The Truth About Why Nobody Came to Your Art Show

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why nobody came to your art show.

Let’s set aside the bad weather, natural disaster, flu epidemic, or major tragedy in the community. And not count people who are out of town or live too far away, or those who have tickets to the theater or a sick child.

We’re going to focus on those able people on your mailing list who would be most inclined to come out and support you.

The reason they didn’t come is because you assumed too much.


Let’s look at 4 ways this might have played out.

1. You didn’t tell them about it.

You assumed the venue would get the word out.

Oops! You’ll never do that again. Venues, regardless of the type of venue, have an entire program of artists and exhibitions lined up. You are a small fish in their big pond.

What’s important to you isn’t always critical to them.

You can’t rely on the venue to get people to your exhibition.

2. You told your list about it, but didn’t cover your bases.

You assumed that a single email would do the trick – and that they would actually read the missive you sent.

People don’t usually hop on board until they have seen an invitation multiple times. You can’t post an invitation once or twice to Facebook and expect results (especially these days).

You must have a variety of touch points scheduled for the people on your list:

  • Send a postcard.
  • Place stacks of postcards in strategic venues.
  • Mention your event in your newsletter.
  • Blab about it on social media.
  • Post flyers.

What’s missing from the above list is personal contact. Nothing – nothing! – moves people to action like a personal invitation. This could be an email or a phone call, but it is sent only to them and comes from the heart.

Never underestimate the value of personal invitations.

3. You were afraid to send email reminders.

You assumed that people would write it down and remember.

Most of my students and members admit to being “afraid to bother people” with an extra email. They reconsider when I share the statistics of how much these last-minute emails increase the sign-ups for my programs.

In fact, the highest percentage of registrations comes when I send the “starts tomorrow” email.

4. You let your list get cold.

You assumed you could count on certain people.

This is so critical that I want to jump up and down and shout it from the rooftop. But not jump off the rooftop. 🙂

So imagine me doing one or the other as you’re reading this . . .

The reason you have a strategy for staying in touch with your list on a regular basis is so that they know you care about your relationship with them. So that, when you ask something of them, they remember you and are familiar with what you’ve been up to.

It’s not just impolite to them, it’s downright uncomfortable for you to contact people only when you want something from them.

Stop assuming so much. There are plenty of people out there who want to show up for you.

Make sure they hear from you and know that they are appreciated and needed.


Send to Kindle

33 comments to The Truth About Why Nobody Came to Your Art Show

  • Every point mentioned above is crucial. Bravo! Our job, once artwork is completed and ready for display, is to promote. If we don’t do it, we are showing our client base we don’t really care.

    My expectation has always been a minimum of 200 people at an opening. I have achieved that at every show except 2 in the past 47 years. One of the ways I realized this success is by creating the most eye-catching posters (in visual info and dimensions)and going out and hanging each and every one of those posters (1000 in all) in the most prominent store windows of the various areas of the city. Commitment. That’s what it is all about.

    • Thanks, Bernard. I love the posters. I wish more artists would do them. Do you have an example of any of them that are posted online?

    • Terry

      Bravo, Bernard! The poster idea is brilliant! Although many posters go up around town, few are well designed to catch the passer-by eye. Your shows sound quite successful and though it may appear magical, you have shared the practical behind the scenes work…leg work that is.

      Alyson, another wonderful insightful, helpful, practical article. Well done!

  • Alfred

    I think mainly, they don’t come because the event is not that important to them.

    I was once in an artists support group. I was in a show, I let everyone in the show know that I wanted them there. I told them in person, sent printed invitations and e-mailed. One person in the group actually lived only one block from the gallery. He had to pass the gallery to go to the market. Not one of the support group members came to the opening. This happened three times, for three different exhibitions of mine! I left the group after that, telling them exactly why. None of the members even understood what the big deal was about and each of them had their own excuse.

    By the way, I attended every event they were having.

  • This is a fabulous reminder of how to have a great turn out. I’ve been doing fairly well getting people to come to my art events in the past, but I will admit…I need a new list because most of my regulars are starting to get “bored” of giving continued support. Which means they aren’t really collectors, they have just been a good cheering squad! But I’m working hard this year to identify new enthusiasts.

  • Alyson, this is a terrific reminder to stay in touch with your list. Sometimes artists (including me) think we are “bothering” people by sending more than one announcement. Start early and space your invites out, using all the mediums.
    I personally think the old fashioned snail mail works best. How nice to see a real invitation in my mail box that is typically filled with bulk junk flyers.

