Let me begin by admitting up front that I am probably the wrong person to write this post. I own an art gallery and my entire focus is on selling artwork out of my retail space. I am often asked by artists, however, what I think of an artist showing his/her work in alternate venues – cafés, restaurants, banks, etc. The truth is that I have very little experience displaying or selling art out of these kinds of venues. The right person to write this post would be an artist who has had success selling this way. I’m hoping that artist (or artists) will leave their thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
That said, lack of experience or expertise has never stopped me from having an opinion in the past, so why should it now?!
I am a big believer in exposure, in whatever form it may take. For an artist early in his/her career, showing in a non-gallery venue like a restaurant or café can be a good way for you to begin to get your feet wet. I would certainly rather have your work out where people can see it than collecting dust in the corner of your studio. At least if the work is showing, you’ve got a shot at someone seeing it and becoming familiar with your art and your name. You might even have a shot at a sale or two.
Let’s admit upfront what everyone’s motivations are and should be though, so that there is no room for disillusionment during the course of the exhibition.
The Venue’s Motivation
Restaurants, banks and other alternate venues may have many reasons to host exhibits in their spaces. The owners of the business may have a great love for the arts and may be big supporters of the arts in the community. They may also feel that their clientele is interested in the art and might want to support the artists by making a purchase. Primarily, however, I suspect that these venues want to enhance their decor with your amazing art, which will make their space look better to their customers and help them do more business. By hosting exhibitions they gain two huge advantages: First, the art doesn’t end up costing them anything. Second, they are not stuck with the art like they would be if they had purchased it. Every few months they can change the exhibition and have a totally new art collection to share with their customers.
In most cases, they are not looking at this as an opportunity to make a commission on sales and increase their revenue – consequently, they aren’t going to have much motivation to actively promote or sell the work.
The Artist’s Motivation
As an artist, you will probably feel that your number one goal in showing in this setting (or any other setting, for that matter) is sales. Because that doesn’t align with the venue’s motivation, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, I would suggest that you change your expectations and, consequently, your approach to the show.
I would suggest that you look at the display as an opportunity to increase your local exposure and make contacts with potential local supporters and buyers. With that in mind, here are some ideas that could help you achieve this goal.
Ask for a public reception at the opening and closing of the show
We have a bank in our area that hosts receptions for the artists in conjunction with their showings. They send out a beautiful invitation to their client list inviting them to the reception. They handle the catering for the event. This is a win-win for the bank and artist. It creates an opportunity for the bank to have their customers in their banking space in a non-sales situation. The bank has its top banking staff and management at the event to mingle with customers and build relationships. If the artist is known in the community it may also bring in some potential new customers.
The artist benefits by having the opportunity to meet the customers and talk about the artwork.
I like the idea of having both an opening and closing reception because the closing reception gives people who have been in the bank while the exhibition was up to come back and meet the artist.
This may not work as well in a restaurant or cafe if they don’t have a good mailing list, but it still might be worth the effort.
If you are in a smaller community, you might also be able to get some press coverage for the event. Be sure and send out a press release for the event and list it in local events calendars.
Print up stacks of business cards or postcards that visitors to the exhibition
Let’s face it, restaurant and bank staff is not trained to sell art and they’re probably not going to be very good at it. I once had an artist tell me of a conversation she overheard at a local restaurant where a patron was interested in a piece of art and a server not only told the patron that she wasn’t sure if the piece was for sale or not, but proceeded to give the patron an incorrect name for the artist.
By providing a stack of business or postcards, you can give the staff something tangible they can offer visitors when they want further information.
The card can provide your contact information and an indication that the artwork is indeed for sale.
Using vistaprint.com or another online printer will allow you to create a custom card for the event relatively inexpensively.
Create printouts that act as your salesperson
Because the staff will be unlikely to put much effort into selling your art (they’re busy enough as it is) I suggest you try and anticipate your viewer’s questions and tell them stories about your art using printouts that you display alongside your art. We use acrylic wall mount sign holders to display this kind of information in the gallery and it would work perfectly for this kind of venue as well.
You can get the displays for a couple of bucks from Amazon.com (click on the image to see a larger photo and ordering information):
You should also include your biography and a display that includes a link to your website and phone number. Ideally, you will have all of this information in a place where people are waiting and have time to browse – the bank’s lobby, or a restaurant’s reception/waiting area.
Allow visitors to join your mailing list by providing a ballot/comment box
I have long recommended that wherever an artist is – a show, art festival or other art event – they should provide visitors an easy way to sign up for the artist’s mailing list. Typically, the easiest way to do this is to have a guest book. This works very well at events where you are present and can encourage your visitors to sign up, but it won’t work as well in a bank or restaurant setting. The main problem with a guest book here is that your viewers aren’t going to have a sense of privacy. I know I would not write my contact information down in a guestbook at a restaurant where anyone can see it.
Instead, I recommend you use a locking ballot/comment box and provide viewers with comment cards and a pen.
Here’s an example of what the box might look like from Amazon (click on the image to see a larger photo and ordering information):
Now your viewers can get a sense of security and privacy when they leave their contact information.
You can create the card on your computer and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Ask for:
- Comments/Feedback about the artwork
- Contact information (including address, phone number, and email) – your visitor might not include all of the info, but it sure doesn’t hurt to ask)
- Permission to add the visitor to your mailing list. If you don’t ask for this explicit permission you really shouldn’t add the name to your mailing list.
If you use the box I’ve suggested above, you can see that you have space to add a description and instructions. I would include a photo of yourself (to make the request for feedback feel more personal) as well as some kind of “I would love to hear what you think of my artwork” text.
Be sure and stop by the venue regularly throughout the show to collect and replenish the comment cards. This is also a good opportunity to check on any other printed materials you have provided to the venue.
Try and build a rapport with the staff
I mentioned earlier that the venue’s staff is unlikely to provide much support toward your sales because they have no motivation to do so. If you can create a bit of a rapport with the staff, your friendship may be enough motivation for them to actually be helpful, and in some cases they may even become fans and big advocates of your work.
Make the Most of Every Opportunity
I don’t believe showing in cafes, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, spa’s or golf clubs is the road to fame and fortune. However, they can be a good use of your excess inventory and can help you build relationships with potential local buyers. If you are going to take advantage of this kind of opportunity, make the most of it by showing good quality work and providing your visitors with the tools mentioned above. Find ways to optimize your display and don’t be afraid to be a bit unconventional or creative in trying to maximize your results from the opportunity.
Showing your Work in a Cafe is not Going to Ruin Your Career
Finally, I am often asked if showing artwork in an alternate venue is going to ruin the artist’s chances of showing with galleries, or if it will devalue the work in the eyes of collectors. I don’t see any danger of either as long as the artist maintains consistent pricing (see our recent podcast on pricing). The truth is that no gallery is ever going to know you showed in your local coffee house, and even if they did, they wouldn’t care. If that showing lead to some good contacts and a few sales, that increased awareness will only benefit the gallery in the long run.
If a client runs into your work in their favorite restaurant it’s going to be a pleasant surprise and remind them of your work. They’re going to brag to their friends that they already have one of your pieces.
The only issue you should be aware of is any conflict such an exhibition might create with the exclusivity clause in your contract with a gallery. Sometimes the contract will prohibit you from showing your work in other venues within the gallery’s trade area. Be sure and let a gallery know ahead of time if you are considering showing in this kind of venue in their locale.
Share Your Experience
As I said in the opening of the post, I have pretty limited practical experience in this area. I have shown some of my artists’ work in alternate venues on a limited basis in the past, but my advice in this area is largely based on retail principles I use in the gallery.
I would love, therefore, to hear from artists who have real-world experience in this area. Have you shown and sold your artwork in an alternate venue? Was the showing successful? What did you learn? What advice would you give an artist who is considering doing this for the first time? Would you do it again?
Share your experience in the comments below!
What great insight into showing in these alternate spaces, I wish I had this list when I was doing this before! I think showing in these kinds of spaces is s good chance for an artist who is starting out to practice all of the business skills one should have exhibiting in galleries. And I agree, that the expectation of sales should be realistic, but that it does help build recognition in the local area. I currently have a gallery in my home town that is relatively new but run by an enterprising young woman with experience in other galleries and she is also building her reputation by curating a couple of alternate spaces; this also effectively increases her gallery space beyond the small space she currently has. I am going to forward this post to her. Thanks for your insight, Jason!
