How do we get more people to come to our weekly adult creative night?
October 11, 2011 11:52 PM   Subscribe

Last winter, our small-town nonprofit arts organization decided it wanted to do something during our long dark winters to bring people together to be creative in its gallery space. Thus was born free weekly drop-in adult creative time. Problem is, people don't go. How do we change this?

In a bigger city, it might be something like Chicago Craft Social. But here, it's just a four-hour chunk of time after work for people to bring in and make progress on their own projects (e.g., knitting, beading, drawing, scrapbooking, papercraft) around a fun, social table of other creative folks. Kind of like a sewing circle, but open to anything. No host, no class, no cost, just social time to be creative. Central location, lots of parking, lots of space to spread out.

A core group of three people have a really good time. The organization has advertised, posted flyers, even had an article written about it. It goes in the e-newsletter, on the web site, on Facebook, and there are postcards to pass around. Every time someone new hears about it, they light up and genuinely express interest in the chance to socialize with other creative people. They say "hey, how come I don't know about this?!"...and then they don't go.

In a perfect world, about 20-25 people would show up with a variety of projects. They'd laugh and share stories and make progress on projects that usually sit in a drawer at home. Maybe they'd share ideas, advice and skills. It would become an exciting creative space that people would look forward to visiting often.

The only idea thus far is to advertise a special one-night Craft Social event on that same night, with planned activities in a lively environment and use it as a vehicle to say "hey look, we do this EVERY WEEK...just dust off your own project and come on in!" If you think this would work, what does the successful event look like?

WHY don't people come? And how can we get them to?
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you serving snacks? How about wine??

Also, can you find the knitting/quilting/beading/pottery circles, classes, and groups that already exist in your area and invite them specifically?

(This sounds SO FUN. I wish we had one in my area! Or maybe we do and I just don't know about it!)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:59 PM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, it would be better to invite groups to use the space than try to establish your own group. This kind of collaboration is so very common and donors love to hear how this collaboration is happening and bringing people to your space who would not necessarily know about it. Your curators will need to start interacting with groups and look for people to start relationships with and plan shows around - but I don't need to tell you how to do your job.
posted by parmanparman at 12:20 AM on October 12, 2011

I would think that offering a cheap ($5 - $10) craft for people without their own knitting/beading/whatever to come and learn/do might encourage more first-comers. Give instruction for the first hour or so, and then let that lead into social time with the whole group. I think as a newcomer I would be a bit apprehensive about not knowing the skill level and friendliness level of the other people there, and not want to barge in on an unknown social circle. If there was a class that I could attend, I would feel more encouraged to go and do things even as a beginner.

Maybe you could work with a local craft shop (a bead store, yarn store, art store) to arrange for these lessons and also allow them to bring some other items to show and sell in a sort of trunk show for the evening.

I would also make sure that the place where you are holding the weekly meeting is warm and inviting. Going to an unfamiliar place for the first time on a dark winter evening would also make me feel a little uneasy, especially if the crafting room is in the back of an empty-seeming building or the like. I'm not necessarily saying that this is the case for you, but if it is, try at least to put up some THISAWAY signs, and some sort of board outside to direct people.
posted by that girl at 1:23 AM on October 12, 2011

When you tell someone about it and they seem excited, make plans to go together. Pick them up, meet and walk in - some people (ahem, us crafty introverts) need a little encouragement to step into a new place with new people, especially when it's an unstructured event. After they've been once and gotten the lay of the land, odds are they'll be back.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 2:19 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are you calling this? Because Drop-In Adult Creative Time is a horrendous name. It sounds like arts and crafts for the elderly. I do not want to go to that, nor do I want to meet the people who want to go to that. Stitch-n-Bitch, I want to go to.

My other thought is that you should kick this off with a one day Creative Camp. Like Barcamp, but for crafting.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:20 AM on October 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think That Girl (and DarlingBri) have it. Having a completely unstructured arts time is great - if you already have a big group of artsy people just dying for space to set up shop.

