An Interview with Astrid Bennett
Hi, there welcome back to part two of my chat with Astrid Bennett – President of Surface Design Association. (Check out part 1 of the interview here). Astrid also served as longtime manager, marketing director & co-owner of Iowa Artisans Gallery in Iowa City.
There are many gallerists who have no knowledge about textile art but on the blog today we’re blessed to have someone who does. Astrid knows a lot about this medium both from the perspective of an artist, a gallerist, and a leader in the industry.
In this second part of my chat with Astrid Bennett we discuss:
- The importance of gallery relationships for artists.
- How to get into a gallery relationship
- The expectations galleries have of their artists
- Astrid’s personal tips for artists to create robust marketing strategies and
- 5 tools and resources Astrid can’t do without
The Importance of A Gallery Representation
CN: What is the importance of a gallery relationship to an artist who’s marketing her work?
AB: If an artist is interested in a career and selling their work, galleries are the next big step after selling on Etsy or in craft shows. However, many galleries have closed. So, it’s all the more important to cultivate good relationships with ones that do exist if you have the opportunity.
If an artist is simply interested in exhibitions, creating work to sell in a gallery may not be necessary. In that case, establishing a very solid exhibition record and attracting the attention of curators is key. Fortunately, artists now have so many more tools to make that happen themselves, through the internet and social media.
How to Get into a Gallery Relationship
CN: How does one get into a gallery relationship? What do you need to pitch a gallery?
AB: First of all, you MUST do your homework. Visit the gallery if possible. If not, explore their website and social media thoroughly. If it’s a gallery that only features rotating exhibitions, it will not work to pitch a line of tea towels. This may sound obvious, but to many artists, it is not.
Second, many galleries specify procedures for review of portfolios. Follow their guidelines. Do not show up unannounced to present your work- that just generates frustration with you and will not be a good way to start your relationship, if you even get that far.
Don’t bring work that’s hard for the gallery to store during review, and for heaven’s sake, don’t bring work that is still wet! (Believe me, I have seen that with wet oil paint.)
If the gallery does have portfolio reviews, don’t question the outcome, don’t expect critiques- there are many reasons why perfectly wonderful work might not be a good fit. Just move on to your next prospect. Sometimes a gallery will want to try your work on a probationary arrangement. In that case, be open to their suggestions and help them help you be successful.
The expectations galleries have of their artists
CN: What are the expectations a gallery has of an artist whom they represent?
AB: It’s so important to demonstrate professionalism to the gallery/shop staff. Communicate with us in a personable way. Be open to our suggestions, knowing that it’s entirely your decision whether to adopt them or not. Gallery staff has experience with what customers look for. Be organized with your shipments, your commitments, and your work habits. One of a kind work sometimes will develop an issue that needs fixing. Handle customer service issues, if they arise, by problem-solving with staff to see if it’s a reasonable request, and follow through if it is. Convey your recent awards. Cross-market with your galleries on social media. And attribute: Mention your galleries and shops on your website.
Lastly, and most important: don’t sell your work for less on your website than you would expect a gallery to sell it for in their store. Doing so will lose you those gallery venues. Their overhead is huge, and nobody is getting rich. And you should be paying yourself that overhead if you sell your own work online.
Marketing Materials Artists Should Have
CN: What types of marketing materials should an artist always have?
AB: Artist statements that explain the story of you and your work; current resumes; up-to-date website; social media presence. Sending business cards to a gallery is not necessary. Staff will not give them to customers as they want to drive sales through their own stores. If you provide pre-printed materials for galleries to distribute to customers, which is always appreciated, try not to list your contact information.
CN: How much time should textile artists be spending on their marketing efforts?
AB: It depends on what your goal is. If you are focused on making a career, either through sales or as an exhibiting artist, you have to spend a lot of time on paperwork and promotion of your work. That’s just part of the process.
Where Textile Artists Should Focus Their Marketing Efforts
CN: Who and where should textile artists be focusing their marketing efforts?
AB: With the internet and social media now, this is a rapidly changing world. Even long-time businesses don’t quite know how and where to advertise. If your goal is a local audience, choose local favorites, like public radio sponsorships and collaborative partnerships with nonprofits. Put the occasional ad in a publication if you want them to pay attention to you. (Despite the fact that editorial and advertising are on separate tracks, there is overlap). Consider homebuilder tours and associations if your work fits well.
Paying attention to your internet and social media presence is probably the best thing you can do. Tag organizations like the American Craft Council – perhaps they’ll do a blog post about your work or include you in holiday gift guide.
If you do the right kind of work, consider the outlay of cash for a wholesale show if you want to develop a wholesale line to sell reliably on a regular basis. Some shows have easier entries to emerging artists. It may take a couple of years to establish yourself. Practice creating a good booth and try local “fairs” as test runs and for feedback.
Lastly, providing your galleries with great images allows them to use them in their own marketing, which can bring you customers.
CN: Astrid, these two questions are reader favorites. First your personal tips. What are six (6) tips for artists to create robust marketing strategies for themselves and their works
Astrid Bennett’s Tips for Creating Robust Marketing Strategies
- Know your story and articulate it in your artist statement.
- Create different statements and strategies for different purposes, ie: gallery sales of functional items vs what you submit to an exhibition.
- Leverage concepts such as locally-made, American-made, or sustainably made, to your advantage.
- Collaboration and cross-marketing are key; networking is effective.
- Value the time you put into your website and building your social media presence as well as any newsletters you might create.
- Make it visual: always document and photograph.
CN: Second. What are your 5 favorite tools or resources you can’t do without?
Astrid Bennett’s 5 Favorite Tools and Resources
- My technology- laptop, iPad, iPhone
- A great, adjustable comfortable computer chair with arms!!!
- Organizations for networking and idea sharing: we all create our joint history (here are reasons you should join a pro organization). Some examples are: Surface Design Association, Studio Art Quilts Associates, Textile Society of America, the American Crafts Council. And I like all the great craft schools like Penland, Arrowmont, and Haystack.
- Dreaming time- whether by walking, visiting places, take the time to open your eyes to new impulses, ideas, and influences. These will help keep your ideas fresh.
- My collection of music. I like Bach, Shostakovich, Chris Thile’s Goat Rodeo, Latin American music, and more.
- Procion MX dyes from ProChemical & Dye or Dharma Trading Co, plus fabric from Testfabrics
- If an artist is simply interested in exhibitions, creating work to sell in a gallery may not be necessary.
- Many galleries specify procedures for review of portfolios. Follow their guidelines.
- There are many reasons why perfectly wonderful work might not be a good fit.
- Cross-market with your galleries on social media.
- You should be paying yourself for overhead if you sell your own work online.
CN: Thanks so much for taking the time to join me on this episode of Textile Art Business Interviews. I appreciate you.
AB: Thank you, Clara!
Hope you enjoyed this interview. Check out Astrid Bennett’s website here.
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Also published on Medium.