I have been a gallery artist for 16 years and never made one sale doing this … Medical offices – restaurants – hair salons. “That being said” all the venues I did … When I went back and checked marketing materials … They had either taken most of them down or even removed my biz card displays off the walls. The last one just this year I kinda had a feeling it would be a huge time waster but I thought what the heck … Hadn’t tried in a few years so I’d give it a shot. The local salon did have a reception which was nice. But overall it was a lot of energy out for nothing. I do agree they are not art salespeople and have no real strong motivation to help artists. It beautifies their environment and if the artist can afford the time and effort – with no real reward other than adding beauty etc to a public place … Well then gotta just know that’s what it’s about. I’m sure their are exceptions if for ex. A restaurant or salon permanently connects with an artist and puts them on their website and goes the extra mile on a consistent basis – but I think the exceptions are few and far between.
I have had a similar experience with a restaurant display. I knew the owner and she had purchased one of my pieces for her own collection. When she opened a new restaurant, she asked if I could hang my work for a couple of months, there was to be a reception and I felt comfortable with the offer because I knew she liked my work. In the end, my business cards, price labels and artist statements disappeared shortly after the opening. I had no sales and no contacts generated, but I helped her have an attractive space.
On the other hand, I showed several pieces at my favorite Starbucks and sold three pieces plus garnered two commissions of large pieces. I think it depends on the location of the venue to a large extent.
Hi Bonnie, I schedule and install art shows for several restaurants in my local region. A contract is very helpful for artists and restaurant owners alike to understand each other’s needs and limitations. It may sound formal and unnecessary, but a contract provides a common ground of understanding. I have a moderately detailed contract that fills one side of a page. Despite the details, three essential agreements underscore our understandings. First agreement: the restaurant doesn’t mess with your art display without at least contacting you first. Second agreement: you do minimal damage to walls when installing and you do not interfere with the restaurant’s business when exchanging art shows. Third agreement: you keep good communications with the owner or with whomever is your responsible contact. Each of these agreements implies specific, critical details* that may be unique to a specific location. Sales range from nearly sold out to scant few, but I think a reception makes a vital difference. Beyond that, I find that the devil is in the details in selling art: the work needs to be presented well; information about the artist and contact info needs to be clear and available; labels with artist name, title, price, and contact info should accompany each piece. I like to post an “About the Artist” page, and schedule a reception with the restaurant whenever possible.
Hi Craig, Would it be possible to see an example of the contract you use? I’d really appreciate it. I am presently dealing with a location that asked for a contract from me to display my art in their venue, and I don’t have a clue where to start.
Hi Linda, sure. I’ll send an attachment through email. Use it or take whatever you need from it. Best regards, Craig
What written agreement would you suggest with the restaurant with leaving your work and having protection of your art?
Hi Craig is there any chance you can share your contract with me as well? Thank you!
Did Craig ever respond with a contract? please contact me a link or contact info for a copy. Thanks
Did Craig ever respond with a contract sample! I was just curious bc I used his email to send a request and there is nothing in my outbox that I sent him a request. I may have not done it correctly. Please let me know. Thanks
Carole at email@example.com
Hi Craig would you mind sharing the contract with me as well.
Is there a possibility of my getting a copy or something that contains what info as an
artist I should contain in a contract with a venue. I have tried several venues without sales but I am going to re-approach one who has been unsure of how it would work but is in the perfect location with great clients. i think she would be more likely to agree to my paintings in her salon if I have something like this to present to her. She has bought some of my work and loves it but doesn’t understand how the addition of an opening/closing one evening would bring in clients, new and old.
Thank you, Karen
Do all Starbucks allow you show your work.. I would be interested in this type of showing..
It depends on the Starbucks. In my town, the Starbucks works with our Art Center, who puts calls out to artists every so often. The Art Center hangs the work for a month, the traffic is great, and then changes it out. Check with your local art center to see if they’ll do that. Maybe you can even connect them with the Starbucks manager, if Starbucks isn’t doing that presently, and get it started!
Thanks so much Michelle. You reminded me of my experience displaying at a restaurant showing. It is a well written article though.
I don’t sell in banks, cafes, etc., only in galleries currently. Most people have difficulty getting their work placed into galleries (for a multitude of reasons) and this may be their only opportunity to show their work to a broader public.
I notice you mentioned a gallery exclusivity contract – I have signed a few of those which limit me to only selling to one gallery in a certain range, usually within one metropolitan area or 60 miles. I noticed your gallery restriction is very strict, limiting your artists to only your gallery if they want to show art in Arizona. I think this is excessive as the Phoenix metro area is quite a distance from other art areas in Arizona. (Tubac, Flagstaff, Tucson, etc). Why so restrictive?
Bonnie, I agree! I love Xanadu Gallery but regarding this subject, would this mean an artist showing at Xanadu couldn’t show in restaurants or coffee shops, etc. ? I’ve also had Women Artists of the West shows in several areas in AZ. It may be that I would be restricted from those venues, too.
Good article, Jason. You could also work out an arrangement with the owner/wait staff at the restaurant giving them 10% of sales as encouragement to promote your art. One word of caution, be careful where you hang your art. Too near the chair height or too near food sources and you may have ruined art or frames when you pick them up!
Yes Gail, I had a bad experience in a restaurant- bar type. After the exhibit, a lot of my frames were covered in grease.
So glad you posted this article on showing art in restaurants & other venues. I have had several successful shows at high end restaurants . The restaurant owners were part of the art community and also many of their clients .
It brought my work to those who enjoy savory crusine and art to match. I always had openings that was accompanion by amazing food, champagne and desserts. Not a bad way to view art and get into the mood for buying !
When you have/had receptions in restaurants, what food and/or drinks did you pay for and typically how much did it cost you? That would be very helpful information since I’ve not had a restaurant reception. Thanks! Lorrie
When you had an opening at a restaurant, did you provide food and drink? If so, what did you provide and how much(quantity) and how expensive? The one restaurant in which I had an opening, they expected me to provide snacks and wine. That can be very expensive.
I think all your suggestions are right on point. My first show ever was at a cafe for 1 month duration. I thought they would announce it in their newsletter, but they didn’t. Lesson learned – I should have explicitly asked for that. Same for an opening or closing reception. I had each piece tagged with title & price. Not a single one sold. I’m sure the staff would have had no motivation or idea how to do that. When I went to take down the work, one of the patrons said she was very disappointed to see it go. I said another artist would be putting up work the following day. She said, “But that won’t be the same!” I said, “If you have one in particular you would like to keep, you can purchase it.” She said, “Oh, you mean they’re for sale?” After slightly fainting in my mind, I said yes they are & she bought one. She had been going their every morning for the whole month my exhibit was up & never realized they were for sale despite each piece having a priced tag!
Years ago I met the owner of a high-end restaurant who loved my abstract colorful paintings. She invited me to hang my artwork throughout the dining room The lighting was excellent and could be directed to wherever I wanted it. She asked for 0% commission on sales but if someone wanted to charge it in their bill, I paid 10%. It was an ideal arrangement and I sold 5 paintings. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed.
Currently, my art league hangs a wall of member’s artwork at a coffee shop. It changes every 6 weeks. I’ve sold 2 pieces there so far. The league keeps 30%.
The league also does several shows during the year, but the revolving displays have had fairly good results. Anything is better than storing artwork in a closet.
I wish I could think this was strange but…I have a lot of work up in places near where I live in Hanoi, Vietnam, including the JW Marriott (you can look up my video if you are interested) and a couple of restaurants (more videos) frequented by people who are not unfamiliar with purchasing art. Yesterday, once again, I had an employee at a place, Los Fuegos, come to me with a story of their guests taking photos of my paintings and posing for photos with the paintings. They even have a room that is dedicated to displaying my work but I have never heard one of the owners of the place mention anything except once when I caught one in the act of showing off their display. He was a bit dismissive when he introduced me and even asked me not to go to the table of the guests who were beckoning me from the window in front of their table whenever I glanced their way. (I was eating at a table in a room opposite theirs…awkward.) I think the problem comes, unfortunately, from the notion that the owners there are a bit concerned that I might make a bit too much from a sale and maybe even steal a bit of their thunder. While this may be “dingue” as one commenter mentioned, I have spent a good amount of time in restaurants and hotels and I know this attitude exists. I have been working on some articles which I am publishing on substack and one in the works deals specifically with this. I must be very creative to overcome this. I just installed a few pieces in a place where the chef is a bit of a star, and I thought his ego would be able to sustain the onslaught of attention that my work tends to get. (I am being a bit facetious of course but I am a minor celebrity here.) I know many people in the community and it seems that every time I show up, there is a customer who knows me and this is not the good fortune it might seem. Without fail, the chef gives me a short burst about how the guy/lady has been following him for ages to insure that I don’t imagine that my work had anything to do with that particular guest coming to the place. He then mentions all the things that I need to do to get my work noticed there, print outs for their menus, QR codes, and etc. (I have done many of these very same things at other places with the result being a bit of goal post movement every time I complete one thing or another.) Still, I am working on this and I will continue to work with him and other places and work on strategies to improve my chances of sales. I will be relocating to Ho Chi Minh City soon and I will be working diligently on improving my end of the communications with businesses and their customers. I know I can use my experience to improve on my results.