Invite somebody who is good about knitting to do an Intro to Knitting class, someone who is good at Origami to do Origami for Dummies, and so you. You get the idea. If you don't have that core nucleus, you have to build it, and one of the ways you do that is by welcoming people in - not just with a Show Up and You Don't Know What Will Happen, but with some scheduled introductory activities that you (or local art groups) can use to build membership, exposure, and community. Or maybe have mini-exhibitions - photography, sculpture, whatever.

And definitely vet your name by three groups - artists you know, wanna-be-creatives, and non-artsy. None of them should come back with "sounds like it's for Grandma." The name just might be too generic or not have sufficient identity yet to be regarded as anything other than macrame for the elderly set. And I'm not saying it is, but you have to make clear *what* it is - and that's challenging if it's just "a four hour block after work." It needs an identity and that identity isn't only about "come and work on your own stuff" if that's not working. Time to change it up and reach out to the arts community to strut their stuff.
posted by canine epigram at 3:10 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you give access to supplies or storage? For example, I would love a drop in sewing room. I could bring my own fabric, thread, notions, etc, but would like to use a communal sewing machine, as I don't have one. I'd also like it if there was a cubby where I could store my project, so I wouldn't have to truck it back and forth.

Can you offer childcare? (Like a lot of gyms do?)
Targeted nights? (i.e. knitters night, painters night, etc)
Specific craft nights, including supplies for a fee? (decorate a pumpkin night, make a christmas wreath night) That would get people in the door, and if it's a complicated craft, maybe they would come back next time to finish it (another reason to have storage).
Wine and cheese, coffee and cake, pizza and beer?
posted by bluefly at 3:57 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

That actually sounds normal for such things, I'm sad to say -- for many people, there is a wide, wide gulf between "that sounds like an awesome idea!" and "I shall make definitive plans to go!" And a lot of people who are interested just get lazy each week and tell themselves they'll go "next week" and next week just never comes.

ThatGirl and Darlingbri have a good idea in offering some classes now and then; that may help you attract more people who wouldn't have come otherwise ("oh, now it's not just time to work on my sweater, I can learn how to do CABLING! Okay, now I'll definitely try to do that this week rather than watching MYTHBUSTERS like I usually do").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:03 AM on October 12, 2011

WHY don't people come?

I live in a small town (well, city, technically) with a lot of artsy people and gallery space, and I can tell you why I wouldn't come (although, if I found out it existed, I'd probably say it was a cool concept.)

-It's cold. And dark. I'm not leaving my apartment to go out into the cold and dark to do something I could do at home. Also I might lose my parking space and have to walk blocks home in the cold and dark (you say you have parking, but they're giving up their parking at home to come there.) So maybe if you stressed that it was super-warm in your space, it might lure people with inadequate heating at home.

-I would assume everyone there would know each other already (yay, small towns) and they would all be talking and I'd be sitting there alone like a loser. A special night for new people, or people who don't know anyone in town, might help.

-Or, I would know people there and I'd have to make small talk all night, which is really tiring. Something more structured (a class, etc.) might cut down on that worry, but I'm not sure.

-I would worry that everyone would mock my project. Is this for Artists, or just anyone? Is it ok for people of all levels to come to your thing? If so, do they know that?

-I have nothing to wear. You can't do anything about that one:-)

Also, you might not want to go in this direction, but some people's creative thing isn't done with a physical piece of crafty stuff. I wonder if you expanded it to writers, etc., the more social ones might come? The ones who want to be not at home are probably in coffee shops with their laptops anyway, but...just a thought.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:20 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it a Facebook event where people can RSVP? I find that helps. Posting a photo of your space and the crafts some of you are working on may make people feel more comfortable with coming.

Snacks help, but when it's cold, maybe an instant hot water kettle and some tea would be tempting.

Your idea for a one-night special is a good one. I attend something like this but it's a guided craft once a month - you could find local artists interested in coming up with an idea and showing the group.

What day of the week is this? Monday through Wednesday may be best.

Otherwise, don't give up, if you three are having a good time continue doing so and others will join eventually.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:37 AM on October 12, 2011

Some things I'd do--not sure if you've done them yet or not.

-Talk to local craft/art supply shops. Are there other groups in town meeting? If any of them have flagging membership, getting them to consolidate around your location and time might work well. Those shops might also have tips for getting the word out to their particular communities, or will at least have a space next to the register for your cards/flyers.

