M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Marketing Art for Greater Appreciation

Dallas Museum of Art

Frederic E. Church's painting The Icebergs, 1861, oil, 64 x 112,
Collection the Dallas Museum of Art.

Young museum visitors creating art with recycled materials.

One of the contemporary art galleries at the DMA

The outdoor sculpture display at the Nasher Sculpture Center

There are a number of books, videos, online courses, blogs, e-newsletters, and websites aimed at helping artists do a better job of marketing their artwork. For example, Clinton Watson has a growing online service called www.FineArtViews.com and a companion site; and Eric Rhoads, a dedicated plein air painter and the publisher, provides advice to artists through his online subscription service, www.artistadvocatemagazine.com. Many of the recommendations offered through these free and paid services is similar to the kinds of professional marketing advice given to museum directors, publishers, salespeople, entrepreneurs, and marketing executives. That’s because the best practices that have proven to be effective in one field can often be applied to another.

I had a chance to consider the universality of that kind of marketing advice during a recent trip to Dallas, Texas. I was invited by the Sheraton Dallas Hotel (www.sheratondallashotel.com) and Geiger & Associates to meet with officials from a number of cultural organizations located in the city’s arts district that is within easy walking distance of the hotel. I was especially interested in visiting the Dallas Museum of Art (www.dm-art.org) where director Bonnie Pitman has transformed the once staid institution into an active, accessible, and dynamic museum of both historic and contemporary art. Over the past 15 years, Pitman and her staff conducted extensive market research to determine who visited the museum, what was their level of engagement, how did they gain information about the works of art, and how that audience might be expanded and better served. The information gained helped the DMA change its physical layout, the range of exhibitions and services provided, and the means by which visitors enjoy and learn from the changing presentations. Pitman recently summarized her marketing advice in a book titled Ignite the Power of Art:Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museum Experiences (Yale University Press).

As I walked through the museum, I noticed visitors listening to audio programs on their own iPhones or rented audio devices, children creating their own artwork from recycled materials, docents offering guided tours of the galleries, teenagers walking through galleries filled with contemporary art, a birthday party being held in the café, and dozens of visitors reviewing a display of artwork by local schoolchildren. The museum was crowded with people who were having fun, learning about art, and spending time in downtown Dallas. There was a similar level of activity in the Nasher Sculpture Center (www.nashersculpturecenter.org) and the Crow Collection of Asian Art located a half-block from the DMA.

Creating art and visiting museums was once considered activities reserved for a small group of eryodite, wealthy, and sophisticated individuals; and artists of those periods served popes, kings, aristocrats, and noblemen. Fortunately for us, that era has ended. But the challenge now facing painters, gallery owners, and museum officials is to learn how to connect artwork to an audience of people interested in viewing, buying, and displaying art. The answer is to use research to gain a better understanding of the audience and to use solid marketing tools to deliver valued content to that audience. Does that mean artists should create what the public expects? Absolutely not. What it does suggest is that once artists have created pieces that matter to them, they need to gauge who might respond positively to the work and how those people can be made aware of the works availability.


  1. As a serious art museum junkie, I am completely in favor of museums trying almost anything to interest new people to visit. Something that worries me though is watching museum admission fees creeping upwards. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for example now charges $20. Yes, that museum is a gem, but that prices it out of an awful lot of people's budgets.

  2. Was there a few years back. Enjoyed the art.