I am in a gallery, but occasionally allow restaurants or office buildings to hang older pieces. A few do go to a bit of trouble to provide a reception, and I have provided cards and printed bios, etc. I can’t say I have ever gotten anything out of it career-wise, except the compliments of the organizers. I just placed a large painting in a popular restaurant, only to find out they don’t allow wall cards identifying the artist. They just keep info on the artists at the hostess stand. A good reminder to negotiate these things beforehand!
The salon I just did 3 month exhibit was taking 20% … but without marketing materials on walls AND verbal sales talk etc … Well again I must warn other artists. These people don’t have the time OR make the time to sell your art ! Maybe I’m on a rant cause I just did this with $ 5000 inventory at high end salon next to wealthy neighborhoods even with zero action. “Just sayin.” I hope my comments help other artists to really think this thru before they take these type situations on.
When I first started, I had my artwork and some homeware in a salon taking 30%. A lot of my inventory was tied up in the salon and I missed out on 2-3 sales online. I had one piece sell and a few smaller items. The owner wasn’t even going to pay me for them until I asked and told me nothing had sold but I insisted there were fewer items. I was also commissioned by the owners to make a painting. I didn’t collect the commission upfront (my bad) but when I went to pick up my inventory they returned the painting and said they changed their minds. It was a learning experience for sure.
Unless there is an advertised reception, this is a losing proposition. There is time lost and often wear and tear on the art. Even reception advertising is normally at the expense of the artist. I set up a juried system for art at my local library, so it provides a nice venue and many local viewers, but sales cannot be expected. The library does make an announcement in the local newspaper and the artist can also send an article. I have learned from many experiences to otherwise not exhibit in these outside venues.
I too have shown in such venues. My largest display was in a hospital, which I sold one piece of decent size. My “worst” experience was showing 1o paintings for 3 months in a Italian restaurant with a huge pizza oven. My paintings came home smelling like mesquite and other aromas, no kidding! So I laid them out in the hot sun hoping to bleach out the smells. It took over 6 months to rid of the smell. It also, kept me from showing those paintings for sometime!
I suppose if the paintings were of spaghetti and such they could have been scratch and sniff, ha!
I have shown in numerous ‘alternative spaces’ including cafes, pop-up galleries, restaurants, et al as well in galleries all over the world.
Here is my two cents…..
Restaurant staff are not motivated to sell art work and patrons usually are not interested in art when they are hungry and visiting with friends. Especially if the food is really good. After many years, I have finally figured out how to make it work. First, I only work with top restaurants where I would like to dine myself. Preferably the restaurant is familiar with your work and is a fan so there is already an interest. Then I give them some skin in the game by offering them 30% for every piece sold. I write up a contract for them to sign and included is this; “The artist will get compensated with $100 food/drink comp per month as long as his artwork hangs in the restaurant.” It is a win-win for both parties. Now, I look forward to dining at the restaurant and the restaurant owner enjoys having nice art on the walls and they make money on the art as well.
If all artists adopted this policy, it would become the new standard. Artists should do the same with other places of business as well. Hair salons always want art, have them exchange hair cuts for each month your art hangs on their walls. Stop being exploited by businesses and think the way they do. I also lease my paintings to television shows and movies. They use it for a few weeks and it comes back to my studio and I get a check. Alternative ways of exhibiting your art work are ENDLESS…. Be creative in business just like art. Think of what businesses in your area would be willing to exchange something of value to have your great art in their business for a while.
Wow that was an awesome view on it!
This is a great suggestion. I only hope that we as Artist can begin to change the standard. I agree that its time to stop being exploited! I often wondered when it became a one way street. Its always been that the Artist goes away with less then the business owner. I think an exchange plus a commission is more then fair. Now were do I go to get the movie deals started. Very Interested .
Very smart! I worked with a gallery owner who lent some of his collection to restaurant for monthly food tab. Definitely win-win! I’m a professional art installer that wants to be middleman for this set up. I’ll provide contract, notice in paper, get artist free food; restaurant free art. I get paid for security installation of artwork every 3 months. Hoping this augments my installation income
Best comment I’ve read in a long time. You just opened up so much for me. I greatly appreciate the tips and if every artist did adapt to this it definitely would be standard. Again thank you!
I really like that idea. I, too, try to think of a way that the venue will benefit. This great idea1
Thank you for your responses….Nothing has changed in the way artists are perceived, therefore the artist must lead the change. It has always been that way… Businesses see art as a way of benefiting their bottom line. Don’t be naive and think by having your work in a restaurant and “getting exposure” is payment enough. If you don’t value your work, they will pick up on your insecurity and they will lead the way. Get a stiff backbone and lead your own way!
I think high end restaurants are a good starting point for new artists who are just entering the exhibition stage. However I agree sales are rare and the danger of damage is a real concern. It is a good place to show older work that is just taking up space in your studio. I love the idea of a locked comment/contact box and a write up about the artist. Once I had a large exhibition at a nearby gallery and the owner of a high end restaurant came by and asked if I would hang some of the work in his restaurant after that show ended. I did it and we went there for dinner the day it opened. No publicity for the opening meant anyone who came was just there to eat not see art. They put my poster/statement back by the kitchen door. No one even asked about the art. The restaurant was just using borrowed art to decorate. No sales were even attempted. The restaurant made more from our meal than I made. So in my opinion, I resent providing decor for a place that isn’t interested in buying any. Maybe they should ask to rent art for a month at a time. At least the artist would get something out of it.
How much would you charge them per month to rent your art?
Interesting. I had my solo show in a coffee house, the owners kept “artcentric”. They had regular shows, with receptions for the local artists in the area. I sold three pieces, and I consider this pretty good for a small town where art takes a back seat to just about everything else.
My show also lead to being approached and accepted into an art festival, also local, where I sold more work.
So, these are opportunities that can lead to other opportunities; one never knows and are certainly not to be “sneezed at”.
This blog is the absolute best, Jason. You bring up very valid and perplexing issues for fine artists and I appreciate it. And the comments!
I have been a gallery artist- solely- up until a few years ago when I moved to a new area. I was asked to show at a sushi restaurant (very high end and trendy part of Portland Oregon) who regularily schedules local artists every month. No comission. Figured I had nothing to lose.
What I discovered is how much work it is to hang a show! I made a couple of trips to the venue ahead of time to take measurements and to organize what went where but on the actual day, whew, it was more involved than I thought it would be. That would be a point that I would add to uours, Jason.
It went well and I sold a piece in less than 24 hours. I ended up delivering and installing it. Again, labor intensive but the upside is I got to see it in its new home and the look on the customers face. Priceless.
Would I do it again. Yes, absolutely, and this is coming from an elitist art snob.
(when people are looking at my art I would rather not have the conversation turn to the sushi…oh well! )
What a timely article for me. I just wrapped up such a situation with a local seafood restaurant/bar that couldn’t have been more successful. I was accepted to display 18 of my pieces back in December 2015 and they were scheduled to hang for two months. The owners and their clientele liked my artwork so much that a two-month show turned out to last 6 months! For the life of me, I don’t understand why such venues don’t do this more often for a number of reasons. The reasons you mention, Jason, plus the built in addition of new patrons to the establishment. When a venue (especially a restaurant) rotates artists every few months the friends and the relatives of the artist come in and spend their money. And, some of those people become regular patrons. That’s a win for the location.
In my case, as for many artists, it’s not easy at all getting into a gallery. I have been very successful in local and national competitions but I paint traditional landscapes and still lives but more recently started a photo-realistic series of paintings of subject matter in an unusual niche. Many galleries are not interested. So, while the majority of galleries in my area are not interested in accepting my work, I was able to sell 3 originals and 11 framed prints at the restaurant. Best showing I’ve ever had and in this case the restaurant did not charge a commission. They just like supporting the arts. And, not only that, but because of a local newspaper article on the exhibit that was read by a local art collector, I ended up selling another original for much more than I’ve ever sold a painting! I never thought I would sell one in the mid 4 figures!
So far, I’ve had exhibits in 3 different restaurants/bars in two different states. In all three cases I made sales. Obviously, the artwork itself has to catch the eye of the viewer. But I believe a number of things were done that helped drive sales.