-Have one or more of that core group offer to teach a class outside of the craft night to promote the activity.

-Definitely have a targeted class/exhibition/open house/whatever. Maybe once per month you go with a specific theme. It's Knitting Day, and you have some yarn and needles and patterns to get people started. It's Finish Up Those Holiday Presents Day, and you have some local nonprofit group who's willing to wrap presents for a small donation. It's Show and Tell night, featuring pieces made by people who attend the craft night and other local folks.

-If the problem is that people come once and don't return, make sure that the chairs are comfy, that a little mess (food, drink, tufts of fiber) is okay, that it's warm and well-lit. These are things that my craft group have used to nix locations in the past.

For me, weekday nights don't work well unless I can easily combine that activity with something else I need to do (one local knitting group meets at an eating area attached to the grocery store, which is perfect.) I also agree with folks upthread that I'd be a little intimidated by something happening at a gallery--I'm not an artist, I just play with this string.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:38 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

When people express an interest, get their phone numbers and personally call and invite them. Advertising, blogging etc. are impersonal and passive. Phone calls/personal invitations will work.
posted by bleeb at 5:50 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the people who suggest a structured activity. Here's an example: Free Art Fridays. Sometimes the crafts are more complex; sometimes they're the kind of thing you couldn't do anywhere else; sometimes they're just the sort of project you used to do in preschool, but on a larger scale (and no smocks!). Either way, it's fun.

People really respond to being able to count on something specific. So maybe Monday is knitting/crochet night, Tuesday is Family Activity night, Wednesday is Movie Night... you get the picture. It doesn't have to be complicated or cost a lot of money/time. People will start remembering it, so on that particular Monday when they have nothing to do, they'll know where to go.

A: "try something new" nights, like Free Art Fridays.
B: Bring in outside professionals, whether they're local or visiting town for something else. Get in touch with local business owners and let them know your space is available for community events. You can do book signings, wine tastings, maybe even a cooking demo.
C: FREE STUFF. Could be that craft project; could be a recipe sheet; could be a small giveaway from local businesses or a 50/50 cash prize with the remainder going to charity.
posted by Madamina at 7:29 AM on October 12, 2011

I would also coordinate with local MeetUp groups to get them involved. For example, our local Amazon employees' MeetUp group has a similar craft night every once in a while. If you have local groups that are just for meeting people, they might like to participate in your events.

Also, make sure that the name you choose makes it clear that this is for arts AND crafts; I love my crafts, but I'm not going to an event like this if I think it's going to be a room full of painters that are going to sneer at my embroidery project.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2011

I run a local group like this, and it's really really difficult to get people to show up. The problem is that it takes their own initiative to come out, you can't make them, so you'll get your strong crew that shows up time and again, but getting new people to come out is hard.

good luck.
posted by zombieApoc at 9:47 AM on October 12, 2011

I'm a part of a group like this that's been meeting for four years. There's definitely a core group of folks who are there every week, and then a few others who flit in and out, and then there are the very occasionals and new folks.

Here's what I think has helped us:
- We meet in a public place, a bar/coffeeshop
- We are very visible; because we've been there so long, and the woman who started it is friends with the owners, we have pride of place in the front room on our weeknight
- Consistent time: every week, same day, starts at 7 pm
- Openness: bring any craft. We have knitters and crocheters, sure, but also stained glass makers, leatherworkers, basketweavers, sketchers, needlepointers, felters...
- Knowledge: many of us are experts and like to teach new skills/help fix mistakes
- Good name: it's something snarky like "Stitch and Bitch"

We have a group on Facebook and one on Ravelry, and those bring in some folks, but we also get people who see us working and come back the next week with their own projects.

Our group is something I look forward to every week and it's brought me so much joy. Good luck in growing y'all's into something like that too. It's worth it. Keep trying! Put up posters in yarn stores! Find the weirdos knitting on the bus (me) and tell them!
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:07 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a place to post a few pictures?
it would help people see what kind of space it is and see people already attending and having fun.

Does the venue have any crafting specific advantages like large tables or equipment?
These could help get people out if they don't have access to space like this on their own.

