Are Art Sales Picking Up? | COVID 19 and the Art Market, an Update

It has been several months since I last shared an update about how Xanadu Gallery is faring during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and what I’m seeing in the broader art market. I wanted to briefly share an update and request that you share what you are seeing in your own art business.

In previous updates I encouraged you to keep creating, and to keep promoting. While the last several months have continued to present real challenges for our business, our efforts to share art with our clients have been productive.

Many of you know that we have two galleries – our main location in Scottsdale, AZ, and our summer gallery in Pinetop, AZ. I want to give brief updates for both.

Scottsdale

Xanadu Gallery Scottsdale

After a broad shut-down of Arizona businesses during March and April, accompanied by stay-at-home orders from the Governor, we were able to reopen (with restrictions) in early May. The decision to reopen the economy when Arizona did wasn’t without controversy. Ultimately a spike in cases and mortality in the state caused a second round of closures for bars and other public venues.

Our gallery was not forced to close again, but the uncertainty and concern about safety understandably kept down traffic to the gallery.

Down, but not zero. Within the first few weeks of opening we began seeing visitors back in the gallery. We created rules enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing, and restricted visitors to no more than 10 people in the gallery at a time. These rules have proven mostly unnecessary as everyone who is out seems to be prepared for masks and social distancing. It has been rare that we’ve had more than 2-3 people in the gallery at a time.

Visitors reported that a number of the galleries in our neighborhood in downtown Scottsdale were still closed. They thanked Xanadu staff for being open and for giving them the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy art. These visits began resulting in sales.

We have also continued to see strong sales from our website, social media, Xanadu Art Catalogue and email marketing. While sales were down significantly in March, April and May, we actually saw an increase in sales in June and July over the same period last year!

2020 Sales (purple) vs 2019 Sales (gray) by dollar volume

It should be noted that our Scottsdale gallery is seasonal. Our busy season runs from October – May, and so the drop from the early months of the year into the summer is typical; the dramatic decline in sales from March into April and May is not.

We anticipate that total sales for the year will be down from last year, but all things considered, we feel very fortunate have had the sales we have. We have worked very hard to make those sales happen.

Damage caused by looting

I should also note that on top of the pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, Scottsdale, like much of the rest of the nation, experienced civil unrest in late May and early June.

In addition to peaceful protests, there was looting at the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall, which is about a mile away from the gallery. Threats of further violence and property damage forced additional closures and reduced hours for about a week.

Many galleries boarded up their storefronts at the threat of looting

Fortunately, after the initial round of looting, all subsequent protests were peaceful.

Pinetop

Xanadu Gallery Pinetop

Readers of Reddotblog will remember that last summer we opened a second gallery. Pinetop is located in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. At an elevation of 6800 ft., Pinetop is considerably cooler than Scottsdale during the summer. Many residents of Phoenix and Tucson have summer homes in the area.

Recent sales in Pinetop shared on our FB page

We were very pleased with our first summer season in Pinetop last year, but had no idea what to expect this summer. In spite of the fact that June and early July saw a dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases in the state, and in spite of slow traffic in early June, sales have been solid.

Pinetop Sales in dollar volume, 2020 (purple) vs 2019 (gray)

Again, heavy social media advertising, direct mail and email campaigns have generated results. Compared to last year, sales were down a bit in June, almost exactly the same in July, and on track to be up for August.

While total traffic has been down, we’ve noticed an increase in the ratio of purchases to visitors. In other words, more of the people who are out and about are making purchases than did last year.

Prospects for the Coming Months

It would probably be unwise for me to try to predict the future in such uncertain times. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the economy and uncertainty about what direction the pandemic will take. We are also in the last 90 days of an election, an additional variable that can be a drag on the art market.

In spite of all the uncertainty, I am upbeat about the prospects for the art market in the coming months, and into next year. We have seen once again that art is so important to so many, that no matter what’s going on in the world, art lovers will continue to seek out great art, and, as they are able, make purchases.

I’m hearing mixed messages from artists and gallery owners about their experiences, but I’m hearing more positive than negative. I add my voice to those who are upbeat.

Even though it can feel awkward to be promoting art sales with everything going on in the world (see meme to the right), it’s important to remember that what we are doing matters. Art is fundamental to civilization. Creating, sharing, and selling art are important activities; these activities allow artists and galleries to stay in business and provide for themselves, and they allow collectors to enrich their lives.

Keep at it!

What Are You Seeing?

What have you been doing to cope with these challenging times? How have your sales this summer compared to last summer? What words of encouragement would you offer to artists and galleries who are struggling? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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.

34 Comments

  1. Hi Jason we have in at least one case, probably more, sold quite high value items as a replacement for a special holiday which had to be cancelled due to Covid 19. Our sales are up this year.