I worked on getting an article published in the local papers. Then I referenced that article in my social media, most notably Facebook and my website but also on Instagram. The recent establishment posted on their website and Facebook page and I then Shared their posts on my own sites. I then placed comments on their pages. (By the way, I have two separate Facebook pages, one is personal and the other is my artist page. I highly suggest that people never try making their personal page work as their professional page for reasons too involved to discuss here.)
Brochures, postcards and business cards were made available. I also posted a short bio with awards and publications in a frame on the wall. Titles and price tags were affixed at each artwork. These wall tags imparted information but the title and price were much larger print. Interestingly, the reception held was not very successful. Just a few people showed up and those were mostly friends. Next time I’ll take your advice, Jason, and send out a press release about the reception. Oh, and I also gave nice gift cards to any of the wait people who made sales. I figured that was only fair but it also motivated all of the wait people to let patrons know that the artwork was for sale.
In regards to what type of venue to choose, I believe a lot has to do with your subject matter, style and level of expertise. Regardless where one is exhibiting, the product has to be something that attracts buyers. But, I’m convinced that restaurant/bars with high traffic are perfect. I still very much want to get into more galleries but until that happens I’m perfectly happy to exhibit in places that make actual sales.
Hi Kenneth, I love your idea of giving a gift card to the wait staff who sold your art. How did you approach this? Did you do speak with the owner? Or simply tell a few of the staff the first night? And then when that first sale happened, made sure to track that person down and the word spread?
Asking because when I have done shows at restaurants, the ones I have sold at, were spaces that were setup to sell the art. It was part of their thing. And the staff knew. However, there are other locations I wouldn’t mind doing a show again, if I could motivate the staff to sell. As that is key.
Great suggestions. I have a show and opening in a restaurant the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Your ideas have certainly helped.
Thank you, I showed my work at Starbucks and had to sign away if my paintings or frames got ruined. One of my paintings cracked from all the coffee steam, my paintings all smelled of coffee when I picked them up. I sold one painting and got a lot of likes on Facebook. I don’t regret doing it but don’t recommend it for all the reasons you stated and simply see it as a learning experience.
Hi Pearl! Just wanted to say hello, since I am a pearl as well. Good to know about your work at Starbucks. I am doing an exhibit at an assisted living facility for black history month. I teach painting as well to assistant living facilities as well as the educational institutions.
My mom and I had a mother-daughter show at the retirement facility. I was flabbergasted that we were not allowed to have anything on our cards but title, medium, size, and our name. no suggestion of whether it was for sale or even who to contact if interested. I learned a hard lesson about how these facilities might enjoy your art but without compensating you for the time the paintings were tied up or the time it took you to haul, put up, and take down. If you agree to something like this and would like something other than just exposure, make sure you find out before you agree, if you will be allowed to sell your work.
I am in total agreement with Judith Monroe. I have done many shows locally and with my local library. I have an opportunity to exhibit my art at a very popular restaurant in my area. After reading your blog, I understand your point of view to not have great expectations of selling my art. My decision was definitely to have people see my art and getting to know me as an artist. I have always put a business card right on the frame of my art for prices and information, this gives collectors a way of reaching me at their convenience. As a side note, your information to use printouts to display alongside my art was extremely helpful. Thank you for such a great article.
I’ve shown work in several restaurants in the past. None held receptions, and I had only one sale. It was however in a high-end restaurant and that was a 4-figure sale, so it was worth it. Also, it was from an older body of work that is large and heavy so I rarely got an opportunity to show it.
I’ve shown my work in cafes, small businesses and other alternative locations. I’ve generally had pretty good results doing that. Many of these locations participate in a monthly or quarterly “art walk”, which gives me the chance to meet people and have an opening of sorts.
Currently I have work in a Seattle area cafe and have had a number of sales. The owner of the cafe actually introduced my work to some of her clients and I had sales of over $4000 from that. Also from the same location, I had a couple contact me because the liked the work but had some specific colors, tones, in mind that they didnt exactly see there. They came to my place for a studio visit and purchased 3 pieces that totaled more that $3000. And just yesterday I had another inquiry about one of the smaller pieces in that same location…and made another sale.
Admittedly this is a bit unusual for me from showing in these locations, but perhaps it’s also a sign of some growth Im having as an artist as well.
Exposure is exposure. And it’s also been a great learning tool in how to talk with potential clients and how to talk about my work in general.
I have had wonderful sales in restaurants and coffee shops. Where else do you get a captured audience sometimes for and hour or two? That being said, not everyone of these venues will work. I have had some duds. I have happened to live in touristy places, where the venues have local and visiting clientele. My paintings, being of scenic place, are popular with both crowds. I think especially when starting out, it is good practice. You have to be in charge of it, don’t expect anyone else to really care. Check in during non-busy times, look for tags, come with replacements, be ready to clean something, don’t get mad with staff, offer incentives….there’s a learning curve and part of me thinks everyone should learn the hard way 😉 builds your knowledge base
I love your ideas, Jason… and I wish that any of the venues around here would ‘allow’ them but mostly they don’t. Needles to say, the one that does – about 70 miles of here – has artists lined up waiting literally years in advance.
I actually struck what seemed like a very good deal – but no reception was allowed because of having to protect the floor – with a yoga studio about 120 miles away. I had approached the owner when they first opened suggesting that my work might be a very good fit for the studio. It was and I sold a few things over the year or so that my work hung there but shipping was genuine pain so eventually I pulled the work.
It was a decent investment for the name recognition, though, as I still run into people who saw my work there.
Gosh, I guess I’v just been really fortunate. I have an ongoing exhibit in a high-end salon where the owners adore my work. On of them studied art and loves art and acts as a go-between, setting me up with potential clients. Each of the owners has purchased multiple pieces, and although it’s just word-of-mouth, they promote me to anyone who’s even the slightest bit interested in what’s on the walls. People come in week after week and particular pieces grow on them. As a result, I’ve sold between 5 and 10 thousand dollars’ worth of work through them or to contacts I made because of them. They do take a commission, but it is only 10%. I would love gallery representation, and I’m actively seeking it, but until I get it, this arrangement isn’t bad at all.
This was a really good take on showing in alternate venues. I agree that such places are really looking to enhance their space! I have shown in such spaces and ended up feeling discouraged, but there are some good ideas here. And , I totally agree that one’s Art is better off on someone’s walls other than your own, and any exposure is worthwhile. I had my pieces hanging in a very large and busy ophalmology office for 6 months and I still have folks telling me how much they enjoyed seeing it, only sold 2 small pieces, though.
All that you said is good. I have my work in various galleries and in businesses. You really just need to think of it as visible storage. Not a good fit for everyone, but it works for me. I have had a few sales, less than the galleries, because less people are shopping for art at, say, my chiropractor. I never expect the waiters/receptionist to sell my work, that’s not why they have my work. I do restock business cards, etc. I have done receptions and without receptions and I have not had that much difference in sales. I like the comments box idea, so thank you.
I had an investment house interested in showcasing one of my sculptures. The national office said “not only would the piece not be insured if under their policy, but further that NO property was allowed on the premises other than that owned by the company.”
As an artist, for my self-created works I’ve only been able to find insurance for “raw materials value” which is a tiny fraction of the art’s retail value. It would be great to know that the host site’s (salon, cafe, restaurant, bank etc) insurance coverage extended to my art if displayed there…….and for the retail value.
So far the insurance side of things has not be addressed in the blog or comments. Does anyone have insurance pearls and/or pitfalls to share on this aspect??
Hi Kellen, I show my work in an English pub/restaurant. My paintings are there at my own risk as the venue is not a “dedicated gallery space.” The staff are lovely though and let me know if something needs rectifying, and I have to say I have had very little damage in five years.
Before I was able to establish myself in traditional galleries, I exhibited in a lot of alternative spaces including: restaurants, beauty salons, banks, coffee houses and libraries. I had a few sales as the result of showing in these venues. I think these kinds of spaces are an excellent place for artists to start off, because the owners are a lot less intimidating than gallery directors or museum curators. I only show in commercial galleries now, but I am grateful for the experience in all the alternative places that showed my work because they helped me build a resume. Also, I gained more confidence in presenting myself with each subsequent encounter. Excellent article, thank you and I hope people take some of your advice.
I’ve shown in alternative spaces; a library and a cafe/bookstore and a bistro that specifically caters to showing local artists’ work.I had no sales from the library and the cafe but sold one piece at the bistro. The people who own it get to know the artists that show there and “talk up” your work. They have established themselves as a cultural hang-out for artists and writers and lovers of the arts. They have jazz afternoons, art talks, poetry readings and other cultural events. They were more than happy to hand out my business cars as well. They took a small percentage of the profit from the piece sold but they always make sure people know what’s new on the walls.
