Last weekend – running dangerously low on money – I decide to give a go at setting up a space on the street corner to try and sell some of my work. The Asheville area has a large number of performing street artists – but even here I found a lack of visual artists working on the pavement. Having dabbled in street corner art sales already in DC and having talked to street artists of varying types in several cities already, I had a bit of a growing idea of how to go about “marketing” myself. Despite this preparatory work I found what I had hoped to be a persuasive environment for such sales, to not be what I had expected…
Here are the issues I’ve encountered with selling visual art on the street corner:
- First off, with a performing artist, or musical artist the structure of how money is passed onto the artist is very different from how a visual artist markets his work. For musical/performing artists it is easy to just put out a hat or keep your instrument case open – a theoretical open service – providing music for the general public – money is not exchanged so much as donated. For the visual artist or street vender the exchange of money is much more direct. I present you with a work – you present me with the required sum. This seemingly slight change in how the money is presented – causes a verity of effects…
- Because performing street artist’s are (in my opinion) much more widely accepted/recognized – setting up on a street corner to sell an actual physical product creates a bit of an uncertainty with tourists/passerby’s. Without a hat out – people are less certain of how to act. (I actually had one gentleman, after engaging him in conversation, ask if I was ok, or if i needed help!)
- Conversation has proven key. To look up constantly, make eye contact, and engage people passing by with a few words, often can start a whole conversation about my work and travel.
- Choosing the right area. This is hugely important – and for a few reasons. One, you do not want to encroach on another artists space – especially not an artist who works a similar field. Second, a phenomenon I’ve encountered particularly while here in Asheville, picking an area that attracts the wrong type of crowed. For example, last week I set up in a very central downtown-location that had a good number of bars/restaurants/little hippie-style shops – perhaps because of the types of shops and bars in the area I had the misfortune* of attracting a small group of Asheville’s unhoused. This alone would not be too big of a problem – except with them smoking their “cigarets” and their crude behavior (often jeering at women) – I felt this had a large effect on my ability to promote my work or even engage passerby’s in conversation. The attraction to visual art is very much dependent on the atmosphere portrayed by the artist – for a city that brings in a lot of tourists (not accustomed to such close encounters with people in a beggared state) – setting up to sell visual art (that tends to cater to a middle or upper “class”) becomes very difficult when the atmosphere becomes less attractive to these potential buyers.
- One last big note – certain contact with the unhoused is actually very beneficial. Besides often inspiring incredible stories, and in general being an entertaining group of people – those who are more familiar with the aspects of the street, provide essential access to information on good locations, advice for run inns with the “Bulls”, and often provide valuable info on other points of interest for someone who does not necessarily have a place set up to spend the night.
My street sales are still very much in the experimental state – but I feel potentially hold the greatest ability for bringing in small sums in a short period. Though fairly labor intensive, and dependent greatly on one’s knowledge of the area – such a sales style could be the key, for me, being able to rapidly access modes of mobility/accommodations as a traveling artist. More experimentation it this genre of sales will be needed – ideally with location postings online, to help promote the # aspect of the Totem’s write up – since this will be a strictly in-person aspect of the work. Tests with “open vending” (the hat out) and other methods to follow, in order to help determine the best angle for sales.
Comments welcome – keep an eye out for future updates!
* referencing the presentation of the atmospheric situation, not regarding the mannerisms or stereotypical grouping of this group of people – who I in fact owe quite a lot to!