Artists who hope to make money need customers. The tens of millions of tourists who travel annually comprise one category of customer. Some tourists come to a given locale like Santa Fe, Provincetown, or Carmel for the art; others include gallery hopping in a New York, London, or Berlin as one of their intended activities. But most tourists do not set out to meet artists or to purchase art when they travel. In order to turn these tourists—the vast majority—into customers, artists must be savvy, proactive, and alert to the vast possibility for income that tourists afford.
Creative tourism, a relatively new branch of the tourism industry, refers to the following idea: when visitors come to a locale to see a play or hear a concert they are passive “cultural tourists.” When they come to that place to take a workshop from an artist or to interact with a locale’s artists in some way, they then become active (and interactive) “creative tourists.” UNESCO uses this phrase to designate certain world cities as “creative cities”; and a conference in Santa Fe a few years ago, where I provided a keynote address, began a large-scale investigation of how artists can be helped to interact with, and sell directly to, the visitors who frequent their locale. Creative tourism is the model: one feature of the model is artists selling directly to tourists.
Artists know better than anyone that places hold meaning. That’s why they hunger for Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, Greenwich Village, and the other stops, small and large, on the International Bohemian Highway. They contrive to spend a year in London or Tokyo because those places hold special meaning. Yet most artists do not consider that the visitors who come to where they live are likewise hungry, likewise hoping to be stirred, and likewise looking for an experience beyond room service breakfasts and garish souvenirs.
Because so many artists are in survival mode, struggling to make ends meet, because they are squirreled away in their studios painting, writing, or practicing their instruments, because, like everyone, they are over-busy and over-anxious, and because they tend not to think about the visitors to their community as potential audience members, artists rarely connect with these fellow human beings, the tourists visiting their locale, who are themselves looking for some meaning. This is a shame, as these visitors are primed and ready. It will pay artists who live in locations that attract visitors – that attract tourists, conventioneers, or people just passing through—to pay new and special attention to these readily available and always changing audience members.
How can the artists who live in a given place increase their connection to the visitors who come to that place? If you are an artist, you likely live in a neighborhood far from the tourist haunts, where the rents are prohibitive; across town, a million annual visitors pass through your city taking in the customary sites. They come knowing that they must visit three churches, two museums, and that famous shopping street—but what else? Is there a way for you to become that “what else?” Is there a way for you to make some useful contact with these visitors, contact that serves both of you?
Who has a say in making such contact happen? Naturally, you, the artist, have the first say. Unless narrowing the gap that currently exists between you and the people who visit your locale interests you, nothing can possibly happen. You have to be interested: that opportunity falls squarely on your shoulders. Second, visitors will have their say: if they do not show up at the event you plan, if they show up but leave immediately, or if they show up and stay awhile but feel no connection to what you are offering, not much will have happened. This is the age-old dynamic: the artist not only must make a Herculean effort to create but she must also seduce or convince her audience to pay attention to what she is offering.
There are five other constituencies who ought to have a vested interest in seeing the gap between artist and tourist bridged. Government officials, whose help artists will want to enlist, will have their say, because they have the power to announce upcoming events, the power to support artists’ initiatives, and the power to prevent or grant the use of public spaces. Also involved are tourist industry professionals, who can trumpet the fact that artists are transforming a given city into a creative hotbed or who, on the other hand, can ignore those efforts. Also in the mix are local businessmen and women, the hotel managers, restaurant owners, and the like, who count on tourist dollars and who want to see tourism increase. Another constituency is made up of art industry professionals: gallery owners, theater directors, museum officials, publishers, and so on. Last but not least are a locale’s residents: the people who live in your community and who may benefit from or who may be harmed by your activities and the activities of visitors.
These, then, are the seven groups who have a stake in the matter: artists, visitors, government officials, tourist industry professionals, business owners, art marketplace players, and local residents. All need to stretch if the artists in a given locale are to make real contact with the tourists in a given locale and make money from those interactions. And even if all the constituencies aren’t on board, you, the individual artist can still make a concerted effort at connection. Here’s one example of such a concerted effort.
Mary, a visual artist in Toronto, explained: “Recently a new farmer’s market formed in my neighborhood, which began attracting both neighborhood residents and visitors to Toronto. Before finding this out, I had wanted to create an art/community event in this underutilized park to showcase some of the creativity that exists in this neighborhood. I knew that the manager, who seemed open to imaginative programming, had indicated that interactive art might be a great addition to the market, especially because of the large number of children who come with their parents. So I decided to approach him.
“At our meeting I proposed doing art workshops that tied into what the market was advocating, namely greenbelt local produce, and extending that idea into an art form that created linkage among the ideas of creativity, agriculture, community and support. It struck me that this would allow me the chance to gain more experience in facilitating workshops and working with children. I would also be putting myself out to my community as an artist whose art life included supporting local industry and who practiced sustainable art by using recycled materials and by incorporating planting as art. I proposed the workshops, they were accepted, and we’ve already begun creating market banners hand-painted on canvas. I’m not 100% certain yet what this means to my artwork or my business, but I feel that this is a good personality fit, a great way to gain facilitation experience, and an excellent opportunity to get my work known both to my neighbors and to Toronto’s visitors.”
What are your first thoughts about selling to tourists? Give the following two exercises a try.
Exercise 1: Let’s say that idea of selling your art to the tourists who visit your local area strikes you as interesting. What might you try to connect with them and to sell to them? See if you can brainstorm a list of ideas.
Exercise 2. Choose the idea on your list that seems the most interesting or the most feasible. How would you go about implementing it? What first steps might you take?