I’m not completely anti-capitalism or anti-commercial. I do however regularly question whether a for profit business is the most appropriate or efficient form of organisation to complete a particular task or outcome. Often it is not, but rarely will anyone admit this.

Consider the marketing of local art exhibitions in Melbourne, which varies from brilliant to appalling. This post will analyse the marketing of art exhibitions in Melbourne with particular reference to the arts scene in Fitzroy and Collingwood.

It will provide some advice and recommendations to artists, galleries, local bloggers and citizen journalists about how best to promote art and art exhibitions. The examples I give are used to support the general discussion and are not given primarily to criticise individual artists or galleries and their staff.

This post is the fourth in a series about the development of community based and locally oriented social media in Melbourne. The previous post provided advice on starting a blog or website. The first was a guide to local guides and the future of local media and the second was a beginner’s guide to blogging ethics and strategy.


When I first saw Artabase in 2008 I was excited. It is a fine arts site that lists exhibitions and allows artists, galleries and art enthusiasts to build profile pages. I thought it had the potential to develop into an arts social network.

As an art lover, I created a user account. I hoped to be able to set profile preferences to be automatically informed of events in my area or in my fields of interest, but Artabase does not do this. As an art lover, there is no real point in having an account.

I emailed Artabase and asked if they would offer RSS feeds for their content down at the precinct level, not just the country level. I wanted to syndicate the Fitzroy precinct feed feed on Fitzroyalty; now I would like to include feeds for the various precincts in the relevant local news sites.

The reply I received from founder and CEO Rebecca Cannon was positive and suggested precinct feeds would soon be available. Of course I never heard from her again and, more than a year later, granular feeds are still not available.

artabasefitzroy advice on online marketing strategies for Melbourne arts events

A screen capture of the Fitzroy precinct page in Artabase made on 16 July 2009

Like many sites that are driven by advertising or subscription business models, Artabase seemingly does not want its audience to consume its content anywhere but on its own site, even though it embeds advertisements in its RSS feeds so audiences cannot escape them.

In 2008 I wondered how Artabase could be sustainable given it seemed to have no business model. Now in 2009 the business model has emerged. Artabase will charge $10 for single exhibition listings (though gallery and artist profiles remain free). Artabase is also offering hosting for artist and gallery portfolios. It costs $20 per month for artists and $40 per month for galleries.

What it resolutely fails to do is serve its audience. Like any site that imposes barriers for participants to contribute content, it is incomplete. It is not a useful place for me to visit to find out about new exhibitions because it is incomplete and inconsistent.

Collingwood Arts Precinct

An example of a great opportunity lost is the new Collingwood Arts Precinct site (published in 2009). Apparently published by the Australian Commercial Galleries Association (whose own site is equally bad), this site represents all that is bad about web design and customer service (or lack thereof).

cap advice on online marketing strategies for Melbourne arts events

A screen capture of the Collingwood Arts Precinct site made on 16 July 2009

The Collingwood Art Precinct site (built on Joomla) is a static site with no feeds. In July the homepage is still promoting an event from May.  The AGCA and City of Yarra logos on the homepage are not links to the sites of those organisations. The list of members on the homepage are also not links – you have to click through to another page for those.

The site implies that it represents all the galleries in Collingwood, but it doesn’t. It only includes galleries in Collingwood that are ACGA members. This exclusive approach is not helpful to the audience. We don’t care which galleries are members of the ACGA. We want to know about art in Collingwood. The site should be generous and inclusive and tell the whole story. It should at least provide links to other galleries in the area. It should demonstrate value to encourage other galleries to join the organisation.

The site provides no calendar of events or any kind of information aggregation from member sites (who all also have out of date static sites). It therefore provides next to nothing of value for visitors to the site.

Footscray Community Arts Centre

The website for the Footscray Community Arts Centre is the best site I have seen for an arts organisation for a long time. It is vibrant and dynamic, uses lots of beautiful colour, and has separate feeds for news, events and workshops. It’s an example of best practice in design and content.

footscrayarts advice on online marketing strategies for Melbourne arts events

A screen capture of the Footscray Community Arts Centre site made on 17 July 2009

Ignorance, indifference, exploitation and opportunity

As a website developer and publisher, I find it extremely frustrating to see organisations underachieving because of poor online marketing. I know that all the tools and facilities they need are available for free online.

What they lack is knowledge of how the technology works, how to strategically employ the technology in creating online marketing campaigns and how online audiences consume marketing information. So they either neglect their marketing or pay for marketing services that are often costly and inefficient.

