Getting Creative: Tips for Boosting Sales for Tribal Artists

American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association logo

Hand-painted Acoma nativity set by Prudy Correa includes deer dancers and an angel. 

Making a living as an artist or artisan is tough enough and this past year hasn’t been any easier. In order to achieve a sustainable income, developing creative tactics has become essential. The good news is that art lovers are still as passionate as ever, and artists can still connect to them even though it requires new strategies or increased efforts.

A great example of taking new paths to showcase one’s artwork was demonstrated at this year’s virtual American Indian Tourism Conference. Conference participants were exposed to a variety of tribal art—virtually. The beautiful beadwork of Cynthia Masterson of Bluedot Beadwork, a wide selection of multimedia artwork by John and MaryBeth Timothy of Moonhawk Art and Prudy Correa’s exquisite and whimsical pottery, were all showcased to a record-setting attendance.

“Thinking outside the box” has now evolved into “Thinking without a box.” Following, are a few things artists might have done in the past but now require a renewed emphasis, or a different twist in order to boost sales.

Maintain a strong online presence

Prudy Correa, who participated at this year’s AITC, recommends that artists should maintain a strong website and online presence (don’t forget to link your website to Facebook and Instagram). This includes making sure you have a compelling video to display your work. Also consider hosting a virtual art show to showcase your art, or an on-line demo session.

Social media is important and cost-effective, and joining a Facebook group to feature what type of work you create can help you connect with potential buyers. Link to online stores that are popular, like Etsy, Shopify and Store Envy. Offer a variety of items to meet different price points.

Explore new opportunities

 Work with galleries, museums, gift shops and cultural centers. These are your allies, and when artists do well, they do well. Get on mailing lists for national, public, and city websites and don’t forget foundations and colleges. They’re all excellent resources. Take advantage of their free webinar trainings, newsletters and notices.

Offer to teach small groups such as retirement communities, centers, youth organizations or church groups. It’s all about making connections and promoting your work. Talk to interior designers or other businesses that might use your artwork or benefit from your creative eye.

Reach out! Advertise and market  with other artists

Advertising can be expensive, but there are many ways to leverage efforts. Collaborate with other artists and consider co-op advertising—share a print or online advertisement with other artists and split the cost.

Don’t forget the basics. Keep your marketing materials fresh and updated—business cards, brochures, photos of work, etc. Send out email blasts to your customer base on new items and notify them of upcoming shows or events you will be participating in.

Don’t be afraid to take a step and push your art forward

Lillian Pitt is a successful Pacific Northwest Native American artist who focuses on creating contemporary fine art pieces that delight today’s art lovers. At the same time, her work also honors the history and legends of her people. Pitt has gained huge attention with her public art, and a sample of this artwork can be seen at the Rosa Parks station. But it wouldn’t have been possible if she wouldn’t have taken the step to push her work.

“The Interstate project was the first public art project I worked on,” she said. “At the time, there was not one public art project in Portland that was done by a Native American artist. So I thought, that’s not right, and I went ahead and applied for the job.”

It takes a village

As is most often the case, there’s always strength in numbers. Join native art organizations (e.g. First People’s Fund), network with artist groups, on-line forums and effective platforms that direct people back to your website.

Sharing ideas and finding new ways to boost sales is always easier in a group— sharing what shows to attend, or what not to attend, ways to make money, etc.

Lorraine Lewis, AIANTA’s Research & Data Specialist, and a successful artist and active supporter of the arts, sums it up nicely. “As artists, we’re all trying to tap into any resources possible. A strong network of artists working together is what’s helping us through these tough times.”