I have only been selling my artwork for three years now. Primarily using social media for sales and exposure. I’ve done two shows in venues the last year, one in a restaurant. We had a opening reception including a band. I sold one painting, had a lot of fun, was able to see a body of my artwork hanging up in public, and get feedback in person for the first time. The other I set up was a cafe in a food market. I didnt sell anything, but a gallery owner saw my work and invited me to do a show his gallery and now I am represented there as an artist. I never had high expectations to sell my art in those venues, it was more about building my confidence and just getting in the public eye. I wouldn’t focus my entire marketing energy and time towards those venues, but to throw one in the mix once in awhile worked out for me. For a new artist I would highly recommend them just for the experience!
I agree with everything you have written in this… I have shown my work in all these venues as an opportunity to have someone see my work and name versus my pieces just sitting in a closet. The hardest part is keeping it all straight and fresh… meaning changing out the work every three months to keep it fresh. I have yet to sell anything out of those venues… But I have had a good number of folks comment that they saw my work. The key is being organized and knowing what you have where and when to change out or pull the work.
This is an excellent topic! I’ve read many comments I can relate to as well. I live in the midwest so generally there are more opportunities to show work in alternative places than galleries. The midwest also tends to be somewhat traditional in taste, I do abstract art so even if there are three or four galleries in the area, it might not be a good fit. While showing in a coffee house, a salon, or a cafe is always a mixed bag, if you try to choose wisely and develop a rapport with the owner, it’s usually a pleasant experience. What I used to do was have my work in 3 or 4 places within the same area. That way, even if only a few sold at least people that frequent that area will get to know your name and your art. I always have business cards available in each venue and I’ve never had a problem with the owner tossing them out or not putting them where customers could see them. While setting up and taking down – or in my case switching them out in other showing places, can be a time consuming task, what I’ve found is that if you do it often enough – you get the whole act down to a science, like doing it on autopilot,lol! I’ve also gotten invites to shows, one of which lead to curating my own show which turned out to be so large, I called in 4 other artists I knew to fill all the walls. I’ve also had my share of negative experiences but even those were at least a learning experience and not completely tragic. So anyway, I’m a fan of showing in places other than galleries. Besides, not all galleries are the end all/be all of places to sell art. I’ve known some gallery owners that never did much of anything to promote and sell your work. I can remember one in particular that all you could really be assured of was one 30 day show in a year and maybe one piece in the backroom the rest of the year – the owner also didn’t seem to actively market the work – hell at least if it’s in a Starbucks, somebody will see your stuff everyday for the allotted period of time.
I would like to say that I’ve done a lot of selling in alternative venues and done quite well at it. It doesn’t sell itself however. I try to always set up events where I am physically present and can introduce my personally to the clientele. At my receptions I bring lots more art including print bins and set up temporary displays in addition to what is already on display. I advertise as to my existing customer base and whatever other advertising I can get. If possible I try to piggyback other existing events to get maximum numbers. I’ve done pretty well with it…..and usually zero commissions to anyone
Many valid points have been made in all the comments here. I have been showing in “alternative places” for many years and I can’t remember even one sale! However, I do often have people remark how “my art is everywhere”, so I suppose the exposure is better than having pieces sit in my storage area.
I am a bit more savvy about WHERE my paintings are shown now and there are some great tips in all the discussion here about how to do this much more intelligently than what I’ve done in the past.
Several years ago the president of a local art organization I belong to asked me to have a solo show in a small local restaurant where he was in charge of providing art. He said “lots of hip people go there, especially for weekend brunch. It’s a great place to show and make some sales.” On his recommendation and urging, I said “yes.” I had never been in this restaurant and showing there turned out to be somewhat disastrous. All my paintings were framed watercolors, and when I went back to get them at the end of the month or two they were there, they were covered in a layer of grease and dust and smelled like bacon and eggs! I had to unframe them, thoroughly clean the frames and reframe them. I had not made one sale. They did not want prices on the pieces so a patron would have to ask about prices (I don’t think many people even THINK about the fact that paintings are for sale in places like this, thus don’t think to ask anyone for sales information even if they love a piece.) I think most patrons think the art is hanging there sheerly for enjoyment, and sales aren’t even considered by most people.
Another time I was asked to show in a federal office, in a huge space, so I thought it was a great opportunity to get a lot of my art out of storage and in front of people. It turns out, the only people allowed in the office were the attorneys and office staff who work there and an occasional witness in a federal trial! So there was almost no traffic to see my work. I was lucky that I was allowed to bring a client in (someone I worked with a few blocks away) to see some of my work and he bought a piece for his wife for Christmas. I think that’s the only painting I ever sold in an alternative venue.
I now tell my art students and others new to showing and selling their pieces to be very careful about where they show, encourage them to ask for an opening reception, be very clear that pieces are for sale and how to get that info. out in front, etc. It is ok to say no, and look for other venues to show your work that are more suitable to your needs.
I have sold some in commercial venues (giclee, yesterday), but as a general rule, no. People come to a coffee house, bank, or retail store for a specific purpose; either business or the merchandise in that store. I am well aware my work enhances the facility and I am a bit weary of hearing, “Oh, everyone loves your art!” Glad to hear it …. Don’t think high traffic will translate into sales, either. Just because four hundred people were at the winery this weekend doesn’t mean the numbers will work for you. They came to mix with corporate hierarchy or the wine. Art was the last thing on their priority list.
Some people think work displayed in such places is less serious and the “real art” is in the gallery across town. I suppose because worthy hobbyists DO display commercially.
Those places I do display have mounted note cards with everything the staff needs to make a sale. They answer any possible question an interested party may have. I posted a bio and keep a regularly replenished stack of business cards.
I must also state most of my work sold in the last three years were through my own promotional efforts, not a commercial venue, not even a gallery.
I asked quite a few people if they were truly hunting art/collecting/decorating options why didn’t they simply go to a gallery? Their answers were revealing …. they felt intimidated, unwelcome or uncomfortable, or they didn’t think they could afford the work in an upscale gallery. Surprising.
Great article! The link to the amazon photo of the comment box is broken (:
Use a QR code for signups instead.
Thanks for the very interesting question about showing work in restaurants, banks, and other non-art venues.
Many years ago, as a beginning studio artist, I was asked to hang a selection of my framed paper sculptures in the local bank in Highland Park, Illinois.
I was honored to have been asked to display in their space, and it was really nice when family and friends went into the bank and said, Hey, that looks great! But as you point out, nobody was there to “sell” the artwork, and most of the bank employees were unfamiliar with my work or how I created it, so there was low expectation for results.
The few bios I had printed were placed on a small table beneath the work. Happily one of them was taken home by a commercial bank customer who called to ask if I’d be interested in a commission. Of course! That commission turned out to be many framed pieces, which were distributed to facilities across the country. What’s more, it was so encouraging!
Maybe it’s just the luck of time and place, but you never know who’s going to see your work and how they’ll react. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For the beginning artist, or the artist without gallery exposure, the visibility can be an important part of marketing.
I am a photographer and have exhibited at a number of restaurants, coffeeshops, real estate offices and salons. Sales have ranged from none to 9 pieces in a month. One issue that I do not see addressed here is the issue of hanging the art. Most places require you to hang items yourself but have little equipment to do so. I always bring my own hammer, level, nails and hooks but sometimes a sturdy ladder is hard to find at these places. Most ask you to hang during business hours so trying to hang art above a table in a coffeeshop where people are stretching out one cup of coffee for an hour so they can work on their laptop is challenging. A few places have had hanging systems that have required reworking the hanging wires on my photographs. Others have restrictions on what you can attach to their walls. And you don’t want to put too many holes in their walls. Try to arrange to hang in off hours. I stick my name and price on cards in the corner of the frame and glass rather than attach them to the wall where they might fall off or damage the wall.
I’ve hung at 4-5 Pita Jungles in Phoenix. I sold one painting there. While my paintings were hanging there, a mgr/owner from a frozen yogurt shop saw my paintings and called me to ask me to start the rotating art display at his business. I’ve sold two paintings there in two months. I’m not required to pay a commission. I’ve tried 3 galleries this year and was not accepted. I get a lot of exposure at the yogurt shop as they sell 900 cups per day. I get to move some work and make room to create more.
I did really well selling art out of ROY’S Hawaii Kai.
I have a running exhibition of 26 paintings at our local, very busy pub/restaurant, up on the Cornish Moors in the UK. My sales are not huge but steady.
