On a Thursday afternoon near the end of June, about 100 people came through the Door Peninsula Winery and Distillery on Highway 42 in Carlsville to look at art depicting some aspects of food and wine.
The show was a model of how to use art to attract business, something several restaurants and coffee shops around the county are doing.
Allin Walker of the Woodwalk Gallery had invited 20 artists to submit two pieces each, just the right amount of work to fill the handsome two-floor lobby at the winery. Exhibitors and the winery had sent out invitations.
Rob Pollman, owner of Door Peninsula Winery, said the art openings have succeeded in bringing new people to the winery and distillery.
“We are trying to influence a different customer to come here and see the place. That is why we do them, and it has been working pretty well,” Pollman said. “A lot of people say that they have never been here before, they didn’t know it was so nice, or that we had a distillery. It exposes our place to people who might not otherwise have seen it.”
Each opening draws more people, he added, and the winery has sold quite a bit of the art on display.
While looking at the art, guests were offered a sampling of wines and hors d’oeuvres from Bistro 42, the restaurant attached to the winery.
“The winery has been great about putting on the receptions and paying for the mailings and paying me to organize the shows,” said Walker, who plans to mount a show of Door County Art League work after this food and wine show comes down at the beginning of September.
Paying for mailings makes good business sense, said Pollman, because the winery then adds names from the artists to its own mailing lists.
“We have a huge list from the winery and just add to it and send people our email newsletter,” he explained.
At Mr. Helsinki in Fish Creek, Christopher Cote doesn’t think regular monthly art openings have added to his business, although he allows it might have had a cumulative effect over time. Local artists with good mailing lists bring in friends, and some stay for dinner that evening and might return again.
Sandra and Wence Martinez, from the Martinez Studio in Jacksonport, said their openings at Mr. Helsinki bring in at least 50 people, but they have a very good mailing list. When I have been there for one of the Martinez openings, several of their fans have stayed for dinner.
At GLAS coffee shop in Sturgeon Bay, the exhibition space is booked at least a year ahead. Their biggest show of the year is the Southern Door student show, because parents and grandparents come to enjoy what the students have created.
Other venues that turn their walls over to temporary shows include Base Camp in Sister Bay where the excellent Sandra Place is showing her pastels and Kick Coffee on Third in Sturgeon Bay.
Some hints for coffee shops and restaurants:
• Make the art work for you. Pieces should be pleasant and inviting, although that doesn’t necessarily mean pictures just of lighthouses and sailboats.
• Ask the artists for a mailing list. If you send out the invitations you control the content and details such as the restaurant address and opening hours.
• Build your lists. Six artists a year with 40 invitees each and you have 240 names.
• Reach an agreement with the artists on sales. It makes sense to allow sales through the venue’s credit card, since most visitors aren’t carrying a spare $150 to $1,400 in cash and want to take the work with them. But charge for the processing fee and, do as many venues do, take a commission.
• Artists, especially photographers, can use more display space around the county – working with them to build business can be good for artists and venues.
Tom Groenfeldt, a freelance writer living in Sturgeon Bay, was fortunate to have a show of French photographs at Base Camp three years ago, and he has two images in the current show at Door Peninsula Winery.