First Thursday’s sees gallery’s in East London open their doors to showcase their art to the public in a private view style event. It’s a fantastic example of a naturally occurring community event, with local businesses and groups coming together to drive visitors to the locality. There’s a great buzz to the area and it’s definitely worth checking out.
But, as I made my way through the area I noticed that some galleries were seething with people, others a couple of streets away were all but empty and had a rather uncomfortable silence upon them. Of course being an events organiser I was considering this issue. It struck me that the art in both was of a comparable quality; by equally well-known artists. The locations were both good; in fact each were easy to find. Especially given they’ve both been equally publicised.
So what made one busy and the other not? Well, it was because they hadn’t considered a couple of the basics that can really make a difference. So here’s my top five things to think about when looking to keep people engaged in your event.
Make sure people know why they are there
For an art gallery this may mean giving context to the work at the door. If it’s very serious in tone it’s good to let people know, they can adjust their thinking before they go in and be much happier in the space. It may mean some people decide not to go in, but that’s ok. It’s better to have 20 people passionate about what they are seeing then 100 who don’t understand it.
Don’t underestimate the power of music
It’s the ultimate backdrop. For an art gallery it can give context to the work on display, especially on a night were you may be competing with events that are lighter in tone. It’s also a great way to foster conversations as people don’t feel overwhelmed by the silences and find it much easier to strike up a word or two with a fellow art viewer.
Play the good host, give them a drink or a bite to eat, or better still both
I would say that drinks are an absolute essential at a gallery opening. If there are none, people will leave very quickly. Oh and here’s a handy side-tip, make people have to walk quite far to get the free drink, it makes them less self conscious in the space, gives you a chance to distribute them throughout and ensure that you don’t appear to full to quickly. It’s also why some nightclubs have a bar or food-service beyond the dance-floor it makes people less afraid to start dancing by breaking them of that psychological fear of it.
Be social and talk to people
For an art gallery on First Thursday I’d look to make the event more inclusive, feature some of the work online, get opinions etc. Of course whatever your event its worthwhile asking yourself how would people like to interact with it? Do they want a say in the content, the opportunity to network, to showcase themselves or engage with key influencers. You ask these people all the time at the event what they want are they enjoying it etc. But asking in the build-up to the event on your social platforms sends out a great message that you care and when people feel they are being listened to they tend to feel warmer to a brand.
Think about their (and your) experience
One of the galleries had a simple way to control the crowd. They closed their toilet for that night. It seems like bad customer service. But with hundreds of people looking to enjoy a cheap night, see some art and have drinks with friends in galleries that were vibe-y it was perfect. Of course if no one can get in because it’s too full then the art gallery loses out by not having the footfall, which was their rationale for being part of First Thursday’s. So, close the toilet and it means you have a vibe-y space with a crowd that flows in and out as at least someone in each group will need to spend a penny. More people see the art, if they like it they’ll come back to purchase or check it out again.