Art Show - a COVID success story

Art show goes from surviving to thriving

A COVID-19 success story

by Anne Stephenson - Connected Accountants Director and NZ Art Show Board Chair

The emerging pressure of COVID-19

In February 2020, with planning for the June 2020 art show in full swing, news about the Covid-19 pandemic overseas started becoming more prevalent. In February, the Board and management of the Art Show started discussing what Plan B might look like, so that we could make decisions quickly. 

The annual Art Show has been running since 2004, and is a major source of income for new and emerging artists, many of whom do not have gallery representation.  It provides an opportunity for emerging artists to talk to the buying public and do the best sort of market research possible. The weekend of the show attracts around 10,000 people to the TSB Arena where they can choose from over 3,000 artworks for sale and talk to the artists about their work.  Covid-19 was clearly going to have a huge impact on the success of the show, not just from a health and safety perspective but also the ability to bring together both the artists and the buying public. 

The NZ Art Show team commences its planning process in August, and a lot of costs are incurred in the early part of the new year.  The majority of the income is earned in the weekend of the show through sponsorship, friends, ticket sales and commissions on sales.  While many of the costs are related to running the show, there are also fixed costs that would have to be met so how would those be met if we couldn’t earn any income in a year?

Creative solutions and agile responses

Before the government announced the cancellation of all indoor gatherings on 19 March, the art show had already worked through cashflow forecasts of a couple of scenarios, considered how fixed costs could be reduced and what sort of financing was needed to carry the show over and when it would be needed.

Equally important was the mitigating strategy – in this case going online.  Doing an online show would mean that the show could continue to support the artists and connect them to the buying public.  The cost to the artists was purposely set at a low level, and securing financial support from our existing sponsors was critical.  By the time NZ went into lockdown on 25 March, we’d cancelled the physical show and the team were working furiously on getting the online show up and running and obtaining commitment from sponsors and artists alike.

The NZ Art Show - from your own home

The online show was launched in early May and was a real success – around 200 artists were showcased on the site, and the online gallery was launched in May. The artists were grateful for the opportunity to show their work, the NZ Art Show visitors were appreciative for the opportunity to view and purchase artwork, and the NZ Art Show were able to continue their support of NZ art. Over 800 artworks were sold via the online gallery, proving that there was still a thirst for NZ art.

Taking the lessons of 2020 into 2021 planning

For the 2021 show, there was a fair amount of thought given to keeping within cash budgets – things like getting sponsorship in a bit earlier than usual and deferring payment for some of the big costs for a while.  We also did some things a little differently – instead of having a launch for friends and sponsors in April/May, we instead had a show preview for our financial supporters.  We made the decision to provide an exclusive opportunity to our high valued clients and at the same time give the NZ Art Show every opportunity to sell more art work.

Thriving in the pandemic 

We were a bit nervous when we found out that Jervois Quay would be closed for major roadworks over the show weekend and somewhat concerned that it might impact on attendance numbers.  We need not have been so worried – the 2021 show was a huge success!  Gala night was a sell-out event, we even had to close Friends memberships because we could not provide any more gala night tickets.  2021 was also the first year when the show hosted the Richard T Nelson Sculpture Awards and for some this was the highlight of the show.  The art show has been selling in excess of $1M in artworks each year since 2011, so it was pleasing to hit the $2M milestone in 2021.  That also meant that close to 50 artists achieved more than $20,000 in sales– that’s a significant proportion of their annual income.

Major learnings from the experience

One year on, the art show is already looking forward to celebrating our 20th anniversary next year.  There is no doubt that 2020 was a challenging year and the major learnings we’ve taken from the experience are:

  • A talented and engaged team can work miracles when they have to.
  • Cashflow is the most important thing in a time of crisis.
  • The ability to think creatively will uncover different opportunities
  • Having a plan and being able to act quickly and decisively is huge
  • Maintaining connections with friends and sponsors and keeping them informed pays dividends.
  • It’s possible to provide the same (or more) value to your supporters more cheaply
  • Updating and refreshing your offerings should be an annual challenge

Connected Accountants is proud to have been associated with the NZ Art Show since 2002 and is looking forward to sponsoring the 20th show in June 2022.

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