At least, not in my world-view. If we are out there, trying to do good, trying to make a difference, then why wouldn’t we want other people to adopt our successful ideas and programs and cast the goodness net wider? A friend (who is by far the most genuinely altruistic do-gooder I know) just told me about a situation where an adaptation of a few similar ideas around the country resulted in a kick-ass program to support local artists in this person’s hometown. But the originator of one of the inspiration programs is claiming the idea was stolen and wants to be credited publicly. Really? This is where our time and energy should be spent? On glorifying the egos of some instead of working to actually impact change. It makes my heart hurt.

So in the spirit of sharing, here are the ins and outs of a program I think has been really successful in Atlanta and could easily be adapted in other cities. It does not have to be organized by a gallery – any group of artists could coordinate the same program, and I hope you do. What’s good for one is good for all. At least, in my world-view.

Walk Away With Art (from a JSG blog post on February 3, 2012, click here for original post with pictures and the Atlanta Business Chronicle write-up):

If you have known me for more than five minutes, you probably know that I breathe ideas. Inside my head is a scary place to be, and if a big one comes, you best jump on board or jump out of the way, because it’s going to come at you like a steam engine.

Walk Away With Art (or WAWA as we’ve affectionately been calling it) was one of those big ones. In thinking about how to encourage people who haven’t been thinking about art to engage with it and become collectors, I wanted to develop a few “branded” events at the gallery to work toward this goal. ArtFeast was one idea, and we held the first one a few weeks ago to great fanfare. But WAWA was the idea bomb.

Here’s how it works – I invite seven of my photographers to give seven different images (one gives eight, making 50 total unique images) to pin up around the gallery. We sell 50 tickets, and everyone who has a ticket draws a number from 1 to 50 when they check in. All of the photographers are at the event and each have a few minutes to introduce themselves and talk a bit about their work. When everyone has had time to look around and decide which pieces are their favorites, we start calling numbers. We go in order from 1 to 50, and when we call a number, the person with that number goes up to their favorite piece, takes it off the wall, and is now a collector. Everyone walks away with art.

For me, an event like this works to build collecting on a lot of levels. At the most basic, it is an exciting and fun party. Great food, great cocktails, great art. People are coming into the gallery and having a really positive experience, making them more likely to attend future events.

Next, they are engaging with art in a meaningful way. Because everyone gets to take home a piece (original, signed), they are really looking at all of the photographs and figuring out what they are drawn to. I purposefully chose seven photographers with very different aesthetics, to show the wide range in photographic style and subject and to make sure there would be something appealing for each guest. They are looking and learning what they like.

Finally, they are having a unique opportunity to hear the artist speak about the work and meet them individually. So even if someone is not particularly drawn to a certain photographer’s work, hearing the photographer speak about it will still give a deeper appreciation and understanding. The opportunity to hear an artist passionately talk about their project and then make a personal connection to him or her is priceless and adds another level of connection to the photograph.

Leading up to the event, I was hoping and praying and having some anxiety dreaming that all of these pieces would fall into place and WAWA would come off as I intended. Success! Beyond success. Beyond my wildest dreams success.

People were blown away by the photography, the concept, the photographers themselves. While eating sushi and drinking the Westside Fizz, guests were milling about and getting a sense of their favorite photographs. Then after the photographers spoke, people wanted to have a few more minutes to take another look, and many people completely changed their minds after hearing the story behind the imagery.

Calling out the numbers was exciting, and sometimes when a piece was chosen, you could hear an “oh no!”. There were a few occasions where tackling another guest was proposed, but luckily we were able to generally discourage it (after all, all of these images are part of these photographers regular collections and very much for sale). Even though there were definitely some “favorite” images in the room, most people were drawn to very different work, so even people with higher numbers (meaning they were near the end to choose) ended up selecting one of their top choices.

After the selection process, most guests stayed and spoke to the photographer whose piece they ended up with, and the gallery was buzzing. People were excited, inspired. . . they were collectors, and they were loving it.

Looking for help creating your own innovative ideas to connect new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.

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