Artisan by Dan Joyce
Art Walks And Alcohol
In 2010, I had reserved an art showing at a successful Fullerton gallery for the summer. At the time, I was active in recovery and I suggested that alcohol not be freely served at the night of the opening as most of my customers and attendees would be coming from churches and 12-step groups. The curator was offended by my request and cancelled the show. This made me think, why is it so necessary that alcohol always be customarily served at art openings and often for free? As a fine artist, I have trained many years and worked too hard on my craft to want to think people would have to get drunk before they bought my work.
Traditionally, wine has been served at art occasions to lubricate the pocketbook. People have a couple drinks, their decision-making skills suffer and they are more likely to part with their money. It’s not to have a big party and get everybody drunk on free booze. Unfortunately, the latter is more often than not the case, especially when it comes to city art walks, where the galleries are typically open only for that one night a month. If you want a big party, I get it! But don’t expect to sell a lot of art. The Santa Ana art walk was just that case for too many years. Everyone showed up for the free booze, had a good time and while it looked like a successful business venture, nothing was selling.
I’m not trying to be a reformist or a temperance advocate. I’m just stating the facts. Yes, alcohol increases sales. For that reason, you will find readily available at country clubs, gambling casinos and auction houses often sold only on a tip basis. As long as there has been salesmen and capitalism, there has been alcohol used to influence. Then what is the difference between a successful high-end art gallery with free wine and an art walk party with a bunch of locals getting hammered. For one, the high0class galleries also serve other things such as h’ordeuvres and catered food. The clientele is to buy and not to drink, although a cocktail or two are usually enjoyed.
So what can a gallery do to increase sales other than serve food? There are many approaches. One, rather inefficient one, is to rent the space to the artist to show. But then, everyone shows up, gets drunk and the artist gets a big party in his honor to impress his friends and family. Sadly though, I find the only ones who ever buy a painting there are his friends and family if he’s lucky. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he could just as well sell them the painting himself without the gallery. Also, a gallery for rent, is not going to draw in the most well craft of art. All that is accomplished then is a vanity art show.
In the 1980’s, the streets of downtown Fullerton were occupied with over a dozen successful art galleries that used another approach. True they had the openings available to the whole community and threw a big party once a month or so. However, with the high fixed expenses and costly real estate, they only opened the galleries on appointment during the rest of the month. This worked much better. On the big nights, they held their parties. During the workweek, they sold. Think about it! A high end businessman is less likely to go to an art walk for a Friday night party and more likely to show up at his timing and convenience for a special more private showing. Also, when invited, he will more likely be prepared to buy knowing that the artist is going out of his way to meet him. The results were fantastic. People would go to the art walks on the weekend night, talk about the art during the week and those who wished to buy got the red carpet. It was also easier for that galleries and artists to transact business without the loud music and chatter of a lookiloo crowd. No matter what approach they take, the party approach cannot continue due to an obviously foreseen lack of income, the party will be over and the art walks will be gone. And that’s a shame. Because, I as an artist, love to be a part of great culture.