Mingling at holiday parties and/or art openings

Art openings and receptions aren’t any more comfortable than holiday parties. We go because we have to. We know that it is good for our businesses and careers to get out of the studio and mingle with other artists and those who like to hang out with artists.

How do you overcome the terror of going to a party or reception where you might not know a single soul? How do you get comfortable with being uncomfortable?

Roger Smith

Roger Smith, Sleeping Fawn. Bronze, 15.5 inches long. ©The Artist

Back in 2006 National Public Radio’s Morning Edition aired a superb program entitled Mingle All the Way Through Holiday Parties, which is timeless. The guest was Jeanne Martinet, who wrote The Art of Mingling. She suggested a number of ideas for breaking the ice at parties, which I’ve adapted to art-opening scenarios. See what you think about these.

  • Throw yourself on the mercy. As you approach a new group of people, confide, “I don’t know a single soul at this opening.”
  • Share an observation. Something like: “This work looks fantastic in this space” or “ I can see why the artist won best of show.”
  • Brown nose. Throw out compliments as appropriate. To the artist: “I have admired your work for so long.” Or to the curator: “This work has never looked so good. You did a fantastic job on the installation.”
  • Ask questions, but be careful that they don’t stop a conversation with a simple yes or no. Try: “How do you know the artist?” “Did you have trouble finding a parking place, too?” or “Did you see her work when it was at City Gallery?”

Martinet shares a critical tip:

Those who mingle best, mingle alone. While you may have your imaginary ‘buddy’ with you (if you’re using the Buddy System) you don’t want to actually mingle side by side with your mate or a friend — unless, of course, one of you knows most of the people there and is introducing the other one around. Occasionally you meet someone at the beginning of the party who is a little minglephobic, too, and it’s tempting to go around the room together for the whole night; after all, it seems less scary that way. This is a no-no. It’s too hard to assimilate into clusters when you are a pair; it can be threatening and, at the same time, it just looks wussy.

Yes, going it alone requires confidence or at least fake confidence. Think of it as an adventure. As you mingle alone at art openings and parties, you’re flexing your social muscles and getting better and better at promoting your art and your career. You’re making huge strides toward putting yourself and your art out into the world.

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9 comments to Mingling at holiday parties and/or art openings

  • My new thing is walking to parties…By the time I get there the adrenalin rush has put me in a good mood…being happy is like a magnet at a parties…

  • I managed my first holiday event last weekend, and to top it off I had to go alone. I’m an introvert and would really rather have been at home on the couch. I chose to fake it, to pretend all the people there were already my friends. It was also helpful to understand that everyone there was probably feeling the same way I was. Believing that made conversation go easily, and as a result I had quite an enjoyable time.
    Playing mental dress up has helped me on many occasions.

  • THANK YOU – Besides driving distances, this stops me, too.

  • Well… I don’t yet. On the other hand, I am doing better than when I was younger and I could not be in a room if there were more than four people (including me!) except, interestingly, when I was on stage or meeting the audience after a performance.

    At the moment I have not taken the step to seek out any openings (and I don’t know any artists having a party or opening in my area). I really, really hate mingling when I’m scared but I know I am going to have to confront this sometime down the road.

  • This is one of the hardest things for me to do. I realized looking back at my time overseas, it was always easier for me to make friends when I was completely outside of my comfort zone. I made more friends when I went overseas and had no definable home to go back to and hole up in. I just tried to bring that to my networking life.
    I still have trouble getting myself to do this, but I’ve a lot of luck meeting people at the Creative House of Lancaster which is a creative networking group that encourages you to talk with at least one person new at each meeting and event. That is a totally doable goal and completely nonthreatening. I try to approach other events this way too. It’s easier to think about meeting one person than staring at a room full of people who are strangers and wondering where you fit in.

  • [...] in time, Alyson Stanfield, posted Mingling at holiday parties and/or art openings, which is full of good advice on how to get through such occasions.   I found myself [...]

  • JD

    Great advice I will have to try. I am a bit of a recluse individual, and this is something that I will have to put some effort in to do. Even though I know that it is good for business, I have always told myself that I am not missing that much to make myself feel better about my lack of event attendance.

  • I used to tease my son when he was six or seven.
    We had a little chant we would do when he was invited to birthday parties.
    It was “I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go. DId you have fun? YEAH!”
    That gave him courage to walk in the door with strangers. And 9.9 times out of ten he had a great time.
    As for myself, I think I was a born schmoozer. I truly enjoy people, and it is (usually) a pleasure to meet new people at an opening or event. Having taught for years, I always say that I have years of experience at making a fool of myself. LOL! In a constructive way.
    Lately it’s been much harder due to some personal events and I have been laying low. This is a great reminder of how important it is.
    Thanks, Alyson.