with patrons in Breast Care centers and Birthing centers. In fact, the positivity from their patrons has inspired the right venues to purchase works as permanent displays. One center buys a large print from me each time the original sells because they don’t want to part with it.

    Other benefits: I’d rather have my paintings giving joy to others than leaning against my wall. And when my studio is clear I’m inspired to paint more!

  12. Picture a waiting room and the walls are filled with your art.
    Picture the waiting room chairs filled with people.
    Picture every person in the waiting room, head down, looking at their phone!

    I jest, but…this seems to be a common scenario. On the other hand, I do think, with good lighting and right location it possibly can be good for the artist. If you have art that’s currently not being shown…go for it, but yes, get contract.

    1. Love your other-directed reply, Beverly. It’s not all about sales. My main concern is to share my work. Have not tried these kinds of venues yet, but may some day – I so agree that better to “give joy” than have one’s studio stacked with work that has not sold.

  13. I have been asked to supply some paintings of mules for the big event in my town called, Mule Days. It is at a local bank. The event is in May and a week long. Like the the woman in the article we are moving at the time of this event as well. My thought is do I want to take the chance on selling a painting when I just was accepted to show my art at a BIG show in New Mexico in July? Perhaps, I could say the paintings are not for sale, but leave your email so I can contact you when others are complete? Not sure what to do?

  14. My husband has been displaying a number of pieces in a local Cardiologist suite for awhile now. One of the docs bought an original within two days of the display going up. However, that is the only original sale that has come out of it. These pieces were all pieces that were just sitting at our home, so he hasn’t lost anything by them being there. Also, since he offers prints of his work, several hundred dollars worth of prints have sold to folks working in the office suite. He has lost nothing from this display, but it certainly has not really been a “winner’ either. But those few sales would not have happened with the pieces sitting in our home…

  15. When I first transitioned from illustrator to painter, I was contacted by an art consultant who wanted to use my art in a show for two corporate headquarter locations. One exhibit lasted 3 months and then it moved to the other location for three months. I was eager to agree because I was just beginning to show my work at that time and was happy for any opportunity to exhibit. The fact was this, however: SHE was paid to provide the free decor for the corporation. Aside from a very small honorarium, I received no compensation, tho she had led me to believe that the owner of the company always buys a piece or two from the show.

    It also tied up my work for 6 months and kept me from submitting those pieces to juried shows.

    I have a problem now with decorating offices and restaurants for free. It’s not a venue for selling, and most people don’t spend time actually looking at your work. I have come to realize that it’s not much different than doing any spec art in exchange for the “exposure.”

  16. I am now curating a gallery in a long term care facility. There is a formal hanging and lighting system and a 20 year history of displaying work of local artists on a rotating basis. The negatives that Jason mentions are valid. There is no salesmanship going on outside of the opening receptions. People exposed outside of the reception do not have buying art as their priority. However we have been able to maintain a 10% i sales of paintings exhibited per show. ( 4 sales per 40 painting show). For the 2 shows under my direction. I am trying to augment this by improved PR, and clarifying how to purchase a painting when the artist is not present. We are planning to hold related events in the gallery space to bring in more potential clients. A goal is to make this gallery a “ go to place when you are looking to buy art”.

    I am interested in ideas others may have,

  17. Dear dentist, We here at Cutback,Cheapen and Chargemore, interior decorators thank you for your business. As we finalize the construction of your $450,000 newly energized office space, we at CC&C are immensely proud of the new image that we have created for your practice. The new bold look of your offices and equipment speak to your sophisticated taste in the art of interior and product design. Your impeccable taste is reflected not only in your new office facilities but also in the very impressive $100,000. car in your parking lot, not to mention your magnificent home, a true credit to our community. We at CC&C have one more fabulous idea to enhance the look of your offices. A simple call to local artists will provide you with a choice of fine art. You select the work you want, call the chosen artist and the artist will deliver the art to your office. Free delivery. free installation and free art. And remember It will cost you nothing. You, dear doctor don’t even have to lift a finger to promote or try to sell the art. Did we mention, everything is free. When you get tired of the art you simply demand that it be removed. You can then choose a new artist, your community is full of artist who will step in and do everything free all over again. New art, no cost. However if you would like to keep the art on your wall long term, no worries it won’t sell. But if by some slim chance a piece of art does sell, get rid of the artist immediately and get a new artist. You certainly do not want the art you have carefully chosen to be taken down just because the artist wants to make a sale. Selling art at cheap prices is not really the point of having free art for your walls, now is it? Call us, we can provide you with a list of artists who will grovel in gratitude as they deliver and install your new art.

  18. Early in my career as an artist, I exhibited my work in a prominent government building near the US Capitol. I personally set up the exhibit and had a map marking where each piece of artwork was placed. When it was time to remove the artwork, I noticed some of the pieces weren’t in their original placement.

    Because of my map, I discovered one was missing and one other was ripped in a very inconspicuous place. Sadly one piece was stolen, when they removed the paintings because of an event they had scheduled and then put them back up again without informing me. I was compensated for my loss, but that was the first and last time I exhibited my work in a non-gallery setting. There is no protection against grimy hands touching it, and no respect for it when the viewers know no one is watching them.

