Collaborative Consumption

Recently, Gary and I received an e-mail from a friend and I thought it would make a great topic for an ArtsQuest blog. I first must clarify that our friend had nothing but good intentions when she presented us with her inquiry and we appreciate that because it reminds us of what a lovely person she is. Before I responded back to her, I wondered how many other people in business and artists are thinking the same way and this prompted me to want to write about it to a larger audience.

Have you ever wandered into an independent coffee shop or a doctor’s office for example and noticed the artwork hanging on the walls? You may or you may not have. Just from personal observation when I visited one of these places I surmised that most people aren’t conscious of their surroundings, their bodies may be present but their mind and much of their focus is elsewhere and the beauty of the artwork goes silently undetected. Even if we do notice a piece hanging on the wall we aren’t there to buy art, we are there to meet friends or business associates for coffee or for an appointment of some sort. I suspect when people want to buy art that is hanging or displayed somewhere they generally go to a gallery or they look online.

Many business owners think they are doing the artist a favour by displaying their art on their establishment walls but the end result is not necessarily representative of a mutual benefit. At the same time, the artist may be thinking that any exposure is better than nothing. If you are a business owner who hangs art on consignment the benefit to you is two fold; not having empty walls and no financial expense. The art may get noticed by a passing glance and maybe a brief comment but my guess is the odds on an actual sale are pretty low.

The Naked Leaf tea canister with artwork by Maarten Vanden Abeele

The idea of being mutually beneficial comes from a concept known as collaborative consumption and the best example I am familiar with is a small independent tea vendor in Calgary, Alberta called The Naked Leaf. Owner Jonathan Kane has an agreement with several local artists in Calgary which includes outfitting tea canisters with labels that have images of the artwork from the artists he works with. He also has some of their work for sale in his store and in a three way collaboration with Jonathan, a local gallery and the artists, together they arrange an event that highlights the art, the tea and the gallery.

I understand that many small businesses are keeping costs as low as possible so I have a couple of suggestions that might be helpful and if you are the artist don’t feel like you can’t present some ideas of your own so both of you can benefit.

1. Ask the business owner/artist if they would consider leasing the art piece or a rent to own scenario. In turn, the artist could negotiate with the business owner a commission if the art piece sells.

2. If your business is a place where people gather for social reasons arrange to have a showing for a particular artist and advertise the event so people will come with art in mind; this will be a good draw for customers for your business and the artist is highlighted with a better opportunity for sales.

3. Have an open house for invited guests to highlight your business and the artists who are exhibiting in your business.