- Sean Metcalf
The South End Art Hop is by definition about looking at art, so its dozens of open studios have always been a quintessential aspect of the event. They appeal to attendees strolling through them and artists eager to show — and sell — their work. When COVID-19 put the kibosh on IRL gatherings last year, Christy Mitchell wasted no time getting the artwork online instead.
"Due to the pandemic, we knew we had to do a virtual aspect so people could 'attend' safely," said Mitchell, executive director of the South End Arts and Business Association, which produces the Art Hop. "We spent the summer building a new website."
Art Hop 2021 Links
Every artist who registered for the Art Hop automatically became a member of SEABA and could feature pieces of their work on the SEABA site. Artists showing in the six SEABA-curated venues could, and still do, keep work on the site for the duration of their monthly or quarterly exhibitions.
The best news? Artworks sold like proverbial hotcakes.
"Some artists sold out on the website; others kept selling through the pandemic," Mitchell said. Specifically, SEABA sold $9,000 worth of art during last year's Art Hop weekend, and sales on the site have held steady at about $1,000 per month since, she noted.
Matt Larson, who lives in Waterbury Center and maintains a studio in Burlington, sold all six of his vibrant abstract paintings through SEABA during last year's Art Hop and has sold "another three or four more" on the website over the past year, he said. "That's a pretty good percentage of my sales," Larson added.
"It's worked out well for me, particularly since I don't have much of a web presence [otherwise]," he said. "It's easy, and everyone at SEABA is easy to work with. I hope they're able to keep doing it."
Like many artists, Larson said he "likes the art part better than the business part" and just hasn't gotten around to creating his own website — yet. But if and when he does, he would "definitely" keep work on the SEABA site, as well. "I think they reach more people than I could on my own," he said.
"Another nice thing about the site," Larson continued, "is that you can go see the show," as the works on the website correspond to SEABA's Burlington exhibitions. In theory, anyone who lives locally can do so, but, according to Mitchell, some people have been buying art "sight unseen — that is, just online."
She has a theory about this phenom. Last year, at least, "people had a little more money from not going out," Mitchell said. (Not to mention those federal stimulus checks.) "Also, they're staying home and looking at their walls." While in shutdown, to be sure, many of us gave more thought to our décor.
"And," Mitchell added, "it feels good to support artists."
True enough. But chances are, another factor has affected online art sales: the convenience of buying nearly everything from one's couch. In 2020, more than 2 billion people shopped virtually worldwide, according to digitalcommerce360.com. As for online art sales, in the U.S. alone, the market is expected to reach more than $9 billion by 2024.
Sales in Vermont are a minuscule fraction of that stratospheric number, of course, but there is no reason to expect that online art purchases will decline here or anywhere.
If you prefer to see, and buy, artwork in person, rest assured that this year's Art Hop will present real live artists in their studios, as well as virtual offerings. Just be prepared to don a face mask.