Sep 15, 2012

Open House Strategies

Guest Post by Duncan Holmes
"Visitors are usually hesitant with open house exhibitions, but everyone who has one on the Trail will welcome you with open arms and a cup of tea..." That's Hassan, improvising wildly at the beginning of his amazingly energetic stint as the official Art Trail blogger. 

The open house shows on the Art Trail are often my favourite, combining the actual exhibition with fascinating glimpses of other people's lives. It does help to have a space right by the front door, straight off the street, but you see all sorts of ingenious alternatives: the hedge or fence used as display space, studios that you get to through the garden, or simply doors kept open and a sign saying 'this way'. For a proper gallery feel you need to be able to walk in, dismiss the whole thing instantly and walk out without feeling awkward, if that what you think it merits.

This is the third year we've opened our house for a show on the Art Trail and a lot of the effort that goes into doing that, apart from the art, is to make sure it isn't like invading someone's house. The strategy is simple: take down the curtains so you can see inside, leave the front door wide open all day, put posters and at least one bit of art right in the entrance lobby where people can start looking before they even cross the threshold. And then, be available but clearly occupied doing something so people don't feel like they have to talk. Visitors nearly always do want to talk but not necessarily right away. So hopefully Hassan isn't entirely right... 

The first year, I tried moving out all the furniture, shifted everything around and eventually gave up and put most of it back where it was originally. So we've realised we can actually move very little and still free up enough wall space. Putting up pictures without ruining the decorations is a challenge. Blu-tack works reasonably and it does come off if you don't leave it too long, which was the mistake I made the first time: flakes of paint pulled off because we left everything up for several weeks and it went rock hard. In hot weather of course it tends to go soft and things fall off the walls. 

You're tied to the house all day, sit around playing music and writing emails, which is relaxing but means missing all the other shows. Sometimes nobody at all turns up for long periods, especially in the morning. My theory is that as soon as I slip out to see another show, leaving one of the family in charge, then masses of visitors turn up all at once. You do wonder who may turn up but it does tend to be bona fide art trailers. The Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign bike ride turned up last Sunday and it was standing room only, briefly, as 18 cyclists parked their bikes and piled inside. A bunch of local kids came in, youngsters with a teenage boy in charge, but he's a neighbour and they looked at the pictures, asked questions and spotted the street outside their school, all very polite. That's been one of the pleasures of showing photos of Walthamstow, having people come in and debate about recognising things.

Venue 11 - Walthamstow in Perspective is open on Sunday, the last day of the Art Trail.

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