Paying for online marketing services is unnecessary. It makes me angry that the ignorance and naivety of artists and galleries drives then to pay for online marketing services when they could do it all themselves for nothing.

The best way for artists and galleries to free themselves from being exploited by businesses trading on their clients’ ignorance is to educate themselves about how online marketing works and how they can exploit its potential using free online tools and services.

I’ve previously said exactly the same thing about bands and live music venues. They no longer need to be held captive to expensive advertising in print street press, which survives only due to the ignorance of venues and musicians.

Given the youth of many bands and their supposed status as digital natives, this surprises me. They should all have blogs with MP3 samples, gig calendars and links to regular gig venues.

If every pub in Fitzroy, and every band that played in Fitzroy, published a blog and included a Google calendar of their events, and syndicated this content in Facebook, their audiences would receive all the information they needed online and the print street press business model would collapse overnight.

The print advertising business model offered by the street press is the offline equivalent of the online hosting business model offered by Artabase. Neither do a good job of informing audiences about events.

Print advertising is not searchable, and does not allow users to join, participate and RSVP for events like they can do on Facebook. Artabase has very limited features for users. Sites and blogs built with WordPress or Blogger and Facebook are more user friendly and flexible and have more practical functionality for art lovers in Melbourne than Artabase or the Collingwood Arts Precinct.

Venues like galleries and pubs, and creative individuals or groups like artists and musicians should publish their own sites or blogs, either free hosted versions using Blogger or WordPress or self hosted WordPress sites. You can do amazing things with free tools. A great local example is the blog written by Pip for her shop Meet Me At Mikes.

Good and bad marketing examples

Many artists are primarily working for the love of creating and make little money from their work. The mission of artists and galleries is to make as many people as possible aware of the art, when and where it can be viewed, how to see it and why it is worth seeing. I suspect that some are not receiving suitable rewards for their efforts. This may be partially due to their chosen strategies.

I’ve been looking at how different galleries are doing their marketing and analysing how effective I think it is. These are some of the local galleries (and other arts businesses or organisations) doing good marketing and the tools they are using. Coordinating multiple channels works best.

Static site, email lists and Facebook:

Static site and Facebook:

  • Per Square Metre gallery (Collingwood)
  • 69 Smith St gallery (Fitzroy)
  • Store Room theatre (North Fitzroy)

Static site and email lists:

Blog and Facebook:

Poor marketing (usually because of static websites and no subscription email lists):

In my previous post that provides advice on starting blog or website I explain more about why static sites are inferior to dynamic sites that offer syndicated content. Static sites make readers come to them; dynamic sites with content feeds deliver content to readers and are thus more flexible, convenient and user friendly.

Advice for artists and galleries

  • Don’t publish a static site – use a free open source content management system to self host a dynamic site that publishes dynamic content and RSS or Atom feeds
  • If a self hosted site is too complex to manage use a free hosted blog from WordPress or Blogger
  • Syndicate your feed to Facebook
  • Syndicate your feed to other sites
  • Read my advice about starting a blog or website and about blogging ethics and strategy

Further advice for galleries

  • Use your content feed as your press release mechanism so other sites can learn about your events and report on them
  • Get your feed syndicated in a local news site
  • Keep the top arts writers informed of your upcoming events
  • Aggregate reviews of your exhibitions from the best Melbourne critics into your sites:

Further advice for artists

  • If you’re exhibiting in different galleries or participating in events in different places, tag your posts by suburb and city so they can be syndicated in various sites
  • Aggregate social media content about your work into your site (eg from Youtube, Flickr etc)

Understand your audience

As an audience member, I’d like to subscribe to the calendars of the venues I attend regularly. As a publisher, I’d like to aggregate all the calendars for events in individual suburbs and include these in the local news sites to help promote local events and the creative talents of local artists and performers.

I don’t think the for profit business model is the most efficient way to market arts events in Melbourne. With some initiative, knowledge and enthusiasm, galleries and artists could market themselves far better, engage more with their audiences and save themselves a lot of money. Commercial intermediaries are not required: artists should do it for themselves.

advice on online marketing strategies for Melbourne arts events

18 thoughts on “advice on online marketing strategies for Melbourne arts events

  • Pingback: Love for Fitzroyalty | catacombcreative.com

  • 20 July 2009 at 12:46 pm

    While this post is not DIRECTLY relevant, you might see why it was of huge interest to me if you check out this post.

