Towns (2-5), CT

Contact Name
Amy Wynn
Project Dates
3rd or 4th weekend in June
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2013
Tags
Event, Marketing, Networking, Workforce Development
The Open Your Eyes Studio Tour, now in its 4th year, evolved from various efforts to engage the general public in discovering and exploring the cultural assets that, in a rural area, are quite spread out. This annual event features the artists, from a group of 2 – 5 municipalities selected on a rotating basis, in the Council’s 25-town service area. Over a weekend in June, the public is invited, for free, to visit any of the Tour’s 30 – 40 artists in their creative spaces in order to gain an appreciation for the creative processes. The artists include weavers, photographers, painters, sculptors, woodworkers, black smiths, basket makers, architects, glass blowers, multi-media installation artists and more. The Tour has helped artists in a variety of ways and has a growing audience.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The project’s goals are to put the
region’s artists in the spotlight and to “open the public’s eyes” to
the creative forces in our area. The Tour aims to help the audience member
find a connection to creative work that speaks to them - more than seeing it
on a wall and liking it, but understanding how it was made, the story behind
it, where it was made, and about the person who created it. Our hope is
that, through this connection, the audience might want to tell others about
their experience, follow an artist’s progress, study with that artist,
create work of their own, or purchase work about which they know the
“inside” story. The intention is to give the artist a boost that
reverberates beyond the Tour weekend.
Have they changed over time?
The goals have not changed, although
additional goals for enhancing the experience of the artists and the public,
and increasing the economic impact the tour have emerged each year.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
The stakeholders are the Arts Council and the
artists, primarily. Certainly the event sponsors and the local businesses
have a stake, in that the event's success presents positive results for them
(economically and regarding good-will and investing in their community).
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
In the past, the Council had observed a few
local efforts by artists doing open studio weekends, but the level of
visitation was very low – perhaps 10 or 20 visitors at most per artist.
The Council recognized that a central coordinating entity and strong
promotion would give such artists the attention they sought and deserved and
would perhaps give them a boost toward greater success for their independent
efforts for future tours. We did not attempt to cover our entire 25-town
service area for the studio tour, because our previous experience with
region-wide cultural tours proved it would dilute the exposure for the
individual artists and be overwhelming for the general public.
Each year the Council and the Tour committee reach out to artists in the
selected towns, inviting them to participate. There are requirements stated
in a registration agreement that help an artist determine if he or she is
‘ready’ to open their creative space and spend two days interacting about
their art and creative process with the public. There is a modest
registration fee. Pre-tour visits are done for each studio. Preparation
suggestions are shared by the Council with the Artists. Promotional
materials are gathered and the website, press releases, social media pages,
the map, etc. are designed. Promotion is key to the event’s success and is
a shared responsibility between the Council and the artists. The Council
uses the Sponsorship funds for promotional materials, multi-state
advertising, e-mailings, and mailings. The map/brochure is the main
promotional piece. The artists help in distributing materials, promoting the
event via their networks (word of mouth, farmers markets, social media,
email, mailings, etc.). There is a preview party two weeks prior to the tour
where the artists and a sampling of their work is on display for the public
and sponsors to learn more about the tour, the artists, suggested
itineraries, and more – basically to generate excitement about the tour.
Suggested routes with detailed directions and plenty of directional signs are
used to ensure that visitors have an easy time finding the studios while
exploring the region. Tourists sign-in at each studio so we can gather
attendance numbers. We survey both artists and tourists post-event to get
feedback.
Have they been refined over time?
Refinements over the years have included
requiring that all participating artists open their studios on both days of
the Tour, the addition of the preview party, hosting a pot-luck for just the
artists and the committee two months prior so that they can meet one another
and share ideas for cross promotion, and the development of a perks-package
to convince Tourists to sign-up in advance (see “obstacles” below for
further explanation). In year two, we also added an information table at one
of the Tour sites.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
It has been challenging to gather data
regarding the number of visitors to each studio. We have had a sign-in sheet
at each studio every year and have been able, for the most part, to collect a
great majority of the Tourist information. However, it is burdensome for the
Artist to have to ensure that each visitor signs in and it has been an
excruciating process for the Council to decipher the handwriting on the
sheets. This past year we created a pre-registration perks package for
tourists which included personalized stickers that eased the sign-in process
at each studio, along with special offers to eateries on the tour route,
discounts to evening entertainment and overnight accommodations, a full tour
info packet, and a tote bag. We will be trying some new things this year,
including the modestly priced perks package and a choice of a free, day-of
registration that provides coded sign-in stickers.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Surveys taken with the artists and the
tourists have provided helpful ideas, feedback and guidance to improve the
sign-in process.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Do not take on too much territory, as you
are likely to dilute the exposure you are seeking for your tour sites. Make
sure you do not have an outlier on the tour route – a site that is alone,
off the beaten track; if you do, make every effort (with that outlier’s
help) to identify other artists nearby and convince them to join the tour
(there is power in numbers regarding drawing an audience).
2. Be prepared to be very supportive to artists. Many, although not all,
have limited knowledge and interest in packaging and promoting themselves.
You will have to hand-hold, and coach many of them. Make sure they
understand that you will be there to guide and help them, but that they MUST
do all they can do to partner in promoting the event. If they do not commit
and follow through with this, it is unlikely they will see much traffic.
3. Especially if it is a free event, you have to be creative and assertive
and consistent in your marketing of the Tour. Be everywhere you can be in
the public eye for many weeks prior to the tour. Everywhere people turn,
they should see and hear about this event – make it a “not to be
missed” experience.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Beneficiaries of this event include the
artists, the towns’ businesses, the region and the general public. Based
on feedback from the artists, they feel better able to promote themselves,
have made what they feel are long-lasting connections among the visitors, and
have sold work both during and after the tour. Some have received
invitations to exhibit in galleries because of the tour and others have
gained a number of students as a result.
The spotlight that the Open Your Eyes studio tour places on the artists has
revealed to both local and out-of-area tourists the wide variety and number
of high caliber professional and amateur artists in the region. Visitor
comments consistently remark on how amazed they are at discovering these
creative forces in these pastoral communities. Many of these same people
have become collectors of a tour artist’s work, or have been inspired to
study or make art, or (if they are out-of-towners) have returned to the area
because they enjoyed exploring the region.
This spotlight also illustrates to businesses and municipal leaders that the
artists are contributors to their community, both economically and regarding
the quality of life in their town.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The Tour has achieved our original goals, and
each time we have presented the Tour the achievements are broadened. Year
one saw 400 unique visitors who enjoyed their choice of visiting 24
artists’ studios over two days. Year two saw over 500 such visitors who
selected from 40 artist studios to visit. Year three had over 700 unique
visitors choose among 33 artists’ studios. Because the Tour is about the
one-on-one experience with the artists in their creative spaces, we do not
encourage visitors to attempt to go to every studio – it is not a race or a
contest; rather we urge them to do their homework (which we facilitate) so
that they can select the studios that they feel they will enjoy. Any hosting
artist on these tours did not see every Tourist, but they did see and speak
to many, many people over the weekend. This past year, the average number of
visitors to an artist’s studio was 80 people over the weekend. It’s
exhausting, but the artists have said that it was worth it.
Were there unexpected impacts?
We were surprised that
• Tourists came from 14 different states as well as Canada
• 20% were repeat tourists
• 58% of the Artists sold work
• We have heard from artists a year later about commissions and sales that were the direct result of contacts made on the tour.
• A grass-roots network developed: Artists on the 2012 Tour benefited from the pre-tour Potluck and, as a result, have developed new colleagues who now call upon each other for professional and social reasons
CCX Workshop Handout