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

Recently 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 that 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 not promising sales that they can’t deliver, 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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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

18 Comments

  1. The dentists and surgeons I’ve visited lately display their own paintings in their waiting rooms, which leads me to believe they took seriously the advice to choose a financially dependable career over art.

  2. Do you think showing art in coffeshops, restaurants, or doctor’s offices could be harmful to an artist’s brand? Even if an artist doesn’t have a current venue, might it still be better to hold out and not show at “desperate” venues, like coffeshops, etc.? An artist can be labeled as cheap and not serious when showing in these types of venues. Plus all the time spent arranging the show (but with an extremely low probability for positive or successful results), would be wasted when time could be spent honing the craft, brand, or marketing (such as attaining the proper representation).

    1. I don’t worry much about this, or at least it shouldn’t be the only factor driving a decision. Most of your future potential buyers or gallery representatives would be unaware that you had shown in such a venue and are unlikely to discover, or, if they do, care too much. If your work is good, it will overcome any such concerns about past venues.

  3. Having displayed my work in a few not art venues..one a large popular coffeehouse, the other a lovely space Culinary school. I sold nothing and even my business cards and pamphlets were never picked up. So here is the thing..the offer of exposure seems to me to be a bit of a non starter. Most people coming through are there for other reasons. In the referenced email the radiologist first encountered her bug paintings, loved them but didn’t buy them. Then came up with the plan to showcase several artists in a rotating venue. In Salt Lake City there is a bank across from a popular art gallery that has rotating artist’ venues in their very nice lobby. The one thing they actually do is pay to be a part of the gallery stroll every month so at least the display is on the route and frequented on those evenings by strollers who are also attending the gallery across the street. I am not sure how much is actually sold at this lobby but at least the viewers for one night a month are the art lovers. I think if you are willing to put up smaller lower priced art you might get a sale or two in a coffeehouse or doctor’s lobby. My first thought was the missed sale at the studio event. Perhaps you can offer to sell him a few paintings and if they get a great response then allow a few to be a part of his rotating venue.. Still I get a bad feeling when artists show in non art venues for the exposure. It is a lot of work that could be channeled into an art venue instead.