    I am from Sydney and recently had a semi solo exhibition. I basically rave on about why it was crap and why Sydney don’t do anything to help emerging artists. Sure it is a little harsh, but it might be something that would interest you.


    • 20 July 2009 at 1:29 pm

      Hi Renee – good post. The cultures in Sydney and Melbourne (especially the inner north) are very different. There’s something about the inner north of Melbourne that has fostered a do it yourself down to earth sense of initiative that many people share.

      This is what I am trying to encourage artists and musicians to do with their marketing – take control of it, empower themselves and engage with new audiences.

      I’m fairly pragmatic too – some artists I meet have a sense of entitlement that is beyond belief. The world does not owe you a living – you have to make it happen for yourself and you can’t blame the world for the way it is.

      When you come to Melbourne make sure you come and see the galleries in Fitzroy!

  • 20 July 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Great post! On a daily basis I come in front of businesses that have difficulty understanding that the more powerful of the digital marketing tools available out there today are free to access (there’s still a strong mindset of cost = value). There is a cost however to making much of this stuff work: time; for businesses this is a very real opportunity cost. But for anyone with an internet connection, the need to promote something, including themselves, and more time on their hands than money it’s all wide open.

    • 20 July 2009 at 2:41 pm

      Agreed, but when arts businesses spend money on bad marketing like static websites they have wasted time and money. They could save money and invest their own time to do much better marketing.

  • 20 July 2009 at 2:32 pm

    I agree with you that static sites are not good for venues but I’m skeptical about the number of people who actually use rss.

    • 20 July 2009 at 2:47 pm

      Syndicated content via RSS and Atom is not just about providing content in that format to audiences using feed readers. It is building a platform with an ability to output formatted content that can be mashed up and remixed elsewhere, eg in Facebook, other blogs, news aggregator sites etc.

      Galleries like Gorker and Lamington Drive do a good job with their marketing but they manually input the same data in three places – static site, email list software and Facebook. It’s far more efficient to input once and output multiple times. It’s all about using the information architecture to build efficient workflows that enable you to spend more time developing unique content rather than doing data entry.

  • 20 July 2009 at 3:07 pm

    To back up Brian’s comment about RSS, I just knocked together – in a couple of minutes and at no cost – a RSS driven ‘events’ widget pulling from the Footscray Community Arts Centre website; the ‘get widget’ function at the bottom of the widget allows anyone who’s interested to share and plug the widget into their own website, blog or favourite social networking platform. And best of all the FCAC branding travels everywhere the widget goes, i.e. branded, syndicated content. You can view it at: http://2sticksdigital.com.au/tec.php?FCAC-Widget-31

    • 20 July 2009 at 3:20 pm

      These widget makers are useful for including dynamic content in existing static sites but are themselves more useless intermediaries. If you use a CMS like WordPress you can import and display feeds directly (using a WordPress plugin) without having to advertise the third party widget tool in the above example.

  • 20 July 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I was more thinking of using these widgets as a means of pushing proprietary content out from your own website, rather than pulling third party content into it. Using ‘intermediary’ widgets enable the quick and easy syndication of an organisation’s content with no programming skills.

  • 20 July 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Some interesting points. I am trying to get an organisation I work with to move to wordpress rather than a static website that only one person (who is rarely free) can update.
    As an aside even the big organisations do a terrible job. Currently to access the NGV events one has to download a pdf of ALL events on for the next three months. And they are still only thinking about using facebook.

    • 20 July 2009 at 9:11 pm

      Yes the big government sites are some of the worst! I have future posts coming up about other kinds of sites and how they work.

  • 21 July 2009 at 10:30 am

    Actually having looked at the NGV website I have to take it back, they have finally got a proper calendar. One small step forward at least.

  • 23 July 2009 at 10:46 am


    I understand all your criticisms regarding Artabase, however in our defense we’re providing the galleries who do pay to use our website with the most valuable marketing they can receive on or offline.

    Our ratio of ‘cost : target audience’ is extremely good value. For $10 we expose an exhibition to 30,000 people in the current month, triple the monthly sales of Art Almanac. If a gallery puts their exhibitions up with a long lead time they gain an extended marketing time at no extra cost, which would cost extra in a hard copy publication. I’m sure free online marketing is of value to unprofessional artists and galleries, but those who are working as a professional understand that marketing is a necessary, valuable and reasonable cost for most businesses.

