- by Barney Davey
What Is Direct Patronage?
Perhaps you’ve heard the term direct patronage. It’s one I use a lot. That’s because I believe it is the future for artists. Patronage, as described by Wikipedia, is:
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another.
You can trace the roots of patronage through centuries to the House of Medici family and other controlling institutions that realized the importance and power of art. They financed artists for projects we still revere.
This quote comes from an Artspace.com article titled “Is the Traditional Art Gallery Dead? 21 Industry Insiders Tell Us What (They Hope) Comes Next.” In particular, it helps to shed light on the modern usage of “patronage”.
“Direct patronage. Passionate, supportive collectors buying many works of individual artists over time based on a genuine interest in their thinking and development. This can happen via a gallery relationship, or directly, it doesn’t matter. But I think collectors taking personal responsibility for the livelihood of a small group of artists will yield the most important collections of the future.” – Forest Nash Founder, Contemporary Art Daily
Many of the insiders in the ArtSpace.com article are gallerists who voice concerns about their future and that of galleries in general. Their caution supports a warning bell I’ve sounded for years. Like it or not, there aren’t enough galleries to go around. In the best of times, there were too few. The remaining galleries have less influence. They are under economic siege due to rising rent in the prime art districts, changing times, and other conditions.
How Do You Get Your Work to Market?
That’s the question I’ve been asking artists and helping them answer since 1988. In nearly 30 years, I’ve seen lots of changes. My experiences and observations have led me to believe direct patronage is the future for artists.
How do you sell your art? Who buys it?
- Galleries / Dealers
- Institutions / Corporations
- Fairs / Shows / Auctions
While the list is arbitrary, it represents the bulk of distribution of fine art. With all due respect to Forrest Nash and gallery owners everywhere, I think a primary source of new sales for artists must come from direct sales to collectors who know the artist.
The Times and Consumer Sentiment Are Ripe for Artists to Make Direct Connections and Sales.
Artists need to build bridges to patrons who will buy multiple pieces over time from them directly. Changing consumer buying habits, technology, and social media open this option for artists.
I’m not advocating artists abandon galleries.
As I see it, they will always play a part in defining trends and distributing art. However, I don’t think it’s possible for artists to make a living selling through galleries today. Galleries are in decline, and under pressure. Selling DIY and from apartments and homes is not how I see artists taking control and securing their future.
If you have great relationships with galleries, keep them. If you can get in galleries that can move your inventory, do it. Just know they aren’t going to fund your 401k and you have no control over how they market your work.
So far, selling online is spotty.
Look at the sales results on Saatchi Gallery, which is considered one of the top online sites for art. The average prices are in the hundreds. Selling originals, or even prints in the hundreds price range makes it very difficult to project a sustainable, profitable career for artists. And, selling art online is not a panacea. It takes time and effort to generate sales.
Things might change in the future, but it’s a bet that doesn’t solve current needs.
Increasingly luxury goods are sold online every year. Costco.com is a leading seller of diamonds. But, selling high-priced originals online is a future trend. It doesn’t change what’s happening now. What is more worrisome about online sales is they are as tenuous as selling through galleries. When you don’t own the distribution method, you are at risk. There are ways to tap the affluent market. But, I don’t believe selling expensive originals to them online is realistic or a durable plan at this point in time.
Galleries will close or drop you. It’s going to happen.
Online sites can fail, get hacked, or cause other problems out of your control. Social media is fickle and getting more crowded and expensive. And, in every case, you’re still selling mostly lower priced art. For those reasons and more, that is why I believe direct patronage is the best long-term strategy for a sustainable, profitable career.
Six Things Artists Need to Create an Effective Direct Patronage Program
- Create your ideal prospect persona
- Research to identify where your ideal persona exists online and offline
- Produce buzz about you and your art
- Start an outreach program to contact and influence your idea buyer prospects
- Develop a routine system to add targeted new subscribers to your list
- Generate and distribute engaging, compelling content to educate, delight, inform and entertain your contacts
Are these things challenging to do?
Yes. It seems like anything you want to achieve is a challenge. Being a gifted artist is like being a natural athlete. It’s an advantageous starting point. The most successful put in hours of work behind the scenes to perfect their craft so they can be the best. Selling your art and learning to use the best ways to get your art to market is the same. Things worth having take dedication to make them into reality for you.
What are your other choices?
The alternatives are not that bright and come with no long-term security at all. Developing and nurturing a base of loyal collectors who will buy multiple pieces of your work is the highest return on investment marketing action you can take. Going back to the questions posed above. Ask yourself. How do you sell your art? Who buys it? When you don’t have clear answers with solutions that allow you to predict your sales, you’re in a precarious position.
For those just getting started or making art as a hobby, you have some leeway. If you are intent on making a career or a steady income whether full or part-time from your art sales, you can’t dance around those questions. I’ll be blunt here. HOPE IS NOT A PLAN!
What kind of business person are you?
First of all, are you an industrious do-it-yourself pioneer? If you are, then just put “how to” in front of the six things listed above and Google them. It will take some time to wade through pages of links to find the ones worth pursuing.
Mostly, you need time to analyze whether the source is current and genuinely helpful. Maybe, if you are determined, thrifty and like to go it alone, nothing is keeping you from building an impressive direct patronage program.
If you are someone who appreciates professional guidance, encouragement, and camaraderie, please consider joining the How to Find and Connect with Art Buyers Workshop. You get step-by-step instruction on how to do the six steps outlined above. You can join the exclusive, private Facebook group for members where you can ask for and give help on anything related to the course or your art career. It’s a caring, sharing group.
Unless your art is underpriced your first sale from your first connected buyer will likely 10x your minor investment to join.