  4. I noticed one important factor missing from this discussion and that is liability. Most places in my area, including the local arts organization, require the artist to sign a release from liability, so that if a piece is damaged, lost or stolen the artist is totally out of luck.
    There is a medical building in town where the local arts organization has been showing members work for years. I didn’t know until recently that several paintings have been stolen and never recovered. Of course there is only one reception area and the work is displayed on every floor on every available wall space. So it is very easy for someone to walk out with a painting. There has never been any receptions or openings and the only publicity for the shows was what the individual artists did, which was very little.
    I understand that some artists had sales, but I didn’t. Each artist was allowed to exhibit 3 pieces.
    In 2018 I was thrilled when I had the opportunity for a solo exhibit for 3 months at a local Ford dealership. In addition to an abundance of wall space and an audience of people waiting for service on their vehicles, the overall atmosphere was wonderful. The lighting was great, there was pleasant background music, and special, convenient places for marketing materials and displays. I had 75 paintings displayed, ranging in size from 11″ x 14″ to 30″ x 40.”
    And they had an amazing opening reception with a generous buffet and beverages, and flowers in an elegant setting, and they moved all of the vehicles out of the showroom just for the reception! They paid for advertising in the monthly Art Walk brochure and ads and publicized it in their own newsletter.
    I sold 4 paintings and several prints that evening and a retired man, a Veteran, who liked to hang out at the dealership asked if I would sell him one of my paintings on a payment plan, and I agreed but told him he couldn’t remove the painting until it was totally paid, including sales tax.
    He gave me a check for $100.00 and promised me monthly payments. As soon as his check cleared he sent me a message that he was having to “refinance his house” and asked for his deposit back, and I did because I felt bad for him.
    One day, a couple of weeks after the reception, I went to the dealership to check on my cards and brochures and make sure the paintings were hanging straight, etc. When I walked in the general manager congratulated me on the sale of my $350.00 painting. I explained to him that that sale had fallen through. “Well, he came in today and took it off the wall and told me he bought it!” he said.
    I called the man immediately and asked him if he had my painting?
    “Yes, I’m looking at it right now.” he said.
    “Are you planning to pay me for it?”
    “Yes, I’ll mail you a check today.”
    About an hour later I got a text from him “I found another painting I like.” “Did you take it?” “Yes. I’ll send you another check.”
    And later “Your postdated checks are in the mail.”
    I went back to the dealership and instructed the general manager and every sales and service person that no one was allowed to remove any of my paintings, even if they had a receipt, unless I was there in person.
    A couple of days later I got a call from one of the sales people. The man had found another painting he wanted.
    “I’ll be right there. Don’t let him leave!”
    When I walked in, the 30″ x 40″ painting was not hanging in its place. I asked him where it was.
    “It’s already in my car.” He said.
    I told him that I like to have a photo of the person with the paintings I sell. Could he please bring it back in. He did.
    I took photos of him and his new fiance’ that he met a couple of weeks earlier and who had just bought him a car he had been looking at for months. She wrote a check for $750.00. I reminded him that there was sales tax. He reminded me that I should absorb the tax because I should be happy to have a sale.
    Both of his checks bounced. Hers cleared. I asked him to pay me in cash, in full, plus the sales tax he owed, or I would have to report his theft and dishonored checks. He said he would keep the paintings and send me a payment when he felt like it and I should be happy that my paintings are sold. He told me that “no lawyer or police will honor your legal request.”
    I filed a police report, including photos, screen shots of text message, and copies of the bounced checks.
    Unfortunately he was right. The “Victim Advocate” at the State Attorney’s Office told me not to have contact with him because he was licensed to carry and there was an incident in which he was “brandishing a firearm.”
    She also told me not to post anything about it on social media because “it might hurt my case.”
    He was never arrested. The theft happened in October, 2018. In January, 2021 I received a letter from the State Attorney’s Office, notifying me that they were dropping the case because the suspect died.
    I sent a message to his wife, (Yes, she married him) asking her to return the stolen paintings. She returned one of them, through a local attorney, but the other was taken to New York by his daughter after his death.
    I know this is long, but I believe it is important for artists to be aware of the possibilities of loss of their work.
    I have read your books and consider “Starving to Successful” an absolute essential for any artist who wants to devote herself to being a full time successful artist. I still refer to it often I have been using Artsala for years to track my work and host for my website – nothing else even comes close to the Artsala platform. Obviously I follow the Red Dot Blog.
    Thank you for all you do and for being the most important advocate for artists ever!

  5. I don’t think this radiologist understands just how much work is involved in running what is essentially an art gallery out of his lobby. Even with the best of intentions, I predict he’ll be quickly overwhelmed. Your reader mentioned “help(ing) him set this up”, but I’d fear that that would become a volunteer job that would soon take over all her time. A local hospital hosts an art show in their lobby, and they quickly had to hire a full-time employee to run it.

    I don’t agree that some exposure is better than no exposure. Context is so important, and exposure only has value when people are in an art-buying frame of mind. And I doubt patients coming in for an X-ray are in much of a mood to buy a painting!

  6. Once upon a time I had a restaurant ask me to hang artwork where their customers ate. Knowing we didn’t live in an art town, I asked if I could hang giclée prints of my work which would offer a more affordable price point of my work matted and framed. They loved the idea. I never thought to ask what was or wasn’t covered if something happened to my pieces. I learned the hard way when the restaurant burned to the ground eight months later. They didn’t rebuild the restaurant so my guess is they were underinsured or possibly not insured for things like fire. The moral to my story is if you decide to hang in someone’s space, ask up front what happens in the case of damage or loss while in their care and keeping. I did never sell a thing in the restaurant. I wasn’t reimbursed for the total loss of my prints in their fire. I have since been asked to put art in places like real estate offices, other restaurants, etc. I now decline these “opportunities” because they aren’t real opportunities for artists.