    I agree that there isn’t much point in creating an account if you’re an art fan, however we have tens of thousands of people who view our content without joining. We only expect people to create a user account if they are contributing content, this was a deliberate design feature to make the site easy to use. Artabase is still a great way to see what is on, which openings are coming up. It’s not complete, and it wont be for a number of years. Sites like PayPal, Facebook, Last.fm took five-seven years to really start to stand up as finished websites, and even then they will never stop building new functionality, however I still think Artabase one of the best tools out there. The personalisation features you mention will be great in the long run.

    With regards to your other complaints, building a site like Artabase is not easy or cheap. The entire project has been built part time by two people, so cut a little slack. We offered our listings free for two years, even though the business model was always to charge per listing. The two year grace period was to provide free marketing whilst we built our audience size and the website functionality. However for the site to improve and offer the features you request we obviously have to have revenue to cover the hosting and development costs.

    I think that people who constantly think that the arts industry should survive on philanthropy and government handouts are overlooking the fact that the art market does have real economic value – however it is a market which does not distribute the value very efficiently amongst its practitioners. I believe Artabase helps to over come this problem by providing a democratised marketing platform from which all tiers of the art market, from ARIs through to Museums like the Guggenheim, can afford to reach the same passionate, international market of art lovers and collectors. $10 is hardly an unreasonable amount to charge for this service.

    I agree a Fitzroy RSS feed would be awesome, but as you point out it won’t be of the best use until all the galleries in the area are using the site, which they aren’t yet, so working on that functionality is not our highest priority; polishing the usability of areas on the site people are using most often is more important at the moment.

    At any rate, I appreciate the feedback, thanks!


    • 23 July 2009 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks for this detailed response. I think marketing is important for all artists and arts businesses, amateur or professional. I make no distinction between them and agree that art does have an economy.

      My simple response is that, with the right strategy, galleries and artists, whatever their status, could reach similar sized audiences online without paying an intermediary. To an extent, the Artabase business model relies on the print idea of scarcity, where the content plaform is a destination that audiences must visit.

      The idea that content can be widely distributed online and viewed by a few people at many places to reach a large overall audience does not depend on the content being at any one place. It could and should be everywhere.

      When a commercial intermediary positions themselves in an economy and aims to meet the requirements of its business model ahead of the needs of its audience it makes itself vulnerable. Is it needed? Does the audience want to use it? I see a significant disconnect between the clients of Artabase and its public audience.

  • 23 July 2009 at 6:10 pm

    “Artabase business model relies on the print idea of scarcity, where the content plaform is a destination that audiences must visit.”

    Not at all, we do offer some rss feeds, and within the limits of appropriate contextualisation we’re happy for these to be published elsewhere. Our opportunities are sent through email.

    “with the right strategy, galleries and artists, whatever their status, could reach similar sized audiences online without paying an intermediary.”

    I challenge you or any artist or gallery website to create a sustained audience of 30,000 people per month without paying an intermediary. Few websites manage those numbers and those which do have usually paid an intermediary through advertising.

    “aims to meet the requirements of its business model ahead of the needs of its audience it makes itself vulnerable”.

    I’d like to know how you think we are aiming to meet the needs of our business model AHEAD of the needs of our audience. Having a business model in place is meeting the needs of our audience by making it possible to provide the service in the first place.

    “Is it needed?”

    I thought so when I was a curator and arts journalist which is why I began Artabase in the first place. Positive feedback from people using the site suggests that others agree.

    “Does the audience want to use it?”

    30,000 people a month do.

    “I see a significant disconnect between the clients of Artabase and its public audience.”

    Still not quite understanding you on the ‘significant disconnect’…

    • 23 July 2009 at 11:30 pm

      I make no judgement about 30,000 visitors, but if that is worldwide how many for Australia? For Victoria? Are we talking 30,000 unique visitors? 30,000 pageviews?

      For June 2009 Fitzroyalty did 27,000+ pageviews and 9,000+ uniques. Approx 80% are from Australia and about 80% of them are from metropolitan Melbourne (about 65% of the total). I know some Melbourne food bloggers that are getting significantly more.

      I speak from my own experience. I would like an RSS feed for Melbourne (or at least Victoria), as that is where I am and where I can decide at short notice to go and see a show. A generic feed that covers the whole world is not helpful to me.

      I no longer visit Artabase because, as you say, it doesn’t offer much to arts lovers who sign up. The exhibition listings are incomplete so I get my information from everywhere – the feeds of gallery sites that have them, email lists, listings in Australian Edge etc.

      That’s the disconnect. Artabase does not give me what I want and so its clients who pay to have their content there don’t get my attention.


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