by Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein
BOSTON – (Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein were the featured artists in artscope magazine’s September/October 2011 issue; two coinciding solo shows: “Donna Dodson: Flock Together” and “Andy Moerlein: Avian Language” are currently on view at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Street, Boston through February 5. In this article, they share and document the process in which they promoted and marketed the exhibition with an eye towards laying down the groundwork for future partnerships, exhibitions and sales.)
Artists Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein are building a market for their work despite the slow economy. They are proving that they can succeed in the creative market by applying the tried and true methods of commercial enterprise: build name recognition, seek clients outside the familiar gallery setting, keep the attention of their established collector base, look for overseas opportunities, and encourage brand loyalty.
For the past two years, the artists have been showing their work at Gallery Ehva in Provincetown, Mass. Dodson already had an established reputation in this vital arts community, but Moerlein was a newcomer on the scene. To assure the newly established gallery was frequented by the important art-buying eyes on the Cape, gallery director Ewa Nogiec invited Moerlein to install several of his large outdoor sculptures in front of the gallery. These notable marks on the roadside art scene drew attention and sales.
Both artists recognized the value of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to the culture of the community and became members, adding their work to its annual shows and contributing to fundraisers. To enrich her familiarity with the collector base on the Cape that frequented Gallery Ehva, Dodson took regular trips south from her home in Jamaica Plain for receptions and networking opportunities. She made over a dozen trips to meet interested people, be with peer artists and contribute socially to gallery events. Print ads by Dodson and Moerlein increased foot traffic inside the gallery. Each of these active investments contributed to the artist’s recognition in the community and generated an interest in their work.
Both artists have online blogs and maintain extensive email networks and actively seek out interesting community leaders and engage them in conversations about art. Dodson is a connector for Boston World Partnerships and Moerlein created a large-scale art installation as part of the Concord (New Hampshire) Chamber of Commerce dinner. A fan of her work, businessman and designer Joseph Knight, created a line of jewelry based on Dodson’s elephant carvings. This relationship has led to social and exhibition opportunities in the fashion centers of major cities. Exposure to a nontraditional art clientele has proven to be an education for both the artists and fashion enthusiasts.
Dodson and Moerlein sought opportunities overseas and were invited to a sculpture residency in Verbier, Switzerland. The trip was an exceptional opportunity to experience how a small but dynamic mountain village invested in art. Community visionaries recognized that internationally acclaimed artists building sculptures in the heart of downtown could serve as an economic engine to awaken a quiet early summer season. This region of the Alps is known as a destination for alpine skiing, trekking and the renowned Verbier Music Festival. The residency is seen as a cultural draw for the quiet early summer months, as well as an all-season tourist attraction. This vision has resulted in the world’s highest mountain sculpture park.
Upon their return from Switzerland, Dodson and Moerlein had a rich body of experiences to share with other artists, their collectors and curious curators. They invited eight artists who had traveled to make art in similar settings to a panel discussion on international residencies and symposia. The aim was not only to build a deeper dialogue about art as an economic and business catalyst, but also to connect diverse art interests in one room. Attendees included a representative from the state arts council, board members from a variety of nonprofit arts organizations, educators and business leaders. In a quiet economy, this diverse population of interests needs to gather and share information on how the arts can prove to be a catalyst for community growth. Moerlein and Dodson felt the outreach kept their international activities on the radar of people in the community who could most impact future opportunities.
Currently Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein each have solo shows at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Avenue. As a cooperative gallery, each artist plans his or her shows and publicity with only limited structural support. A single part time gallery employee helps with ideas and address lists, gallery members share in updating the gallery web site and exhibition press dissemination, but individual artists are tasked with making their show as success.
In the lead up to this show, the artists have put together an ambitious series of incentives aimed at reaching a deep audience. To meet their business goals, Dodson and Moerlein presented a teaser exhibit at Provincetown’s Gallery Ehva last summer. They advertised on the Cape as well as the broader New England art market covered by Artscope Magazine. This exposure caught the attention of art critic Elizabeth Michelman, who wrote an article about the couple’s solo reputations and collaborative works in the September/October 2010 artscope.
By fall there was good attention given to their upcoming shows. Their goal was, and is, to draw a crowd familiar with their work out by assuring that they are aware of the shows and curious about the new body of work they’ve spent the past two years creating. In a debut show, sales are very important to growing the reputation of an artist such as Moerlein whereas for Dodson, repeat sales on the heels of a successful first show solidify the market value of the new work.
A Facebook presence was key to their plan as the artist community is active online. Images of their work-in-progress drew lively commentary that contributed to the ideas the artists were developing. These social network contacts often grew into dialogue and friendships. Both artists also use email notices to keep a large contact base informed of their concepts and works-in-progress.
Moerlein’s home studio in Bow, New Hampshire draws an audience from a very different network than the one Dodson has cultivated in Jamaica Plain, Mass. To draw their fan base close in the lead up to the show, the artists began a series of dinners and brunches. As with the audience of their panel discussion, the invited guests were selected from a diverse spectrum of community leaders. Increased sales were not a direct goal of these social events. Increased dialogue within these often isolated studio practices was important to the artists as they trusted that using a business model of increased visibility would have increased yield. The reputations exposed by their panel discussion, news articles and several visible commissions allowed the artists to send invitations to well established artists, important museum curators, busy collectors and generate a generous outpouring of well designed social events. Over 75 dynamic arts-invested community leaders, most of who met together for the first time, attended the six meals.
At one of these gatherings, a bank president suggested that he would like to organize an event in the gallery, featuring the artists. He offered to bring notable clients from his community if Moerlein and Dodson could bring an interesting group of fellow sculptors for an exciting mixer. This event is an unexpected consequence of the pre-show social gatherings.
When the artists set up their work in the Boston Sculptors Gallery, they were satisfied that they had laid the solid foundation for a successful show. Their preparation included sending the usual press releases to all the important news venues, but also the tools of good business:
1. Name recognition: Promoted through a preview show, ads and articles in news venues, online blogs and a strong Facebook presence.
2. Seek clients outside the familiar gallery setting: Invite creative arts board members to talks and meals. Travel overseas and build friendships/creative communities. Identify arts-friendly business people and engage their interest and enthusiasm. Attend events such a fashion previews so they can learn from a similar, yet unconnected business model.
3. Build brand loyalty: The dinners and brunches were well attended by collectors who owned the artists’ work and by curators who had featured the artists in shows or collections.
4.Create a buzz: The artists understood that in the current economic climate, an exciting preview and full frontal presence on social media are required to leverage reluctant investors. Their email lists are broadly selected and their postcards were mailed to an audience that has been chosen for reputation growth as well as future cultivation.
Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein have made a determined effort to create a show that is not just an opportunity to present their work, but is also a vehicle for success beyond the sculpture shown. They are inspired to awaken a fan base that will take notice and grow with them as they build a career in a most unstructured creative market during an unsettled economic present.