    1. Hi Jason,
      All of my summer festivals have been cancelled up here in London, Ontario, Canada. I really miss that summer festival vibe and those sales but both galleries that carry my work have really worked the online sales (one starting Instagram live feeds featuring various artists’ s work) and I have continued to see sales. I also approached and was accepted by a third gallery so I’m concentrating in the coming months on finding a few more galleries and of course, still producing inventory. Overall it hasn’t been too bad!
      Darian Lajoie

  2. I am extremely grateful that beginning within a couple days of our lockdown here in CA, I began to see a lot of sales from online venues…. more sales in a short period of time than I am used to. I can only surmise that people who can afford art have been stuck at home with little to do but surf the web. I am liking it a lot and I think it is a good omen for future online sales. I believe that the more people who get comfortable with buying high-end art online, the better off artists will be. I also think that galleries who embrace the online world as an addition to onsite sales will also profit.

  3. You could have knocked me over with a feather when two of my larger works sold in June after posting on my Facebook page. Then I took the step of building a new ecommerce website to replace my WordPress portfolio-style site. I announced it to my most loyal newsletter readers first, and sold two paintings that day. A week later when I announced it to my larger list, another work sold from the website. And a week or so later, another piece sold from Facebook. So, six paintings since the first of June. This may not seem like much, but my biggest sales have come from my studio events, which, of course, were cancelled. I thought it would be two years before collectors started buying again. I’m happy to have been proven wrong.

  4. This has been an unprecedented time for me as an artist and instructor for 40 years. I sold my property which included my art center in January and my husband and I relocated. (We signed the final papers for our new home on March 11, moved to large truckloads on the 12th, and we were instructed to shut down here in Washington on the 13th. I had intended to do a few art shows throughout the year.
    However, the shows were all canceled. With one exception, The Oldfield Western show will be held virtually for the first time in October. I have chosen to be involved, but it will be a totally new experience for me.
    All sales have come to a halt for me this year; so, I am really hoping the Virtual Auction and show will help.

  5. I have definitely had an increase of online sales from Etsy and facebook since the quarantine started. It’s been steady since April. Usually summer is slow for me but not this year. More this year than last and often multiple sales from the same customer. I suppose a lot of people are bored and surfing the internet more. It’s very encouraging!

  6. Jason, Glad you are upbeat and you are still selling. I am actually quite busy, one consignment gallery here in Northern California, after a quiet spring, reopened in June and I just received a good check. The same gallery has sold more of my higher priced work this month than they have in the past year. On line sales are steady and several virtual fairs have kept me busy. I don’t sell a large volume or value of work regularly but I don’t see a downturn, just the opposite. It’s really quite surprising, I think the Covid-19 shutdown is taking the greatest tole on the working class but, those who can afford it still seem to want art to brighten their lives.

  7. My Durango, CO gallery was closed from March 8 to May 11 due to gov’t mandate. We were able to reopen with restrictions (masks, capacity limitation, etc.) We had a few online sales during the time we were closed but online has never been a significant portion of our revenue. Durango is a summer tourist town; it took a few weeks for people to show up after reopening but June sales were very strong. The first 10 days of July were also strong but we have seen a significant decline since then. Not sure why the decline. A majority of our tourists come from TX, AZ, and NM; all have been severely impacted by COVID. I’m guessing that when things reopened in June there was a flurry of excitement about traveling again. But as the reality of the lingering nature of the virus became clear, enthusiasm for travel diminished. Overall YTD revenues are down 40% over 2019 (that includes revenue from workshops which have been impacted even more than gallery sales).

  8. I assist my son who is the artist. Due to quarantine we have not been able to work together since late February so his production is down He chose to use this time to have his website set up professionally and learn more about social media. He has an Instagram campaign ready to launch and is coming out with two print products – hopefully in Sept/Oct which he will advertise on social media for the holiday sales time. He has sold one print in June 2020. His last art piece sold in October 2019 and his last exhibition was July 2018. He is very persistent so I am sure his efforts will bear fruit.

  9. I’m part of an artist guild (12 artists) on Cape Cod and we decided to go ahead with holding our seasonal weekly outdoor shows, starting July 9. (Our regular start time is Memorial Day weekend.) No one is more surprised than we that sales so far have exceeded even our “normal” year sales, both in number of pieces sold and total sales $$, even though the total number of people coming has not increased much. One theory is that people who may have traveled abroad or somewhere more distant in the US have opted for vacationing more locally and have $$ they may have spent on more extensive travel to buy art instead. I think that we are also an outdoor venue makes it a “safer” option for viewing and buying art.

  10. I have been real busy with orders and two events with other business for October and November are still on. I am already prepping for the holiday season due to the slowdown that is expected in the mail system. I also have delivered work myself to local front porches and have had pick-ups here at the studio following safe practices. This are the same for the most part just folks seem to be buying gifts early.

