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How to Create a Meaningful Virtual Experience

I've been spending a whole lot of time lately thinking about the need to make online or virtual experiences that area both interesting, and that gives the viewer an event comparable to what they would experience if visiting my studio in person.

Watching people over the years, it's clear to me that people come by the studio on "open days" for more than a burning desire to buy my art. They come for some sort of unique shopping experience, to hang out with other artsy types, and to have the chance to meet and chat with the artist. If they fall in love with a painting and buy it, that process is secondary to that initial experience.

If that's true, then it stands to reason that if I am going to try to recreate some sort of virtual "open day" online, I have to offer an approximation of those experiences. But how in the world do I do that?

I mentioned in a prior blog that the corporate world and higher education have been doing this sort of thing for years, and the evidence is that these virtual conferences, conventions, and trade fairs work well for them. They don't necessarily replace the need for "in person" events, but virtual experiences go a long way to compliment and expand real life meetings to a much wider audience, over a much longer period of time.

There are all sorts of really sophisticated software solutions out there for that level of clientele, but I know I can't afford anything like that. I ran across one product while researching this blog post that had a budget version of their package for $25,000. And that was without the bells and whistles. More power to them. For that level of event planning, I'm sure it's a bargain.

What I'm talking about though is something available to say, an emerging artist who is trying to create a virtual art opening for an exhibition of his/her work, during a pandemic shutdown. Hypothetically, of course. And let's say this artist doesn't have any money, but loads of free time at the moment... Equally hypothetical.

Ok, so let's brainstorm here. Knowing what we know about what happens at an art event like a gallery opening, and knowing too what our clients are looking for at an event such as this, what can I do?

I have a WIX webpage now, and I can spin extra pages off of that website, So I'm going to create a new tab with the name of my exhibition, "Home for the Covidays" (Lame, I know).

When someone clicks on that tab, they will be taken to a splash-page that serves as the lobby of my online gallery. There is a box there for them to "sign the guestbook", which allows me to harvest their email address (and I can send them a lovely thank you note for attending after the show). There is also a written statement of the purpose of the show, and perhaps a short video of me welcoming them.

Then they could see some buttons. One links to information about me, the artist, with a healthy biography, photos of me painting, perhaps my resume, photos from prior shows, just lovely stuff that lets them get to know a little about me. Perhaps even a short video of me talking about my artist statement, with me speaking directly to the camera, making a connection with the viewer.

Another button will take viewers to the actual images in the show. Each photo will have title, size, description of my inspiration or how it fits into the overall story of the exhibition. Clicking on that image could take them directly to the e-commerce section of my website where they can purchase the item right then and there. There could also be a video tour of the pictures as they are hung for the show, if I'm also having a real life exhibition at the same time.

Another button may be for live events (that I record and place there after the live event is over). I can include a schedule of when I will appear online live for Q&A, for an author talk, or get someone smart, wearing all black, to interview me. They can catch the live feed, or i can have a pre-recorded presentation, and give my full attention to managing a live chat feed during the presentation. That way I'm answering their questions live, even though the speech is recorded. The idea here is to give them direct access to me, so that a relationship can be built. I can host other live events too, including a scheduled give-away, or an online auction... but I need to remember to record everything for those who miss the actual online event.

There might also be a button that takes viewers to a review page, or a poll, so that they can record their wonderful praise about me and my work. I'll have the ability to approve any content there before it's posted, but I can take advantage of the opportunity for people to say how wonderful I am. People do tend to read short reviews, and count stars.

 Guys, all of this is really not that hard to do. If you don't have a website that you can easily update, you can always set something up on a cheap website provider, and just link it to your existing website. You could also just give out a link to the page in your advertising. If you've got all the moving pieces organized, you could set this up in half a day. Then you could leave it there for people to visit for months, or longer. Of course, you're still going to need to market the crap out of the virtual event, but you've got loads of ways to do that as well.

If you really don't have the expertise to do any of this. Consider hiring it out. We held a one night exhibition/reception earlier this year, and it cost us $5,000 for the evening. You can get a college kid, a relative, or even a virtual assistant online to set you up for a fraction of what it would cost to mount a live event.

Don't let this awful period take you "off the boil". If you're like me, you have some time to devote to this kind of promotion, and you likely have some new content that you could curate into a show. We know that virtual exhibitions, concerts, meetings... work, and are all part of the new normal for our creative environment. Why would we not take advantage of this opportunity to make virtual events part of our new normal as well?

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