As I am not charged a gallery fee – (let’s face it, it’s mobile wallpaper) I donate 10% of any sales to a local charity, The Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust. On receipt of the donation the charity writes to thank me, and also the venue, for waiving the gallery fee. I laminate the letter and put up on the wall in the bar so everyone can see that their purchases have helped a charity which means a lot to our area. This sometimes gets a write up in the local paper and even on local TV.
The charity asked me to paint a very large portrait of the helicopter and crew and it hangs in their conference room.
I would now like to progress to showing in a gallery where my work is nicely displayed and promoted.
Hi Anna I am also in Cornwall uk, I recently graduated and am currently the artist in residence at a local mining museum
. I set up the residency myself and plan to hold an exhibition at the end of my residency in Oct. there is a new cafe / restaurant on the site and I have been offered the space for my exhibition. Any tips would be great.for example what do you do about frames ? Hanging etc
My Instagram account is caroincornwall if you would like to see my work
My art is currently in a small hair salon in San Diego. It’s not really the right place for it, the demographic is wrong, the color on the walls looks awful with my work, etc. However, on the night of my artist reception, I sold four small alcohol ink pieces. They were priced well under what I price for my oils, but I knew that the people coming in would be old friends from San Diego, and that they wouldn’t be able to go for the higher priced pieces. Turns out my instincts were right, and those pieces sold immediately. I also got some interest from a high-end salon/art gallery in swanky Costa Mesa, and interest in my largest/priciest painting from a man walking by. Unfortunately, he didn’t sign my guest book (next time, I will use the drop box method mentioned in this blog – brilliant!!) so I can’t follow up with him, but he did take my card, which has the image of the painting he was interested in, so you never know.
All in all, I feel it was a success. The pieces will be on display for a couple more months, unless I decide to take them down, and they are at least being seen, something that wasn’t happening when they were gathering dust in my apartment. I continue to strive for the representation that I know my work deserves. http://www.salamonefineart.com
I have shown my work in many different venues and its like throwing pasta at the wall, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t. The last time I had paintings in a restaurant I got wonderful feedback from people who ate there. It wasn’t until I decided to move to another state and told the restaurant owner I would need to remove the paintings, that they sold – to the restaurant owner.
My husband and I own a sculpture that we bought because we saw similar work by the artist decorating a restaurant. One never knows where a sale lead may come from, more exposure is always good. That being said, I have had my art hanging in a doctor’s office now for 2 years and never got a sniff.
I’ve had both success and failure showing in cafes/restaurants. The failure amounting to only three sales and an opening with less than ten people – that taught me a valuable lesson, if you have a bad opening, there are very few people that will know about it and you will survive! I’ve also had the experience of selling all but two paintings in a show I’ve held at a cafe. For me, the two most important things to consider are the demographic of the area and the visibility of the space. While these may not matter once you have a name for yourself and can bring a large number of buyers on your own, it does matter when you are starting out and trying to get exposure to the market.
I specialize in selling art in alternative venues. I am not an artist but more of an alternative gallery owner and sell an average of 50-80 paintings a year from alternative spaces. My overall advice for those of you selling outside the traditional gallery system is to be professional where ever you show, (with postcards, press releases and business cards), make it easy for people to contact you and work with the staff on hand at the spaces. Do not expect them to sell for you – you have to “work it.” Following up with all leads out of these spaces is especially important as the sale may not happen at an opening but rather, in advance of the event from a social media post or newsletter, or after the opening when you are following up with people. In addition, the location of the space will be very important – you need a high traffic restaurant or club where people will consistently see the work and understand that it is indeed for sale.
Great article! When I was first starting out, I showed my art in our local cafe at a 10% commission. Over the years I sold a lot there because I didn’t have any mark-up. When I got into galleries and my work became in demand, I raised my prices across the board. Sales aren’t what they used to be at that venue, but exposure’s key. I’ve met many people- even T.A Lawson- who’ve said, “I saw your work in that restaurant.” As a beginning artist it was about sales and exposure. As an established artist, I wonder whether I should keep my work there, but it’s still exposure, as many of the people who come into a restaurant might never set foot in a gallery. We live on a road to Yellowstone, so many sales have been to travelers passing through, helping to put my work all over the globe, so I think restaurants are a good venue to expose non-gallery-goers to your art.
As always, a helpful and insightful article. One caveat—-have insurance and/or make sure the venue has insurance! I once exhibited in an upscale local restaurant and had significant damage to an original oil on canvas. Someone had allowed their child to draw on the painting and even poked a hole in the canvas. Fortunately the restaurant did have insurance and paid me. Another helpful hint—-only exhibit pieces under glass or make sure that the work is hung high enough that it won’t be poked by anyone including workers at the establishment.
I have a few pieces in two local restaurants which rotate out every other month. The owner of both restaurants is related to a local art organization, of which I am a member. There are sales, but nothing of mine for the two years in this venue. Despite the coffee spills, fingerprints, and general grime that has sometimes led to reframing I keep on because I enjoy the fellow artist’s company during the changeover. With my new in-house Epson printer, I am going to switch from originals to prints. It’s simply less stressful. I believe location and an educated public are priceless. The folks in my area just don’t get it. We once had a customer approach us and say that he would take the artwork off our hands, thinking he could get it for free! Yet, you never knows when the right person will show up, who will become a collector!
Commissioning an artwork is usually the best route to go for serious art buyers and collectors. This can be a great way for collectors to invest in art while at the same time get something special to them. Also as a business investment, Art is tax deductible so effectively its free to companies who wish to invest. – David J Mitchell
I’d mention one other thing – find out what other art they are planning to hang in the coffeehouse/store/alternate venue. Years ago I hung a show in a local store. I didn’t know it, but the owner had also been approached by a teacher at a local grade school for a show. When I came by to check, I found my pieces surrounded by crayon drawings of 8 year olds.
Hi, Jason, Art works RVA , where my studio/ gallery is located, has a very busy cafe at tone of the openings to our building. At lunch people can enter and visit the various studios/ private galleries . This cafe is very art oriented and have a monthly show with various artists showcasing their work. I had the opportunity to have a month for my art work. I found it to be a positive experience even though I did sale anything. In Richmond VA art is not selling very well at the moment, there I was happy for the exposure.,
For the last few years I’ve been part of a group of artists that has a regular display of artwork in a small community hospital here in the UK. The artwork is changed twice a year and each artist has one or two pieces included each time. 20% of any sales made goes to the Friends of the Hospital. I have sold two or three paintings at the hospital during the last couple of years and other artists have made sales too. For me this is a pretty good outcome given the minimal effort required to supply four paintings a year. The only downside is we never get to meet the buyers as the hospital handles the sales and then presents us with the money after the artwork has been purchased and taken away.
I’d love feedback on whether, given the following scenario, I can justify charging commission for art sales..and what rate? I have a public art studio, an Art Hive. I think hosting art shows on the walls of the studio, complete with openings, is part of generating enthusiasm for art in general. The studio is open for viewing during business hours and during group classes. Selling isn’t my main objective; encouraging people to take art classes is. I’d like to cover the costs of hosting an opening.
This is truly a very informative blog for artists. Unfortunately some artists neglect to read and grow because of it. Excellent points made on reasearching and building a local rep. Of course with today’s technology it’s still not as simple as just creating a nice website. Marketing is a big factor in selling art as an artist. I believe this is why all big and successful retail companies continue to succeed even with the rise of Amazon and eBay. I’ve worked retail for ys and learned as sound as customers saw a deal it provoked them to spend their money. Great blog post!
I am thinking about showing in small venues, and have a question for those who have sold pieces this way. Once sold, how long would you say is appropriate before the buyer receives their piece? If it’s a short show I wouldn’t mind giving them the piece after the show has finished, but it looks like some people leave their art in places for 6+ months. Do you take down the sold piece after a few weeks? Do you replace it with another?
Easier said then done. I email galleries and they never have the courtesy to reply. My art is traditional Watercolour and I am afraid that is not in vogue. I must splash some paint on acanvas and then I will get noticed perhaps
I think it depends on where you are what sells. But FYI abstract art is hard. As is traditional art. I hate to see the divisions as it is definitely apples and oranges. Salt Lake City has a healthy market of both traditional and abstract art. There appears to be room for both.
has anyone asked whether the restaurant or place of business has a permit to sell art?
I have exhibited my artwork in so many venues and I wouldn’t bother with anywhere other than a gallery or online or getting some friends together and doing some kind of pop up yourself. The venues get some free art on the walls but once it is up they tend not to want to promote you in anyway as you have already done what they are looking for and made their venue look different and pretty. I have spent so many hours of my time hoping this was the way forward.