  11. I have definitely had an increase in sales. People want new artwork in their homes as they stare at the walls during this pandemic. Commissions are coming in and I’m thrilled. I strongly recommend putting your work out there in social media. It works.

      1. I was talking about general tendencies
        And I am glad to hear your sales are up recently, we are all optimistic after strong sales…

  12. I have been thanked many times for my positive uplifting art posts on social media during these stressful times and my sales have been steady through it all. When you think art is the last thing in people’s concerns it actually turns out to be the most nourishing thing in their lives!

  13. My sales have been WAY up over the summer. Online as well as through small visits to my gallery. I have to be honest and say that I am stunned! I never expected this, but so thankful.

  14. I am so glad to hear things have been going well – well, well-ish – for both locations. It speaks to how well you know the market and how to promote. I, too, have been heavily promoting, participating in public auctions, and entering shows (as usual and then some.) I have not had as many off-the website/social media sales as usual, but I have seen an uptick in commissions. Currently I have enough work to keep me busy until the next 2 plein air invitationals (Sedona; which is now virtual, and Prescott, which – at least at the moment – is not), so I’m happy.

  15. I am repeating myself a little here, as I mentioned this in an earlier post. I thought business would crater, and the plan was to build stock for better times. Like other posters, I was pleasantly surprised that sales have been strong all spring and summer. The number of commissions was also surprising. As Nancy Eckels speculated above, quarantine may have given people of means to gaze at their wall. Also people are spending more time browsing online. I made a number of sales on my Facebook gallery page. One was 4 hours after it was posted! One big part of my annual income were annual shows, and yes, being 25-40% of my income, they will be missed. We all as small business people watch the economy. The truth was that business was good to excellent before the pandemic outbreak. Our customer base are people who are secure financially. I still expect a slowdown. Election years are poison for my business, and my concern is tens of thousands of businesses are not going to survive until there is a vaccine, causing later strain on the economy. I am confident, though, a vaccine will show up early next year, and the economy will come back eventually.

  16. July has been one of the best month for sales for me in the last five years. I received a lot of activity and sales from an article in Phoenix Home and Garden in August. https://indd.adobe.com/view/d150eb42-18e9-48d8-b0c9-f1fcf23774a9

    The Sunnyslope Open Studio Tours we created two years ago has introduced our art to many new collectors. People are intrigued to visit our private studio and gallery. They are intrigued to experience the behind the scenes of a working studio. Our home studio is tucked away in a very private desert setting, a box canyon shared with hawks, javelinas, coyotes, fox, owls, and rattlesnakes. The flickering lights of Phoenix are beautiful backdrop for our private evening events.

  17. My sales have been very good They are just a little short of last year’s sales at this time. This surprises me since my teaching income has evaporated, so painting sales are actually higher than last year. I started my full time art business about 10 years ago and last year was my best year ever, so being on par with last year has been a great surprise. Several of my sales have been by former customers who returned to buy more. The consignment gallery has also been selling my work well since they reopened in June. It appears that people who can afford art during the pandemic are buying possibly more than before. Since we know buying art tends to bring joy, perhaps the purchases are a way to bright their day.

  18. My sales were zero until the outdoor market opened up in July (with social distancing and masks). I have found that my sales are double compared to the same period last year, but are still down overall for the year. Still nice to still see people and their love of art.

  19. My sales were non-existent for March and April, when New England, where many of my clients are located, was particularly hard hit by the pandemic. May is usually a very good month for me, as I have my two largest annual in-person open studios events. Obviously they didn’t happen this year, and I had just one sale in May. But I kept nurturing client relationships, including both direct buyers and interior designers, and it paid off in June, which turned out to be my best month ever in terms of sales volume. July was also above average. So, despite a spring slump, I am ahead of last year in terms of year-to-date sales. I’m continuing to post regularly on social media, and I also keep in touch with clients through my monthly newsletter. While I always lean toward the upbeat side, I have also been honest about some of the creative and other life challenges associated with this pandemic, and how it has influenced my work habits and subject matter. I’ve found that people really respond to this candor and openness. Those clients who are in a position to continue buying art have been very generous in their support, and I feel blessed to have weathered the storm so far.

  20. Last year I spent my time in rehab; I had little energy or creativity for making art. I relied on a large inventory to keep my galleries stocked, but I saw very few paintings sell. My bread-and-butter card sales kept me in the public eye. This year started strong with sales of original paintings after last year’s hiatus. I was feeling well, producing again, and garnering increased interaction online. Then the quarantine hit. My shows and classes were cancelled; I had to do a major pivot to marketing online. I developed 2 online courses which were both successfully attended, and began an IG campaign with small works for the #artistsupportpledge. This resulted in a fivefold increase in IG followers, other accounts sharing my work, new sales, and a collaboration with an equine curation business that will launch next January. My galleries also went online, and I did quite a few virtual collaborations with one of them to feature my work and boost sales. The online pivot was a huge learning curve and great amount of work, which I am happy to say is paying off. I am on my second round of purchases for the artist support pledge.

