Student art sales are a great way to help support yourself while you’re working toward your MFA. Not only will you earn some extra cash, but you’ll also get your name out into your local community and better understand concepts of pricing, marketing and production. You’ll begin to see what sells and you’ll learn more about your customers and how to appeal to them. Even if you’re not planning to go into retail or production work, creating this type of work is an opportunity to improve your technical skills, explore the commercial side of art and help build a greater community that understands and appreciates art – something that benefits all of us.
If your discipline or area does not yet have an organization that sells student work, you can be the one to start it up! Universities offer students the opportunity to create their own student organizations – search your school’s website to find out how. It’s usually free and requires minimal information such as officer names, a mission statement and a minimum start-up membership. Gather your classmates and make it happen! It can be within your specific discipline (ceramics, glass, printmaking, etc.) or more general (crafts disciplines, all art, etc.). You’ll also need a bank account for your organization and a credit card reader if you plan to accept credit card payments (a great way to increase sales!).
For example, I am a part of the KSU Jewelry/Metals Co-op. Our group includes undergraduate and graduate students and has officers such as president, treasurer, PR and secretary. A portion of our sales go back to the Co-op and we vote to use those proceeds toward needs for the studio, such as books for our library, or for student travel, such as to this year’s SNAG conference in Toronto. The students keep the other portion of their sales as profit. In order to encourage participation in the running of the sale, we have it set up so that those who do not help out split sales 50/50 and those who do help out split sales 75/25. It’s a great incentive to make sure we have enough people on duty.
To set up your sale, find a venue at your university and contact the appropriate department well ahead of time to reserve the space. Create a sign-up list for members to cover shifts at the sale, including set-up and break-down. Decide on how you will display the work. Ours is very simple – cloth table coverings, wood boxes to hold the jewelry and a banner with our organization name. The Co-op purchases additional displays that we share as well as jewelry boxes in bulk that members buy at the reduced price.
To advertise, we use social media, flyers posted on campus and our university’s website and newspaper. You can also look to low-cost advertising opportunities within your community to drum up business. In time you might decide to bring your sale to other venues or to participate in outside events. For example, our Co-op participated in a holiday sale at the Akron Art Museum last December and this summer we will have a booth in the Kent Art and Wine Festival. These events do the advertising for you and bring in a larger audience.
It’s very important to have a system to keep track of inventory and sales. We have each student label their pieces with initials and a number. Mine, for example, would read “JMT01, JMT02,” etc. Then the student fills out and turns in a corresponding inventory sheet that looks like this:
The Co-op then keeps a Daily Sales Inventory Sheet for all participants (in alphabetical order) for each day of the sale. As sales are made, they are marked as “sold” on the individual’s inventory sheet (above) and then the inventory number and price are recorded on the Daily Sales. At the end of each sale day, the treasurer totals all of the sales and ensures that our cash box, checks and credit card charges match up. After the semester’s sales have finished, the work is inventoried out and the treasurer calculates and writes checks to the sellers.
I would love to hear from readers on this one! How does your student organization run sales? Do you have any tips for advertising, structure, display or special events? What have you found to be successful or not so successful? Thanks for your input!