Promoting a big exhibit for a little-known gallery.
I had the pleasure of working with Atelier 6000—a top-notch printmaking and book arts gallery in Bend, Oregon—on one of their biggest exhibits to date. A6, as the studio is affectionately called, secured a collection of 21 original M.C. Escher prints for a two-month run in April and May of 2014. Most of Escher’s original work is held by a foundation in Holland. It was very rare for this many prints to be in the hands of one private collector…and for that collector to generously share their art with the community.
With the proper exposure, this exhibit could put A6 on the map and give the studio a vehicle for educational outreach.
We had three main challenges in regards to publicity.
1) Low visibility.
Even though A6 opened in 2005 and had regularly participated in Bend’s monthly First Friday gallery walk, I constantly encountered people who had never heard of the studio. A6 is off the beaten track and a bit of a challenge to find, even for people who are looking for it.
2) Name recognition.
Most people know Escher’s art. They just don’t recognize his name.
As I began spreading word about the exhibit, I got a lot of blank looks. But if I started describing some of Escher’s typical imagery, the light bulb would come on. That told me most people know Escher. They just don’t remember his name. So even though the name should have been a big enough draw on its own, we needed to play it safe and use images too. Which made overcoming challenge #3 even more crucial.
3) Copyright issues.
Because the pieces in the A6 Escher exhibit were original prints, we had to tread carefully in regards to copyrights. The Escher Foundation in Holland owned the original blocks from which the prints were pulled and therefore had exclusive copyright on the printed images from those blocks. A6 had to apply to the Foundation for usage rights, and I had to detail the extent of use on the seven images we hoped to procure for publicity and marketing purposes. We were fortunate to get clearance to submit images as part of our news release, but A6 was not allowed to use Escher’s images on its website or social media pages.
Cast a wide net.
Given the rarity of the show and the popularity of the artist, I wanted to spread word of the exhibit beyond Central Oregon. There are Escher Enthusiasts in the world that would, theoretically, travel to see an exhibit of this caliber. (As it turned out, we had one enthusiast fly in from Italy for the opening!) So I wrote a press release and submitted it to newspapers in Oregon’s major cities. With the assistance of Kelly Herman, the release went out on the wire to the Pacific Northwest region.
Tend to the tourists.
On any given weekend, Bend has a sizable tourist population. I encouraged A6 to set special Saturday hours for April and May, so out-of-town visitors would be able to stop in and view the exhibit. A few days before the opening reception, I visited hotels in downtown and Old Mill, personally spoke to the desk staff about the show (so they would feel confident recommending it as an activity) and left stacks of exhibit cards on display for hotel guests. Finally, I designed special lawn signs for A6 to set out at key intersections to direct people looking for the Escher exhibit.
Blitz it locally.
We had a very limited budget for advertising, so I kept our ads small and simple to stretch our dollars, and focused on designing ads for The Bulletin and Cascade A&E. All local pubs received copies of the press release. The Bulletin chose the Escher Exhibit for the cover of their weekly events guide, GO! Magazine, the day the exhibit opened. The Source Weekly and Cascade A&E also ran stories.
I designed an exhibit poster which A6 volunteers took to popular eateries and venues in downtown and Old Mill, the two “hearts” of Bend. Posters and exhibit cards also went to the local college campuses.
At the suggestion of Kelly Herman, I pressed forward with the idea of a Media /VIP preview party. I drafted up a guest list of more than 100 people (government officials, exhibit sponsors, members of the media) and invited them to a special preview party. Even invitees that couldn’t attend would still get the thrill of hearing about the exhibit before everyone else and help us spread the word.
Publicity pays off
A6 welcomed 60 guests to the preview party, and Friday night’s public reception was the largest turnout the studio had ever experienced: 499 attendees. Our multi-pronged plan paid off.