Art & Design Magazine

Art Trails: Making Them Work for the Artists and the Community

By Abstractartbylt @artbylt

What is an Art Trail?  Typically, it's a group of artists' studios, galleries, or other art organizations in a region who all agree to be open on a particular night, day, or weekend. The idea is that people can visit a number of artists at once without making an appointment.  The artists chip in to pay for publicity and other expenses of running such a group.

The Sonoma County Arts Trail in California has over 130 artists who are juried in by a committee.  Initially they must contribute 10 hours of work time (later they can pay a $200 fee in lieu of work time); explain how they will educate the public about their art (demonstrations, video, story-board, art talk, etc.); and pay a yearly fee of aproximately $350.  Visitors may purchase a calendar of Art Trail art from the website, and go to several preview shows at local galleries in the region to see samples of the art in person.

The Sonoma County Arts Trail also offers a downloadable or printed catalog for free which includes images and information on all the artists, a glossary of art terms, and articles by an artist, an art educator, and an art collector.  It is quite impressive, and a good model for any group contemplating starting a trail in their region.  This trail has been active since 1985. 

Our Greater Ithaca Art Trail is much smaller (about 50 artists), but still does a great job and is always improving.  We have a free downloadable or printed map with images and information on all our artists, as well as a website, of course.  Our artists are not juried in, but because of the commitment and the fee (about $450), only serious artists tend to join or stay on the trail. 

Art Trails serve three main purposes: 1) educating the public about visual arts, 2) helping artists market their work, and 3) bringing visitors into the region who will spend money on hotels, restaurants, wineries, etc.  Both the Sonoma Art Trail and the Greater Ithaca Art Trail hold their open studio weekends in October, and both are held in areas known for beautiful scenery and wineries. 

Since membership in these art trails requires a large commitment of time as well as a monetary investment, the only way an artist can justify belonging to one is if they receive a benefit from it.  The benefit may be in actual sales at the event, future sales from visitors, or other opportunities that come about through the publicity and exposure they gain.  There aren't too many artists who can afford to simply donate their time and money to this project as a public service without getting some benefit.

If you're a member of an art trail, or like to visit them, it would be great to hear feedback about your own experience.  I was not on the Ithaca art trail this year for personal reasons, but will be back next year. 

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