I have had more luck joining an art festival or selling online or organising Popup events in unusual spaces with friends. You are more in control then, you get back your money minus the fee to hire a venue, if you have artists friends you can split the cost. This is a much more fun and exciting thing to do. It is all about trial and error but I have never made money filling venues with my artwork. Good luck and be creative with your choice of where you show your work. Make it fit your style.
I enjoyed this article. It is a fair assessment of selling art through a restaurant. I have sold through several restaurants and a hair salon. I chose the hair salon knowing that they see a lot of rich clients. Keep writing good things!!
This is such a timely article for me, and the comments have been very helpful!
I’m an artist who has just started selling my work. At this point, my primary focus is exposure. I haven’t even looked into galleries yet but know that many in my area are booked for months in advance. I also think I need to build up a decent sized collection before I can even approach a gallery! The comments have been very helpful for me since I’ve been looking into cafes, etc in my area. Now I know what to expect and what to ask of business owners. Thanks Jason, and commenters!
Jason – your article rings true at so many levels. And everyone’s comments drive home the point even more. This topic has been all I have thought about for the past TWO YEARS while I’ve been working on a new business to help artists and venues connect, show and sell local art. My goal has been to address every short coming listed by you and your readers and provide several benefits not even talked about. Not trying to up-stage traditional (real) art galleries, I added a way for local gallery owners to use this as a tool to manage (curate) art shown in other businesses around town. Both the venue and the venue’s curator can define a percentage of the sale to make as a profit for their role in selling the art. If interested, I just opened the proverbial doors of GalleryGig.com and would love for you to check it out, sell some art and give me some feedback.
Showing your work can be difficult to achieve especially if you are an unrecognized artist the galleries normally aren’t interested. Venues such as banks and restaurants are a great stage for you showcasing your talents and abilities. Do not become discouraged if your work doesn’t move on the first or second shot. People are very subjective in their reviews of any paintings. In reality most people wouldn’t know a good painting from a bad one, but they are going to buy what they like.
As a person who does seascapes my work doesn’t move very well in Urban Areas such as Atlanta. Why? Because just because the city is named after Atlantis the closest beach is 5 hours away. Paint the environment you are living in if you want to reach your potential client base. Being a former member of the United States Navy I enjoy doing paintings of Aircraft Carriers even though in reality you aren’t going to see some woman buying one to put over her couch in the living room to match her drapes.
Use every venue you can no matter where you show it. It’s not like very many of us are going to be hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art anytime soon. I like selling paintings while I am alive so I can care less what the hell happens to them after I am dead.
I’m not an artist personally, but I do LOVE the atmosphere it can create. I really enjoy the cool, cozy, artsy-poetry feeling that I get with some real down to earth coffeeshops and I love supporting local artists. Best of luck to all of you artsy types trying to get your work on display. Coffee shops are a perfect venue in my opinion!
Actually,, you ARE the perfect person to write this. It was very informative, and I would have never thought of the comment box. Great suggestion! Thank you!
I am the President of a local artist co-op in Mt. Dora FL, and this Blog has been most helpful. We want to expand our exposure to the community and selling in alternative venues sounds like the perfect way to do it. We have 25 artists, but about 10 of them are wall artists. We will be looking into selling at restaurants, medical offices, government offices, salons etc. This Blog has given us a lot to think about and will help us get everything together before we attempt this.Thank you all for your input and ideas.
I haven’t finished reading all of the comments but eventually will, my recommendation to displaying works of art in restaurants cafe’s etc. Make sure you have insurance or the venue does, for lost, stolen or damaged work.
I’m a seascape artist and have done banks, restaurants, realtors, a high end clothing store, etc. Sales are few and far between. Nice way to start out, get a little exposure, but that’s about it. Local art associations are a better start. Although there is a commission, the sales are better and clients are there for the art, not a sandwich. Start with non-juried entries to get your confidence up. Don’t forget FB and social media.
I sell a lot of reasonably priced art (mainly acrylic) at summer coastal festivals where there may be anywhere from 5000 to 400,000 attending. Also a great way to pick up a few commissions, do some networking, have fun, and pick up a following of repeat customers. A bit of caution on festivals…. try to stay away for “craft shows”… people are there for cheap trinkets, funny signs, jewelry, etc. Be sure the main theme is art.
Recently was invited into a nice gallery to display some of my higher end oils from exposure at one of the shows (don’t cheap out on frames for galleries)
Thought I’d share my personal progression – expecting another great year! I’m sure everyone has their own path… best of luck!
What are some examples of summer coastal festivals where one might be able to exhibit?
Would more surrealistic stuff be accepted as well?
Also, do non-gallery venues such as the restaurants and banks take a percentage of sales?
Thanks kindly for your time and wisdom!
I love this post. I had a dozen paintings hanging in a hair salon a few months ago as part of an art walk, where many businesses hang local artists’ pieces. I only sold one, on opening night. I picked up those paintings, took them to a coffee shop in another town for a six week exhibition, and three have sold in the three weeks since they’ve been up. You never know!!
Unfortunately, they haven’t posted on social media about my art. They have thousands of followers and I should have asked that they do so in the contract. Strangely enough, they “like” my posts each time I’ve tagged them. I’ve gained some followers from that town, so I know it’s making an impact.
Hey Guys, everything was very insightful, I wanted to know if I’m going in the right direction; I wanted to host an art exhibit, or an event that lets me showcase my work as a model. Of course I would do a lot of things that were discussed up above but to gain exposure and the right exposure I figured holding an event showcasing my work would be great! I don’t know if it’s called something else simply because I’m not a photographer showcasing my work in my case I’m the model showcasing the work my photographer(s) have helped me with. Thank you guys for all the wonderful advice and future feedback!
Kristen are yiu a Hull, mass artist….. and truesdail…..?
A restaurant owner wants to purchase my paintings and will be then putting them at display. The artworks will be available for sale.
Is this a right way to proceed or should I accept payment once it is sold? I’m based in India while the restaurant is in United Kingdom.
definately do not ship your artworks until payment has hit your bank account. Just my advice.
This site truly has all of the info I wanted about
this subject and didn?t know who to ask.
There is a small gallery in my local area that sells 3-D art (ceramics, jewelry, etc) as well as framed paintings and prints. Wall space is limited so they display most of their inventory on shelves – including the framed paintings. What are your thoughts on displaying your framed art on shelves vs. hanging on the wall? I’m concerned primarily about damage, and visibility.
Do you or do you know of anyone locally who we could rent and rotate Art from? We have a few blank walls that I would like to have some artwork displayed on.
Fine art creates a welcoming environment for visitors, stimulates conversation among colleagues, and helps reinforce your professional identity and corporate culture. Whether your office is big or small, adding and rotating artwork is an easy way to transform a stale office into a lively workplace. Renting artwork from our local artists is also a great way to demonstrate support and commitment to the local community. You may even be able to treat the cost of renting artwork as an operating expense, which then, reduces taxes.
I found a few places that do this in other cities, but would prefer to go with supporting locally.
Where is “locally”? Several of us would like to supply you with art work to show.
I loved that you mentioned not to focus on sales at first. My cousin is an artist, and he always says that every gallery, event, or venue is an opportunity to show his work to the people. Don’t be upset about the possibility of not getting clients, and be happy for all the potential clients you will meet.
Great Article! I had some success hanging my paintings in cafes and Barnes and Noble, in the beginning of my career. This was before the major stampede of artist websites and social media.
I am wondering if anyone has advice for how to get your artwork hung up in “major” department stores, such as Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman? I have tried looking into this but I can’t seem to find any information. Could their be residencies or fellowships maybe. Any advice is greatly appreciated !
My brother is a local music producer and has my art in the studio for the musicians to enjoy while jamming. He also uses my art and jewelry in music videos, brings my art to venues as stage setting or temporary decor while the artists perform. The exposure is great! I have sold to almost all the musicians that work with him. Of course he promotes me and the musicians jointly because he is my brother and my #1 supporter. It is a win win! I give the musicians a family discount on my pieces they contact me ahead of time and pick which pieces they want on set. It has been a fun creative experience and also quite fruit full for all. I bring people to their shows supporting me who wouldn’t necessarily go see their music otherwise and the fans of the music who wouldn’t necessarily go to an art gallery see my artwork that the band chose so it increases interest . Maybe contacting local bands or studios could work for someone else like it has for me ! good luck fellow creators xoxo TisaTHEpainter!
I began showing my work in the ’80s and had pretty good experiences with a popular local cafe. My art was relatively small (8×10 to 16×20) and always priced under $100. The Owners were huge art supporters and turned the shows often, so whenever an opportunity came to show there, I took it.
