January 20, 2009 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm a painter looking to show my work in a cafe or restaurant. Help me make this a happy experience for both of us

I think an upscale cafe or restaurant would be the optimal location. Most get good foot traffic and people look at the walls while they wait to be seated. Who knows....I might just sell something!

I'm planning on walking around downtown Baltimore with one or two of my small paintings and a business card and stopping in and talking to restaurant owners. The main reason I want to avoid galleries (especially in this economy) is so that I can keep 100% of each sale. I assume the cafe/restaurant would be happy to have art on their walls, and not take a commission, but that may just sweeten the deal for them. If they do want to take a commission what is acceptable? 10%? 20%? Is it odd not to be a customer of these places before I ask about displaying my work? Should I request they sign a contract to secure payment and other legalities? Is it likely they can put the paintings under their insurance or is that my responsibility? And if it turns out to be difficult for either party to insure the work should I walk away or just bite my tongue and hope they aren't damaged or stolen? When I chat with the owner how much "selling" of myself and the work should go on? If a particular establishment hasn't displayed outside art before and are a little leery what can I tell them to assuage their doubts?

I know restaurants don't need anymore things to worry about so any ideas to help this whole process go smoothly are appreciated.
posted by LC to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't give you a full answer, but I can tell you what I observed.

I worked at a local coffee shop and their policy was not to handle any art sales. The artist left contact information next to the art with a price. If a customer wanted to buy a piece we told them to contact the artist directly.

We liked the work on display because it worked with our theme (photos of Austin, Texas). I've seen local artists put up work in places where it gathers dust (office cafeteria) and never gets sold because it doesn't mesh with the customers.
posted by abdulf at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2009

I assume the cafe/restaurant would be happy to have art on their walls

Different places are going to have different views on what constitutes "art"...

Your best bet is to approach places that already feature local artist's work. At the very least, they may fill you in on the details for how it works.

take a commission, but that may just sweeten the deal for them

I wouldn't bring it up unless you were entering into a long term relationship with a particular business.

Most places I see have very informal relationships with artists and cycle art in and out frequently enough that dealing with contracts and the like would be unappealing.

should I walk away or just bite my tongue and hope they aren't damaged or stolen?

You can't expect an independent cafe to provide the same services as an established gallery. If you want that level of commitment, work the gallery route. Otherwise follow the footsteps of a million art school students and hang your stuff in the cafe.

When I chat with the owner how much "selling" of myself and the work should go on?

Like I said, it depends on the place. Some owners are going to be enthusiastic, other aren't.

That said the "starving artist" gimmick is pretty tired. Stick to friendly waters.
posted by wfrgms at 7:55 PM on January 20, 2009

In addition to (or instead of) carrying around samples of your work, I would consider creating a website with photo galleries of your paintings. You can provide the link on a business card and that way not only will the owner be able to browse your collection at his or her leisure, they may also feel more comfortable working with someone who seems more professional and less like, well, someone who just walked in off the street.
posted by amicamentis at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

This doesn't answer your question directly, but I once had a conversation with my dermatologist about the art in her office, and the artist had done pretty much what you're thinking about doing, except at doctors offices. It probably doesn't have the cool factor as a trendy cafe or restaurant, but you definitely would have a captive audience noticing your work in the form of patients in waiting rooms/ exam rooms.
posted by jschu at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2009

Oh, yes - the bookstore that I work in features several large pieces of art for sale at various parts of the store, and I get asked about them pretty often. Exploring other venues besides galleries and cafes might be worthwhile.
posted by amicamentis at 8:28 PM on January 20, 2009

A bunch of my friends are artists who show in restaurants. They started by going to those restaurants (in all cases, very reasonably-priced cafes & bars) a few times, essentially becoming "new regulars" and chatting up the owners, and eventually just sort of naturally segue-ing into the idea of showing work. Once you've showed work somewhere, I imagine your confidence would be boosted when you go to the next place- "I showed some work at cafe X a few months ago, and I have some new stuff, I'd love to show it here".

Your stuff *could* get damaged, but you will probably be able to have some say on where it gets hung, so just try to hang it in places it won't get wrecked- ie, not on walls people tend to lean on, or high enough that people can brush past the wall below the art without accidentally harming it. Beyond that, any place where patrons would deliberately vandalize the art is not somewhere it'd be worth your time to show it anyway.

