Learn & Avoid These Arts Marketing Pet Peeves:

Sage Advice from Expert Arts Marketers on What Not To Do as an Entrepreneur in the Arts

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Earlier this year, I joined expert arts marketers PennyMaria Jackson (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) and Shawn Choi (Flushing Town Hall) to speak at New York Foundation for the Arts.

NYFA’s Marketing Panel for their Artist as Entrepreneur program was moderated by Mara Vlatkovic (Young Professionals in the Arts + The Juilliard School) and touched on topics ranging from websites to email marketing to imagery to pitching to the press.

What I love about speaking on panels like these is that I end up re-engaging with the basics right alongside the participants. It’s like taking a basic barre – no matter how advanced you’ve become in ballet, focusing on the foundation of your practice will forever be essential to your progress. It’s the same if you become more and more advanced in, say, Google Analytics. No matter how robust your data, you still need to constantly revisit why you’re tracking it in the first place.

I love the buzz of a room full of artists and creatives fully invested in improving their marketing, thinking like entrepreneurs as well as artists — not to mention, sitting on a panel with other brilliant experts by my side.

One of my favorite questions from moderator Mara was: “What are some of your marketing pet peeves?”

#1. You don’t have compelling visuals at the center of your marketing plan

Our cultural obsession with our many devices has trained us to scan for information. And not to read. (Yes, it breaks my heart, too.)

This is why having dynamic visuals in your arsenal (like the photo of the cast of one of my New York dance projects by Christopher Duggan above!)  is SO important. “Thumb-stopping imagery” will stop people from mindlessly scrolling past your post on social media. It can break up your copy so people can better absorb the information or immediately understand what you have to offer.

And lucky for artists!! Because in the arts world, visuals are our business. We are very good at taking complex information, translating it into visual form and making it digestible for an audience. We make the awesome photos & video game look easy.

Even if you don’t have gorgeous photographs of your work, you can still get creative. I follow several poets on Instagram. They work in a text-based medium – which could be boring on such a visual platform. But these are artists, so they can put their creativity to work.

Visualize a few lines of poetry, typed out on an old typewriter. Leave the paper in the typewriter and take a photo of it next to a vase of spring flowers. Instagram success. What about a handwritten poem in beautiful calligraphy, crumpled up into a ball and then smoothed out again? Picture an image of the paper poem discarded on the street. Again, words in a visual medium. Thumb-stopping photo with layered metaphor to boot.

Artists know how to instantly transform their work into a visual experience. So don’t be lazy – make us look at you!

#2. Your Google results are super out-of-date

If we Google your name to learn more about your paintings, and the first thing that comes up is your past life as a figure skater, we will think we were mistaken and you are not actually on exhibit in Chelsea this season.

It’s really important to be on top of your SEO (search engine optimization) game – and our SEM (search engine marketing, aka Google AdWords) game if you have the grant money or the funds! Relevant content and up-to-date information at first search builds credibility.

Great SEO and SEM techniques also give you more control over the information that’s available about you online. If your stuff is showing up on the first page, instead of that one bad review from your gallery showing eight years ago, that’s going to do wonders for our opinion of your work. ?

#3. Your website is atrocious and unusable on mobile

Please listen to me on this one, artists. We live in a mobile-first world.

If your website is not optimized for small screens, people will not stay there. They will get frustrated and they will leave. This will impact ticket sales, donations and audience retention – all the things we as artists are working so hard to increase!

Also, if you’re using social media to promote your work (which I bet/hope you are), people are looking at that on their phones almost 80% of the time. If you send them to your website for more information from Facebook or Instagram – you had better make sure that people can easily find and read that information.

Pinch & zoom? No, thank you. Next!

#4. You disappear from our lives unless you have an upcoming show and event

It’s easy to be active on email and social media when you have upcoming events to shout about.

But arts marketing isn’t all about you. It’s about sharing the joy and beauty and collaboration and community in art-making.

If the only thing that you communicate about is something that you’re trying to sell, it can and will alienate your audiences. Providing insight into your behind-the-scenes process is so important to telling your story and keeping people engaged with what makes you unique. It’s what connects fans to you and your work and what makes them want to invest in its future. (Cha-ching! A more solid foundation for fundraising!)

I was really grateful to be a part of NYFA’s panel. Every time I participate in something like this, I am energized by the beauty and power in the arts world and feel called to help even more artists and creatives share their work clearly, elegantly and efficiently. Art is stirring and vital. It connects us more deeply to our feelings and our relationships and ourselves.

Thank you, PennyMaria, for bringing up and defining the idea of “thumb-stopping” visuals. And Shawn – your mini-lecture on boring head shots to promote shows was much appreciated! It was a pleasure to join both of you for this panel. I have a lot of respect for your work, your generosity and your clarity of instruction to other artists in the room.

I think I speak for the entire panel when I say that artists have the potential to be the best marketers — as long as they continue to build a foundation of sound marketing strategy and avoid these pet peeves!


If you don’t know who your ideal client, customer or audience member is, chances are you’re wasting every minute you spend on social media, emails and more.

That’s why we created a worksheet to help you better understand and locate your ideal audience for every service or product or event you have. Totally free to use again and again!

    I strategize, consult and manage digital marketing and communications for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. I’m based in Brooklyn, because I have a thing for exposed brick, cozy, local coffee shops and the can’t stop, won’t stop energy of New York.

    Because I work with small companies, I get the chance to really know my clients – what makes them tick and how and why they should stand out in a crowded marketplace. A lot of my clients have a smaller staff, a limited budget and are already stretched thin for time. This leads us to tailor marketing strategies and solutions to each company’s unique needs and actual capacity.

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