    Ten years ago, my doctor purchased one of my paintings and has it on permanent display in his office building, but in all that time no one has contacted me for more information on some of my other work.

  19. I too have participated in showing art at local businesses. Note I said showing…
    I have only sold one piece ever, including Art Walks. But I continue to do this because there is no commission and I am getting exposure.

    What is has generated is interest in my painting classes, and I have been asked multiple times to do art demos with local art groups. Again, it is good advertising…and free.

  20. How about this scenario, Jason – Hannibal, MO, “America’s Home Town” because Mark Twain grew up there, is an hour upriver. Last year the town had visitors from 60 counties and all 50 states.

    Next week I have an appointment with a funky coffee shop/reading room owner that has paintings for sale on the wall. The ones I do of riverboats on the Mississippi are painted with oil, coffee, and matcha tea — they’re surprising the muddy color of its namesake. I also make other, smaller, Twain-related stuff.

    No. 1. Most of the tourists are older and traveling — and don’t want to lug around paintings and such. They drink coffee. I want to post my paintings here, but sell prints in tubes for them to carry home. They are lightweight and don’t take up too much room.

    No. 2 Every other business, it seems, sells art, trinkets, and Twain memorabilia. I don’t want to get lost in the crowd with all this other stuff.

    No. 3 When I did an October art fair there last year, the market was local folks, so in actuality, there are two types of potential buyers.

    What’s your suggestion?

    Thanks, your emails are always timely and informative.

    CraiggE

  21. I’m more inclined to just offer to sell work to a doctor outright. Recently sold a piece to a new rehabilitation center after responding to a public works art call.

  22. A local museum has a popular corporate art rental program. Artists loan work to the museum in exchange for a museum membership. The museum then leases the art work to area businesses for $1,000./yr for each painting. The artist does not receive any percent compensation, but does receive 100% of the sale if the work is purchased. In twenty years of lending, I did sell one painting. I’m not in favor of decorating offices for free as there are transport costs, wear and tear on the work and frames, etc. but I am a big fan of art rental programs if the artist receives part of the revenue.

  23. Here in Adelaide South Australia we have Several hospitals and clinics with Art on rotation for sale . The major hospitals hang the work themselves and take commissions on sales. The smaller clinics Vary with some taking a small commission or none ,In most of these the Artists hang their own work …. I prefer to hang my work myself where ever I am . Many places don’t do any payments thru their system and I have noticed if someone can’t pay then an there they tend not to follow thru , these spur of the moment people certainly help with sales …so where I can, I convince the venue to take cash payments less a small commission of 10% or I give them my bank details for direct deposit as most people have phone banking these days ….. I will always promote the places I’m in on Social media. I have sold at Winery’s ,Cafes, Clinics,Hospitals, Rotary Art exhibitions ,but Here the best place to sell regularly at the moment is at Gallery/Gift shop places, especially where there his high traffic and tourists .Functional Arts crafts are the trend here and mostly sales under $100. Times are tough these days and Quite a few of the high end galleries have closed over the years . One must learn to adapt to the times if you want to stay afloat. Personally I reckon one should have their art in as many places as you can As it’s no good having a pile of works at home unseen …One motto i have is “It never hurts to ask “ and you never know what opportunities may come your way . Hats off to the well established Artists who are making a good living but most of us are not in that boat ….I rely on regular small sales just to get by and have learnt to adapt to the times ( I’m currently doing little items just to get some sales in ) Cards and prints of your work are also a good way to go. It’s all up to the individual how they want to go about things.. Oh another option is an Artist Coop gallery / gift shop . That will certainly help boost your confidence as they will require you to sit regularly…gives you a good insight into the Art world 😊Lynette

  24. Just say no, thank you. As a gallery owner in my distant past, I tried all kinds of outside venues for my gallery – doctors, dentists, lawyers, restaurants. Never, not once, did I realize a sale of my work or anyone else’s from these kinds of offices. Sure, it gives their clients something pleasant to meditate on, but they are there for other reasons. The cleaning staff in these offices don’t know how to care for fine art.

    Support your regional galleries. By hanging in offices and restaurants, artists are essentially competing with the galleries. If you can’t find a regional gallery willing to take you on, establish your own. Get together with a group and found a cooperative. Treat your space with great lighting, ambiance, an energetic sales staff and a real curator. Invite the doctors, dentists, lawyers, restaurants to visit and buy.

  25. Have you heard of anyone renting out their art? I’m considering setting up something like this with a psychologist friend. We were sort of joking about it but it’s gelling in my mind. At this time I don’t have enough completed work for a solo exhibit, not even really feeling like going through the effort to discuss with a gallery, and honestly I need the space. I might need to carry my own insurance on the art, though, which would be costly. Any other thoughts?

  26. I’ve shown in doctors offices and restaurants, but wont anymore, (never sold anything).Doctors offices are filled with germs, viruses etc. (I’m not really germaphobic) but I don’t want to risk bringing something else home.As far as restaurants are concerned I have found that no matter how far away from the kitchen you hang there is a certain amount of grease in the air; that attaches itself to paintings.

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