I agree that you'll want to decide on prices & such yourself, post them beside the work with clear contact info. The place probably won't take commission- my friends certainly don't give any commish when they show. But as a show of goodwill to the place, you could bring friends by a few times for lunch while your work is up- some places will even help you arrange a little "opening" if you ask them if you can bring in a gang of friends (probably needs to be a group of at least 20 to make it worth their while with drink sales). And you should make business cards that look like your art and leave them for potential buyers to contact you.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:39 PM on January 20, 2009

I'm a photographer, and did this here in Vancouver, BC. I had heard through a friend that a small neighborhood cafe needed some art, so i took in a print one day, he said he loved it, and wanted some more. I printed 5 or 6 shots, and framed them, and he was very accommodating in allowing me to put them up on his wall. He even had a "Gallery Opening" party for me, he provided drinks (he charged for them, just enough to make it worth his time), and i invited 40 of my closest friends, worked out great for both of us.

Downside? It wasn't the busiest of places, which had a lot to do with the fact that i didn't sell 1 piece in the month and a half i had my shots on the wall. It cost me $500 to print and frame 6 shots, so it wasn't cheap. Most of them are up in my apartment now, i gave one away as a present, etc.

I never thought about insurance, but these were photos, so i always had the originals backed up. For individual pieces of art, i can understand your concern. No idea how you would organise that though.

Good luck with your quest...
posted by chromatist at 9:13 PM on January 20, 2009

My understanding is that chromatist's experience is the norm, salse-wise. It's great and totally worth while to get your art out where people will see it, but you should expect to not sell anything. If you do: Bonus!
posted by aubilenon at 9:58 PM on January 20, 2009

cafe shows are fun and a nice way to meet people and keep busy, but not a good way to make very much money. any place that sells much work is going to want a commission and rightly so. that's the cost of doing business. you decide how much money you want for your work and then add a margin to cover their cut.
posted by swbarrett at 11:24 PM on January 20, 2009

Chromatist, aubilenon, and swbarrett have it right...don't expect sales, they are a bonus. In non-traditional venues, I sell, on average, every other show. Granted, sometimes I sell a lot from one venue, but you're less likely to be disappointed if you consider restaurants/bars/coffee shops as exposure time, rather than as prime selling time. I will happily offer my congrats if that proves incorrect for your venue.

Also, don't expect that restaurant owners won't charge a commission, especially if they've hosted other artists.

If they *are* charging a commission, they absolutely should be willing to handle sales. If you have a schedule that doesn't include being able to dash off and make a sale at a moment's notice, it is worth paying that sales are often impulse buys, and if it is too complicated to get in touch with you, buyers may walk.

What's acceptable as a commission is what you are willing to go for. In the last few years, I've seen everything from no commission to a 15% donation to the venue owner's favorite charity to a gallery-like 60%. If the place wants more than you're willing to part with, either price accordingly or find a different venue.

Paperwork - for your own protection you should have a contract, however simple, that specifies whether or not the venue is handling sales, how and how soon after each sale the venue will pay you, the length of time the place is allowing you to show, and when you are or aren't allowed to set up, tear down, or replace pieces that have sold (one restaurant where I showed would only allow me in before 7 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m. It was less than convenient).

You should also have an inventory/pricelist of paintings you are leaving with the venue (and a copy for yourself), ideally one that includes pictures of each painting, as the restaurant personnel will not be interested enough to memorize the names of each of your works. This becomes a factor when someone calls you to ask the price of 'that painting with blue in it' and the wall and frame tags have disappeared.

Expect to replace your painting tags, business cards/brochures, artist bio/statement frequently through the course of the exhibit.

Insurance will most likely (think 99.9% of the time) be your responsibility. In my experience (your insurance company may vary), if you are a homeowner you can arrange an insurance rider to cover the paintings on exhibit; this involves having your paintings valued. If you rely only on your homeowner insurance coverage (without a special rider), your paintings would only be covered up to the cost of materials, not what you claim as their retail value. There are also insurance companies that do nothing but write policies for artist's shows - I have not ever used them, so I can't recommend one in particular, but your local art society may have some helpful contacts. I've insured at some places, but mostly not - I have, however, had one painting stolen, so take it for what it's worth.

Do expect whatever you show to get absolutely filthy if it will be hanging in a restaurant for a month or more. If your pieces are framed, frames *will* get dented, scratched, chipped, and mystery sauced, and the stress of moving paintings from venue to venue will require reframing at a distressingly expensive rate. If your paintings are under glass, expect breakage.

As to how much selling of yourself you should do - as much as it takes for you to get into the venue where you want to show. Being enthusiastic, and most of all, professional about it (see above contract, inventory, etc.) definitely helps.

Good luck with your venue hunt!
posted by faineant at 11:52 PM on January 20, 2009

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