We’ve looked at how artists can reach out—to the organizers of a farmers market, to hotel managers, etc.—to create interactive experiences with tourists and to increase their sales.
What about some more offbeat, unusual efforts that an artist might dream up? Here are a few. Painters who live in a given neighborhood might each week give a chat at some unlikely venue, like the neighborhood Laundromat, to an audience of locals doing their laundry and to visitors who have heard about the series and have come to listen.
The chat can be followed by a conversation that unfolds as audience members fold their clothes. As unlikely as this possibility sounds, exactly such a lecture series has been run successfully at a Laundromat in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco where I recently lived. The series attracted many well-known authors and many interested audience members.
Or consider the following unusual effort. Independent filmmakers, faced by the massive problem of finding distribution for their films and venues for showing their films, might take their films out into the community and create a film series that uses the walls of schools as screens. Again as odd as this might sound, exactly such a film series is a successful annual event in the same Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco that I just mentioned. Hundreds of residents and visitors pay to sit in schoolyards under the stars and watch films projected onto school walls. These filmmakers are also submitting their films to festivals and looking for all the other usual venues and usual marketing opportunities; but as they wait, they are making money and making some useful connections by showing their films in this “oddball” public way.
I recently ran a cyberspace “artist bridge” group made up of creative and performing artists who live in locales worldwide. I gave them assignments to try out and asked them to report on their efforts. The following is one of the assignments that I gave: “Imagine that an event like a convention is coming to your locale. It doesn’t matter how small your locale actually is—for this mind experiment imagine that there is some attraction in your area that is drawing people and that a group is coming. Picture some number of people, whether 20 or 2000, arriving in your locale. In what new ways might you connect with them? Generate a list of several of these new ideas.” Then I asked them to do the following. “Take one of your ideas and translate it into a series of steps that you actually take to connect with people, visitors or locals, in your area. Take the first step this week and report on your efforts.”
The following is one response. Christina, a visual artist in Shanghai, explained: “The art installations that I make are not readily accessible to people who are not conversant with contemporary art, so at first I couldn’t think of any ‘convention’ that I would want to connect with. But then I realized that there were two art events in Shanghai that actually do bring in ‘my’ audience: the Shanghai Biennale & the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair. This audience of ‘tourists’ from inside the culture industry would be interested in spending time in Shanghai in ways that are not necessarily easily available to them through traditional tours. Some of these tourists are artists themselves, others are interested in the creative process and how it is manifested here in Shanghai. So I quickly generated the following list of ideas.
“I can create tours for visiting artists to the markets from which they might buy inspiring materials: the fabric market, the notions market, the hardware market, etc., and also take them to places off the beaten track that would be inspiring, like the bird and flower market, the backstreets of the old city, the tinsmiths, my studio building, and the propaganda museum. I could include a play date in my studio where visitors get to make a handmade souvenir, maybe a simple artist’s book incorporating the local materials they just purchased. An extension of this might be having them rent a piece of my studio for the length of their stay so that each day they could interpret what they’d seen. This could include coaching on my part about how one interprets one’s experience of a place in order to imbue experience with meaning.
“Now I need to get started turning some of these ideas into reality! First, I’ll approach several tour guides I know who do unusual custom tours and ask them to consider me as option. Then I’ll approach concierges at some of the high end, trendy hotels. Next I’ll find out who does the marketing for these two events and get my new tour information to them. Fourth, I’ll create a website whose name comes up when you search variations on artist studio, Shanghai, and creative tours. Fifth, I’ll place a listing in all the ex-pat magazines, as newcomers to Shanghai might also love to know about this possibility. Okay, I see how this might work!”
If the creative tourism model that I’ve been presenting interests you, dream up some ideas of your own, turn them into action steps, and begin to reach out to the perhaps sizeable numbers of tourists and visitors who pass through your vicinity. You may discover new markets for your art products while doing something useful to lessen the experience of isolation that so many artists feel. Those tourists are actual human beings – getting to know them may warm your heart while increasing your sales!
Exercise 1: Imagine a convention, trade show, or large event of some sort coming to your locale. What might you dream up to connect with those attendees?
Exercise 2: Do some research on the conventions, trade shows, and large events that occur in your locale and also on those that occur within easy driving distance of where you reside. Does one of them jump out at you as interesting? If it does, how might you connect with its attendees?