  7. I think the first problem in the discussion here is that it only focuses on whether you make art to just make money… show it only to sell..that’s fine but it is not everyone’s case. Also such an offer is first and foremost a compliment to your work.. the doctor likes it and believes his clients would enjoy it. Unless you’re so blasé by compliments let’s start with acknowledging that. Finally , if you’re not an artist who just shows in galleries with a professional art career, then try things out. It may or may not bring sales, but your work is seen. Years back when I was still struggling as an artist I got offered to exhibit my work in a nice sushi restaurant. 26
    Paintings. 19 sold within 6month and the restaurant ended up buying the rest, and the the owners bought several dozens more over the years for restaurants they have all over the country. It allowed me to have the funds to invest in my career development and now I only show in galleries ( just took down an exhibit in Vienna 3 days ago). You have to be careful with any opportunity, but you have to also avoid being cynical about everything, and be willing to try things out. Any feedback is good, and that means that if you have no sales and no one even picks up a business card in an alternate venue … that’s feedback. Good luck.

    1. Hi Marceau,
      Being cynical never helped anyone. Agreed.
      Looks like you had great experience with your elegant sushi restaurant, very happy for you. Luck also must have a little role in that endeavor.
      I like and appreciate your work. Also I enjoyed reading your comments until the last sentence. What did you mean by that ‘feedback’ really?
      It was a bit too harsh.

      1. I agree. I have sold paintings from my studio and art venues but never from a non art venue. If the feedback of no one at a coffee house or restaurant took my cards or bought my paintings was feedback…that feedback was that it was the wrong venue for an artist. I hear of some people having wild success of selling their paintings from a non art venue..but I do not think this is the norm.. IMHO

  8. My art group has shown for years in restaurants, nightclubs, City Hall, The Federal Building, empty store fronts and a few doctor’s offices. This has resulted in a few sales, one of my students actually just sold two paintings from a doctor’s office where she had been hanging for years. And I have life-long collectors who became friends while installing an exhibit at a restaurant. On the other hand, you are taking a chance regarding fire or theft, and I even had a restaurant go out of business and lock up my paintings inside. Fortunately, with good timing I was able to recover them. It’s a crap-shoot.

  9. I have had offers to hang my work in coffee shops, restaurants and even a plumbing supply store that had a deli and a space for art, more crafts than art. Many people, some well intentioned, make the “exposure” offer. I have always considered these offers to be made by people who are too cheap to buy art for their walls. As far as a customer buying a piece off of the walls, well, I think it is usually a loss of time, effort and money. I live in the country now and paint the things around me. There seems to be little or no appreciation of the arts. I will say I think galleries solve a lot of problems for artists. Sorry for the ramble.

  10. I fell into the “free decorating” thing for a restaurant once. I had large paintings and business cards beside them with the prices. I noticed in the restaurant’s newspaper ads they never said anything about being an art venue or having art for sale (in fact, out of all the restaurants I’ve seen that carried art for sale, only one advertised itself as a restaurant AND a gallery). I doubt their customers even realized the paintings were for sale.

    Eventually, I retrieved my paintings and discovered one of them was missing. I didn’t take pictures of the setup to show it was there on their walls, but I remember the painting had been replaced with a framed mirror. The receipt they signed showed this piece was included in the group of paintings.

    I took ’em to Small Claims Court, won but never got a cent out of them. In fact, the restaurant owners also had some criminal charges brought against them in an unrelated matter.

    I lost the painting, and court and process server costs, and no sales. So I say — never again. NEVER AGAIN!!

  11. oh dear, what a topic. I agree that it is best not to be cynical, but also to be wise and patient. It seems it is a good thing to have your work on display, so long as you, the artist, can keep an eye on it and have little to no expectations… Rather think that you are allowing and sharing your art with others to enjoy and ponder. Non-art venues are often not protected, so that is a significant fact to consider. Always saying either “yes” and always saying “no” may be equally detrimental. It’s probably safer to say, that if you are between shows, or not yet in a gallery, but seeking representation, and the offer to have your work in an environment which you trust comes along AND you feel certain that those who visit or work regularly in that environment are respectful, then participating in such an arrangement can be a great learning process or alternatively, it can engender good relations between yourself and your community. Consider it a community service, put consider the risks too.

  12. I think if I were in this artist’s situation I would offer to rent my work out only. I think if it’s a bank, doctor’s office, law, or corporate office they should be able to afford to rent art for their space (or buy it). I would rather have this type of business rent my work than showing there for the illusive possibility of a sale.

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