  • Excellent tips Alyson! There is not one that should be missed in our efforts. I know from experience, the best advocate happens to be ourselves. Thank you! Wishing you a pleasant day 🙂

  • Great timing Alyson! I actually had to stop in the middle of reading this post because I realized that I hadn’t done my blog post or FB post for my reception tomorrow! Your advice is so generously given and it is so appreciated. Thank you.

  • Alyson, very helpful points. How would you approach telling your list even if the show isn’t in your town or their town? Doubtful they’d trek to the long distance event, but could ask them to share your announcement email/FB post, etc.?

  • Alyson–Thank you for the laugh at your line about the rooftop. I love the visual image of you jumping up and down on the rooftop–that and the silliness after just brightened my day. As always–you are a source of inspiration and I love you. Thank you for being a voice of guidance for artists…

  • I shout from rooftop all the time: SEND REMINDERS!

    And I love your excellent point, Alyson: if they unsubscribe, they are not your followers. Doh! When I write that out in plain English, it’s SO obvious!

    Just treat others how YOU really want to be treated, right? I tell my clan to think of what it means to them when they get a reminder about something they have even a vague interest in and they often admit that it’s welcomed. If I learn of some event a month ahead, I may be interested, but not focused. When I am reminded a week before the date – well, I am always ready to re-visit my desire at that point and pull out my calendar. If I had already decided to attend from email number one – I am even more grateful for the reminder. Now I can start planning! Who might I go with? Dinner plans? What will I wear? Not everyone pulls out a calendar btw. YOU are the notification system!

    PLUS: We are all so busy and see so many offers that committing to attend any event (or sign up for a webinar, or attend a seminar or any gathering) needs at least ONE last minute reminder to force ourselves to look at our schedule and examine our desire and weigh the pros and cons. The closer the date is, the more URGENCY we feel to make a decision and that is why that last minute reminder is SO effective. We don’t want to loose out and when the date is eminent, we are generally thankful for that reminder. We may still not attend, but we at least had the choice and know we were “reminded”. I always appreciate reminders. I always feel cared for when Alyson sends that last minute nudge.

    Of course, Alyson’s reminders are sweet to the core and we know she cares about our careers and is trying to bring something good to us. That can be translated into ALL invitations and last minute reminders. We can all nudge effectively – especially if we have used Emailing Best Practices and have a good base of fans and followers who care about us because we stay “in-touch” and keep them involved.

    Thanks for the “reminder” Alyson!

  • Dawn Petrill

    This was such a timely and much needed article for me. I have a Studio Open House in 2 weeks and have said a little about it but have been afraid to say too much. It all makes so much sense the way you put it! Thank you for being the voice of reason and telling it like it is. I continue to be inspired and empowered by your wisdom and advice!

  • Hello Alyson, I remember you mentioning at least some of these points last year, I believe. The reminder email idea came on my horizon shortly before my fall studio show. I am one of those who is always concerned about bothering people. I decided to get over it and follow your advice. That email reminder, along with the other points you mentioned made such a huge positive difference in the success of my show. Even though the weather was poor and my studio is out in the country, attendance and sales were still very good. Thank you again for the little kick 🙂 Happy gardening!

  • Great article! I have art in a show this weekend and I will send out last minute email reminders today and tomorrow. Thanx!

  • Bob Ragland

    I always do out reach by postcard.
    I send out career updates all year.
    I stay in touch with people.
    If I were in a gallery, I would send out
    handwritten postcards mid show to nudge
    my peeps.
    I at some point have a show is a person’s home.
    I never leave PR and such up to anyone else.^

  • This may sound like a silly thing, but I really wanted to save your post as a pdf for future reference, and I found the “other options” share option, and in that, a printer-friendly option, which had a pdf option.

    THAT, my dear, is customer service! Yay you!

  • Meghan Rheynolds

    I just had an artist exhibit with us, and we made a video, similar to an advertisement of him flicking through his notepad of his portraits. We then included it in the newsletter invitation and it was well received. We also made several other small video’s during the exhibition then we had a closing party, which was a lot less attended than the opening, but we sold 21 works that night, which was 20 works more than the opening. So plugging away during the show really worked on this occasion. All the best.

  • kazeem oyebowale