    When galleries in Colorado reopened in June, I began to see a steady increase in onsite sales. During this time of social distance and some quarantine, enormous creative energy was sparked with me. Perhaps part of this is due to taking last year off to heal- there is just so much I want to say. I feel my work has strengthened and matured. Recently, I have earned signature status with the Colorado Watercolor Society. I have also been branching out into more experimental work- (letting go of the realism.) This new direction is capturing a great amount of interest and driving new sales. Recently I received a commission for a large painting. Though the client wants realism, (it is to capture her grandchildren in candid occupation at the beach for a prominent wall at the client’s beach house), she specifically wants the bold, bright colors of my new experimental works. (So a marriage of the two styles.)

    I believe my sales are strong for a few reasons: #1- my creativity and output have been very high #2- I made the commitment to develop the online market when galleries, art centers, and exhibitions shuttered. #3- for those whose incomes have not been affected by the pandemic’s downturn in the economy, there is hunger for beauty, excitement, and creativity. There is also a need to fill one’s home spaces (where so many people spend so much time) with expressions of excitement, color, novelty— ART!

  21. Hi Jason,
    After all of my classes, workshops and a painting trip to Greece were all canceled due to Covid I was fearing the worst. However I have to say that my sales of paintings are up especially commissioned work.
    I have been posting my work and work in progress every day to social media, designed a new website and began teaching online. Surprisingly I am actually busier than ever
    Kathy,
    Australia

  22. I have had a phenomenal summer so far. Of coarse the shut down was hard but after Arizona opened up in May a section of my followers were raring to go! I have had to double my in-person mosaic workshops to twice a month because folks want something to do and to look forward to. We follow all CDC restrictions and just have a good time! My gallery sales have been steady. I and a few other artists work closely with the gallery owner to support her and we help to promote her monthly events. It’s been a great experience because we have grown closer for each other. The gallery sold a few larger pieces of mine in June and July. I also sell my smaller pieces on Etsy and online sales have been up from 2019. All but one fall festival has canceled. So I’m really glad I have other forms of art revenue.

  23. Huge increase in on-line sales! 17 paintings sold in 2 months – almost all of them within minutes of posting photos on social media. I keep worrying that the bubble will pop… but until then, I will just keep painting and posting images!

  24. Our gallery sales are below last year, but overall holding their own. We are pleased with the in-store sales and especially happy with the online sales that are definitely up. We pound away at online promotion, spotlighting sales, promoting our artists through videos, etc. We focus on the beauty that art provides in these dark days, and mostly people are responding. We are fortunate to be doing so well with only being open 3 days a week and then by appointment and still making sales!

  25. Since about May sales of glass art orders have been real good, and the mysterious run on my jellyfish lamps continued throughout the summer. I drove cross country in August and got a large commission, from my niece in Colorado, for a stained glass window that she and her husband had bought and are moving into. I stopped in Denver to deliver the jellyfish lamps and that customer expressed interest in more of my work.When I got to Vermont to deliver more stained glass pieces to another customer I got more orders from her.

    Watercolor stationery really took a beating this summer, practically nothing without any art shows, but as soon as shops reopened a least sales there have picked back up.

  26. Art sales have not been encouraging for me since the Covid virus swept our world. Two shows I had scheduled, one of which was very prestigious, were cancelled with no hint of when, or if, they’ll be rescheduled. I do have one art show at a winery, which was rescheduled twice, that is going ahead and will have an in-person Artist Reception on 9/26/20. The winery owner, in an effort to truly support the artists, is extending the show from 3 months to 6 months.

    Virtual shows are starting to pick up steam, and I’ve shown in a few (no sales) and it felt good to get some work out there. Hopefully, there will be more. I have had no luck with original pieces, but people are asking for prints. I’m concerned about that prospect and would appreciate some feedback in that regard, especially since my large format printer went Ka-Put.

    With all the changes from the virus, I’m starting to explore more marketing through social media (thanks for all the advise on that topic, Jason) and I’m in the process of setting up virtual stores through some of them.

    There are galleries in my area that have reopened, but by appointment only. I’d like to approach them, but since they’ve been closed for so long and had an entire year already scheduled, I imagine that they are really backed up with artists waiting for their shows to be rescheduled. So I’m afraid that if I approach them now, I’ll fall into a stack a mile high. Has anyone else dealt with something like this?

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