Would it be too much to have a weekly mini lesson, themed nights or lecture followed my open crafting?
the holidays are coming up so holiday themed crafts or things like how to sell on etsy. These might get people to check in.

Is there a single person in charge of facebooking, taking RSVPs and answering questions?
I think it might help if you have someone who is a people person acting as host to help sell the event. A good host can also help settle in new people and make sure things are going well at the venue.

Reasons people might not come -
not knowing what it is - it needs a cool name
already having their own perfect craft space at home
not good at socializing with strangers
bad day of the week - are you competing against something your audience is interested in?
posted by oneear at 10:22 AM on October 12, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, fantabulous responses here—really just exactly what I was hoping for! We are on the right track with some of our ideas, but you’ve added many more that inspire us to action. If anyone is still reading the thread, here are answers to some of above questions:

Keeping in mind that this is a nonprofit… we don’t have $$ to offer weekly snacks or drinks, but people are welcome to bring their own, or stuff to share, which happens on occasion. While we like the idea of sometimes offering a cheap craft, we don’t think we can get away with charging anything initially, because cost is a deterrent. So we are faced with scrounging for materials to get started, which we can do. Note: A volunteer host comes for the full period every week, and then locks up.

The gallery space is definitely “a warm, well-lit space” (says the ads) and inviting with big tables, and we do have a neon OPEN sign and a sandwich board outside with the name on it: Tuesday Salon. We like the name—and ran it by LOTS of people beforehand to positive response—but recognize in hindsight that it may be unclear to people who are unfamiliar with any salon that doesn’t involve hair. All advertising describes it with supporting verbiage in various ways as I did in my original post, so its purpose is very clear. In any case, we have the name on all our print materials.

Unfortunately we cannot provide storage space for people, or childcare (space and cost, respectively). Many comments and questions are answered by stressing “small town”: nobody has parking problems (anywhere, ever), we have no public transport, no MeetUps (but we could start one!), one supply store, one movie screen, one radio station and (shockingly) two weekly newspapers. There is no competing group or regular Tuesday event. The only craft group in town that I’m aware of is for knitting, and I will contact them.

Lots and lots of good ideas, thank you!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:20 AM on October 12, 2011

Have you made any outreach gestures to any existing groups, like churches, Scouts, PTAs, etc.? Sometimes these groups might have ongoing projects but no place to actually work on them.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:58 PM on October 12, 2011

at the risk of appearing naive, I was a university English major and now have two graduate level degrees, and I would have no idea what you meant if I passed by a sign saying "Salon" outside the door. Now that I wikipedia it, I can totally see what you're going for, but I strongly suggest changing the name as I feel it is far too obscure to appeal to a broad section of society. You could use the name change as an opportunity for reinvention, i.e. "new name! new structure! come in for an open house and find out more!"

I also think you should definitely think about doing targeted nights as proposed above. People need to be told specifically what they should be doing in order to motivate them. That's why "attendees are welcome to bring food if they please" is much less likely to result in a potluck snack bar than "Tom, Mary, and Bob are going to be bringing snacks, fruits, and desserts this week." so, I would advocate for such events as "Knitting night - bring your knitting projects, and we will also have an assigned knitting project to get started for those who are not in the middle of their own project or want to try something new. Other crafts also welcome during this time!" The assigned project would be something basic that people could make with a variety of yarns and needles.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

As others have said, maybe be more specific with the evenings, like having lessons or even just a theme (or type of medium) to focus on. I'd also perhaps try having a local band or dj do some background music, and maybe documenting the events with pictures and such and putting them on a blog or facebook would generate a community and more interest. Change it up often, make sure people don't miss it because "it's the same as last week" or "I'll just go next time" by making each event unique.
posted by kitsuloukos at 5:46 PM on October 12, 2011

Oh, and I'm from Quebec, we also have depressing winters: make sure every event has a punchy name if you do themes or anything, and really make the space inviting from the outside, lots of lights and such, if there's music inside, perhaps if people can hear it a bit from outside (without it making the people inside deaf), and I was thinking, hit chocolate or coffee can be a cheap or nice freebie, and bonus points if people can smell when they open the door.
posted by kitsuloukos at 5:55 PM on October 12, 2011

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