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As Wimbledon Art Fair opens online, Emily Robson explores the ways in which studios can continue to help artists find a market for their work.

two women flicking through painting canvasses in a studio or shop setting
Wimbledon Art Fair – the people may be in lockdown, but they can come to the Fair online

Opting for a career as an artist is not an easy choice to make at the best of times. Then throw a nationwide lockdown into the mix, which means all galleries, fairs and other outlets where you used to sell your work are shut down, and at first glance it can seem like an impossible situation. As an organisation that exists to support artists there is essentially only one option in these times and that is to adapt and look for alternative ways to promote and sell.

Wimbledon Art Studios is a space which supports over 200 artists. It could have been a devastating blow to our artist community when we had to take the necessary decision, like many others, to cancel our spring fair this May. It would have been the first time in 20 years the fair had not gone ahead. But we were determined not to let this happen and made what is a relatively simple decision to move the event online.

Creating opportunities

The internet will be the lifeline for our creatives, helping them to get through this period of isolation. Many interesting things are happening, for example, private views have been taking place in artists’ homes on live video streams. These provide an opportunity for the public to chat to the artist and ask questions – no different to when you are physically in the same space. Even the big galleries and theatres are embracing shows online.

Grasping the power of social media to drive success is another must for continued artist interaction and promotion. Now is the time to jump on the bandwagon as there is a surge of innovation in its use for the arts. Many galleries are giving artists the opportunity to enhance their visibility through their Instagram accounts. This provides a stage that can be seen by many, encouraging live workshops and artist talks to keep the interest alive. Instagram is also being used by a growing community of artists who are helping each other by taking up the #artistsupportpledge, coming together to sell work and pledging to then buy a piece once a target amount has been reached through their individual sales. Social media use is the future. It won’t end when the Covid-19 lockdown finishes, but will continue to grow and flourish, so don't be left behind.

Low-cost and risk-free

To maintain a community of artists, you need to help, not only by providing these types of opportunity, but also by making them financially viable or risk-free. It’s vital to keep costs down for your participants and accept that, while budgets are so limited, it may not be possible for them to outlay money in advance.

Hosting events online is a really cost-effective way of getting art out there. There doesn’t have to be a huge cost involved, if any, so no expense has to be passed on to those taking part. We have managed to keep Wimbledon Art Fair online free for all who participate, and we’re not taking commission for any works sold. Other savings you have made as a business can also be passed on to the artists, whether it be through a reduction in show fees, rents, or anywhere else needed.

During these times it seems more important than ever to appreciate how art can be therapy. Isolation can lead to feeling down or depressed, so encouraging everyone to continue creating – not only artists but also people at home, most of whom now have a lot of spare time – can really help fight against negative thoughts. This is where online workshops are useful, as the art community can create a sense of purpose for producing work. The lockdown situation can be a source of inspiration for using whatever resources are available to create work that directly reflects an aspect of our current reality. I have seen people using online platforms to reach out to key workers to paint or draw them, and these finished works are both a homage to the workers and a message of positivity – a reminder of how great people can be during tough times.

‘How can I help’?

We cannot sit back and wait until the lockdown is lifted in the hope that everything will return to exactly how it was before Covid-19 struck. Unless we are flexible in responding to what is happening, we will be doing a massive disservice to the arts world. Now more than ever, artists need us to be innovative, and they need help to sustain their creativity.

Organisations must take a step back and think ‘how can I help’ and ‘what tools can I use to do this’. By exploring online options, you can open yourself and your organisation up to a much wider audience, tapping into the exciting and diverse ways in which others are now using this media alongside constantly evolving platforms.

The world wide web is exactly that. Someone on the other side of the world, who in other circumstances would not be able to attend a show, can now view art work, attend workshops and chat to the artists just as if they were there with them. A real positive from all this will hopefully be that we will come out the other side of lockdown having been exposed to a range of new and exciting ways to explore art that we can take forward into the future.

Emily Robson is Studio Manager at Wimbledon Art Studios.
Wimbledon Art Fair Online takes place from 14 to 17 May 2020.

Link to Author(s): 
Emily Robson