When Arts on the Ave creator Barbara Anderson helped bring more artists outside, she learned valuable lessons about how to sell art right now.
Art on the Ave is a community-based project that I conceived during the first COVID lockdown in New York City. It was an instinctive reaction to the fact that so many local shops in my neighborhood were going out of business, leaving a sad trail of empty storefronts.
It occurred to me that we could at least put these spaces to use by providing a platform for new and under-represented artists. The idea was to brighten the neighborhood and activate the street, while giving under-represented artists a chance to exhibit their work.
A successful “gallery walk” on the Upper West Side led to a second in the West Village, then Downtown, and then Midtown. More exhibitions are coming.
What started as a simple idea seems to have captured people’s imaginations and we’re constantly being approached to stage new exhibitions and events.
Two Important Lessons I Learned
First is the value to artists of being seen—even in non-traditional ways and spaces. That’s been one of the most satisfying parts of the project for me.
Apart from revealing the real depth of talent and creativity within this city, I was struck by how enthusiastically the artists seized the opportunity to show their work, even outside the “comfortable” environment of a conventional gallery.
Let’s face it, traditional art galleries aren’t for everyone. They can feel stuffy, exclusive, or intimidating. Art on the Ave is all about taking art to the street.
We put art in people’s faces, without waiting for people to come to us. The response has been overwhelming.
Artists are selling work to people that would never describe themselves as “collectors”—people who just stumbled across a piece that spoke to them on their walk to work, a trip to the supermarket, or their daily jog.
Every exhibition is accompanied by programming and we’ve discovered a community of artists that work for all occasions.
Some are hugely charismatic speakers who will bring a piece to life by telling vivid stories about their inspiration. Some are amazing with kids, helping us to engage local schools.
These artists have been lively guests on our podcasts, tour guides on “gallery walks,” and welcoming hosts in our open studios. They’ve all gained valuable exposure through Art on the Ave, and many have sold multiple pieces.
There’s a more general lesson here for all artists and creatives. The market for your work doesn’t always know that it’s in the market for your work.
That’s the thing about art, it hits us on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. It’s the work we didn’t know we wanted until we saw it—and then we had to have it.
Those buyers will only ever find you by chance, because they’re not out there looking for you. So, you need to be out there where people can see you.
Art on the Ave has enabled artists to sell work overseas following news coverage we received. A piece called “We the People”—which clearly resonates in the US—also resonated in Belgium.
The artist received several commissions from French-speaking European countries where the newspaper article had been picked up. Humorously, when discussing the commission with one family, they asked for a “We the Family” piece instead.
Another piece of art in Lower Manhattan caught a person’s attention because it was called “At Heaven’s Gate,” and this person had just recently lost a loved one. Though the buyer couldn’t afford the piece, the artist was touched enough to arrange a sale in installments.
Just yesterday, we sold a piece called “Generational Trauma” that resonated with a Ukrainian couple.
I can tell dozens of stories like that because the reality is that most of the people who purchase a piece of art from Art on the Ave didn’t set out to do anything of the kind.
They are people who stumbled into something unexpected and meaningful enough to warrant a second look, a scan of the QR code and eventually a purchase.
Which brings me to a second important lesson. There’s an extraordinary appetite for creative, original, and inspirational work. In a world that’s become over-managed and ultra-commercialized, our neighborhoods can easily become homogenous and dull. Every place looks like anyplace.
Art’s Unique Beauty
Art is the antidote to that sense of “sameness.” Art is character and soul. It is joy, grace, and beauty. It’s different . . . unique.
That’s why we’ve received so many requests to expand our programing into new spaces and places. What started as the romantic idea of brightening one street, has since spread to areas across the city.
We’ve been to the top of the Freedom Tower, taken over a subway station, and “popped up” in a food court. People have asked us to put new work in health clubs, coffee shops, and hotels.
There’s an extraordinary appetite for putting art in the most unexpected places. You may not find collectors there, but there are people there—and they’re buying.