Saturday, 17 March 2012

Opening Your Studio to the Public

Leah Virsik's Studio
Spring is springing and it's THAT time of year for artists and makers to fling open their studio doors to the public.  Open Studio events are nothing new and, if managed successfully, they are a fantastic way to get the public to see your work, learn more about the work of the professional artist and make some sales too. 

But if you have never opened your studio to visitors before there are some important things you need to consider before you take the plunge. Of course, if you are taking part in an organised event most of the "issues" will be covered by the organisers and they will be there to support you.  Before you sign up for the best event of your life here are some things you will need to consider:
  • What are you hoping to achieve? This could be meeting more artists, promoting your work to new audiences, making sales and/or educating people about your art.
  • How are you going to market this? If you are taking part in an organised event, what marketing will they do and what is your responsibility?
  • What will it cost you to open your studio? Will you be able to recoup these costs through sales?
  • How will you measure success? Will this be through increased visitors, sales or commissions?
About Your Studio
Francis Bacon's Studio
Is your studio easily accessible to the public? if not, you may want to find out if anyone will share their studio space with you for the event. This happens at North Yorkshire Open Studios  where two or three artists with similar or complementary work may show in one place.  Or you could move your "studio" into a room in your house - setting up a display of your work in your living room. 
Your studio is your "story" and how you show this is very much up to you. Many of your visitors will be interested in the life of an artist as well as wanting to see your work so presentation is important. That doesn't mean you have to clean it so that it's sparkling, sterile and sparse. Instead you may want to show off the tools of your trade, have your latest work-in-progress on your bench and greet your visitors in your apron/overalls. This is particularly apt for those of us who work at the kitchen table - leaving your sewing machine out with your latest creation or your lino cutting tools with your most recent lino design shows visitors how you juggle your artistic practice with your domestic life. 

All Things Financial
Opening your studio to the public WILL cost you money - but how much money depends on the following:
  • Inviting the public in without having any public liability insurance is extremely risky. If you are exhibiting as part of an organised event will you come under their umbrella PLI or do they expect you to have your own? If you are in the UK the best value for money PLI is AIR
  • Are you insured against thefts and breakages? does your household or premises insurance cover this?
  • Will you be paying for publicity? Most organised events will ask for a donation toward their marketing costs (they may call this a membership fee) Our next blog post will be about marketing your Open Studio
  • If you make a sale how can the buyer pay you? Try to make this as easy as possible - if you can't afford to share the costs of using a card payment machine then offer to take payments via Paypal or, if you have on-line banking, by BACS. Not so vital if you make fabric corsages but worth considering if you sell sculptures with a minimum price tag of £200.... not everyone carries a cheque book around with them but they always have their credit card in their wallets.
The Facilities
It is really important that visitors know the opening times of your studio in advance. If you are taking part in an organised event make sure that this is stated in the publicity. If you can't do every date and can't be open 9am to 5pm then visitors will be really annoyed if they have travelled 50 miles to find that you are shut. Also, if you have a step up to the studio (or stairs) and no ramp this also has to be made clear. You don't have an obligation to make your studio accessible to all but disabled visitors need to know if they can gain access.

You can offer your visitors a cuppa if you like but you cannot sell home cooked refreshments without the necessary paperwork from your local environmental health department. You will find them on your local authority website. If you do serve refreshments you are obliged to allow visitors to use the "smallest room in the house" or, if you don't have facilities at your studio perhaps an agreement with the pub next door.  

Finally, occasionally things are stolen - it's a fact of life and hopefully it won't happen to you. 99% of visitors are genuine art lovers but be a bit cautious by locking up your valuables if  the public have access to rooms you can't supervise and don't leave your purse/phone out on display. 

Good luck with your Open Studio event - it is a great way of promoting your work and making creative friendships.  Look out for our next blog post on Marketing Your Open Studio Event. 

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