I then started seeking opportunities to show in other venues because I felt all exposure was good exposure. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Over the years, my work has been shown in numerous restaurants, cafes, businesses, City Halls, small gift shops, jewelry stores, hospitals, medical offices, hair salons, a library, several wineries, furniture stores, and a plant nursery. Most of these establishments required I sign a contract to show the work, and one particular paragraph present in all of them was a “show at your own risk” clause.
Tons of work has been shown but very little actually sold, and a LOT of the work was returned damaged.
Three of my paintings hung in the windows of an art supply store where the installer actually screwed eye bolts into the sides of the gallery wrapped paintings and suspended the pieces with cables. Thanks to the summer heat, every frame came back severely warped, and the canvases were pierced by the bolts. The roof of the plant nursery leaked, and a few of my pieces came back stained and moldy. The jewelry store returned several of my framed works with ruined frames. A couple of my paintings from restaurants had dried pasta and unidentifiable gunk on them, and at one of the winery shows, some patron managed to spill red wine all over a piece. Not a single owner offered to compensate me for the damages – and one told me to make a claim to my homeowner’s insurance…..
I realize not all venues are irresponsible establishments that only want their walls decorated. Some business owners genuinely love art and do an incredible job supporting and promoting their artists. If I were to do it again, I would gladly offer to pay a percentage of all sales to the venue but the Owners and their employees would have to be responsible and promote the work.
I recently hung art in a literal dive bar as a favor to the wonder who just remodeled the space. I had no expectations but hung two larger “eye catchers” and several small affordable paintings…I thought the smaller works might sell to the “I’m drunk, put this on my tab” folks…and it worked sold several in the $400 range, but to my surprise I also sold both large pieces which were priced far $2500- each.
Just goes to show, you never know. I’m hanging art in November at a restaurant that loves artists, one where artists can generally expect to sell at least 20K worth of art…we shall see.
I will have to take some time to read the comments here. I love your thoughts Jason. I wish I had thought of the comment box before! I showed in a nice coffee shop once. the benefit for me at the time was having a deadline and having to get everything ready to hang, information cards on each artwork, business cards etc. Always a good exercise for any artist. I did not sell anything and of course the staff although very nice were very busy. I showed there for 2 months and was satisfied with my effort. I was invited to show at a very nice culinary arts school. It had wonderful space and lighting. It advertised the space as a gallery and every month has a different artist/photographer. I was able to frame my statement and hang with my art, set up a small table prominently with my information. I had to scramble to fill the wall space with 38 framed artworks! The gallery/ art person made sure I was on their online calendar and a handout calendar. But I would have had to pay hundreds of $$ for an opening reception which had to be catered by them. I did not sell anything there either. MY first show was part of a program put on by the county library system. You apply and if chosen by one of the libraries you hang for a month. I was chosen for a small but popular neighborhood library. But I had to hang in a basement conference room. I could hang my statement, but the price sheet had to be under the counter upstairs. People had to ask to see that. The very best artists got to hang in one of 2 galleries in the modern wonderful main library (NOT in the basement!) . They would be part of the gallery stroll and touted in the news etc. What I have concluded is that if exposure is all you are looking for then go for it. But I am not sure that is is the kind of exposure that will garner looks by actual art buyers. I like that you suggested that artists go into these venues with a mindset different than just selling. I have heard of people selling out of these venues. But their art was priced very cheaply. It is tempting to take on these things every time an opportunity comes up but I am not sure it is worth the major time and effort. Maybe you would want to keep them to a minimum. I would also suggest that the venues should be part of the local gallery strolls as those are usually heavily advertised and art patrons can make an extra effort to stop by.
There are too many comments to read so I don’t know if someone has already said this but instead of having a physical printout card or flyer with info about yourself, why not create a QR code with a message saying “scan me for info about the art” beside the hung up art work that people can scan that takes them direct to your website or some other place where they can find out everything they need to know about your art or you. That way you don’t have to worry about wasting extra money on printing costs for materials that get lost or binned. The people who are interested in the work will scan and the rest is easy.
Dear Jason, thank you very much for this article, very helpful & so are some of the comments. As I am in the process of negotiating an exhibition in a local café-restaurant I would be very grateful for any advise on insurance or compensation in case of damage caused to the artwork at the venue during the exhibition. The venue owner has already told me (after checking with their insurers)that their insurance covers only their assets & equipment but will not cover artwork. To get a quote on artwork coverage I’d need an independent assessment & I don’t have that nor do I want to go into that at the moment. Will it be appropriate to have a clause stating that any damage will be covered by the venue owner to cover the production cost in my case printing framing? Has anyone done that? The venue is going to take 30% commission.
Many thanks in advance.
Anat Givon, Hong Kong
More than likely, if they have to sign anything that says they are liable for anything if damaged, they won’t sign it or have you show there. Not saying this is for all venues. Unless it’s a gallery space, I think showing in public spaces is a risk we have to take. It is true that most don’t cover liability for artwork. Does your business have liability insurance? I think you could probably claim under your own business insurance if something happened when showing in public. If they take a commission I generally want to know what they are going to do for me. Personally, if I’m just hanging work there and using my own Payment system and they don’t advertise for me, have an closing reception I don’t know why I need to pay them more than maybe 10% as a than yiu for letting me show (but really, they are getting FREE rotating art on their walls and that should be enough). I’m not against giving commissions, I am if it just seems like a way to grab money from us.
I am opening a restaurant in SF and I am looking for artists to display/sell their artwork.
I will be happy to have cards with artist details and pricing on the wall next to each artwork.
I am open to any suggestions or recommendations.
When I lived in Denver Colorado, the majority of my work wS sold in a cafe. I displayed my work and gave the owner 25%., a win win. Now that I am back in Michigan I have not thought of this. Thank you for the great post.. Dan Barden Sr.🤝
My husband and I own a gallery where I display my work along with other 19 other artists. We have a local restaurant on the beach where we live and we offer prints of my work for a set price-the prints are of turtles, crabs, shore birds, oysters etc. that compliment the menu. We pay the sales tax and give the staff 10% of the sale. We sell quite a few prints per month and recently, two large originals sold to a couple that saw the prints hanging in the restaurant. We do rotate the prints and freshen the work routinely. The staff is happy to get a commission and the restaurant is happy to have art on the walls. It’s a Win/Win.
I have had both good and bad luck on these venues. There is a cafe in the area that I have shown at 3x that I have sold more work at than any gallery, and I got to keep all the money the first two years. The 3rd year when they did take 20%, which was disappointing because they didn’t do anything to help my sales, but I think they knew I sold well there so they wanted to make some money from me. Who knows I still made more than I did at galleries who take 4060 percent. I’ve also sold a piece or two at other venues and got two commissions (high priced) from alternative venues… and then there were others where I didn’t sell anything. There is a risk, as these areas can be high traffic and unlike a gallery, there is not expectation that people will be gentle or careful
Perhaps the best solution is to rent your artwork to a restaurant and let them pay you in meals!
Jason, I never thought there would be so many responses. I don’t know if anyone will read down as far as mine. But I have had experiences with coffee shops, and a salon. The first was when I just started painting and had moved to a new town. This coffe shop was seeking artists. Met and discussed details with the manager and gave him 3 paintings. After a week they were still not hung. When I asked, I found the manager had quit. No one knew what happened to my paintings, which I never got back. 5 years later a friend with a hair salon asked me to hang paintings along with his daughters paintings. I hung 10, sold 4, however he didnt want nails. 2 of my paintings fell and damaged the frames. But a nice reception and no commission. A year ago ownership of my local coffee shop changed. I answered the call for art. One painting was hung in the bathroom. Everyone laughed and made jokes about going to visit my painting. I was reminded even Mona Lisa hung in a bathroom for awhile. It sold. When I met the purchaser, I brought a new painting to hang. She bought that one too. I have since sold 2 more there. I just hang small ones, 8×10, nice gold frames. Each purchase was because the person had a strong attachment to the landscape painted and said they had been looking at it for at least a month before contacting me. Since these are not paintings that fit into my current exhibits, it is a nice, passive way to sell them to people who connect with them.
thanks for all the comments above.
A community I used to live in hosted art from the artists group in the fitness center. We changed out the art every three months and made a lot of sales. The staff would even collect the money for us and they didn’t take a commission! The staff enjoyed the art and they came to know the artists over time. The fitness center users – residents and visitors both – regularly bought art there, and told their friends too 🙂
Thanks for this insightful article on showcasing art in non-traditional venues! As an emerging artist, I’ve been hesitant to approach galleries and museums, but the idea of displaying my work in cafes and restaurants is really appealing. It is important to build relationships with venue owners and find the right spaces for your art. Overall, this article has given me the confidence and inspiration to explore new opportunities for exhibiting my art.