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Re: Selling to Collections



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A week or so ago, Kevin Thomas wrote:

>I travel a lot and my goal for the year is to approach at least one
>special collection department at a library or other collection on each
>trip as a way to hopefully sell my fine bound artist books.

and asked:

>My question is: What is the best way to approach these collections with my
>sales pitch? Do they want to see other work, a portfolio, resume, artist
>statements, etc.? I'm assuming I should call for an appointment. Is it
>better to mail info first? What kind of response can I expect? Does this
>approach even work at all?

I've been unable to find time to reply -- but I thought at least one
response from a curatorial perspective might be useful, even if tardy.

First, you should expect quite a wide range of responses to your request to
visit.  Some -- probably many -- institutions do not collect contemporary
artist's books. It may be out-of-scope of their collections, or they may
simply not have funds for the purpose.  Curators in institutions which do
not collect _may_ have a personal interest; but many do not.  Not all
institutions that collect will be welcoming.  Some curators are
uncomfortable with the thought of having to turn down an acquisition from
someone standing in front of them and for that reason alone may discourage
visits.  In some cases, the staff available to see you may not have full
authority to make acquisition decisions and will need to consult with
others; will you be able and want to leave a copy of your work with them?

Second, there are very few, if any, special collections departments which
do not have some web presence at this point.  Most will describe their
collections and collecting in substantial depth. They can reasonably expect
that you will have explored their web pages before contacting them.  If you
find nothing that links with the kind of book you hope to sell, it may
still be worth proposing a visit -- nearly all sites set forth staff names
and email addresses or at least provide a reference email
address.  Currently, email contact is probably much more welcome than a
phone call; and it may be more effective than snail mail with enclosures.

Third, some of us not only welcome visits but are prepared to make attempts
to introduce visitors to faculty and students -- possibly even collectors
-- who might have (or should have) an interest in the kind of work you
do.  If in suggesting a visit you mention your willingness to meet with a
class, a donor group, a local collector's club, etc., it may prompt
curators to think beyond merely giving you a half hour or whatever.  It
might be useful to include brief mention of presentations you've given or
are prepared to give in order to communicate a sense of your
credentials.  Sometimes group meetings like this can be arranged to carry a
modest honorarium.

Fourth, when you've made a successful initial contact with one institution,
it would probably be worth your while to ask for recommendations on which
other institutions in the area might welcome a visit.  Are there
collector's clubs you might contact? (If there are, believe me they will
_always_ be looking for talent!).  You might even want to broaden this
conversation a bit: who do they know that you should know?  You may
discover some mutual friends, which never hurts, and you may be able to say
to person two that person one suggested you call.

Fifth, although some times a cold call at the last minute may be necessary,
the more flexibility you indicate, and the more lead time you offer, the
more likely you'll get a positive response.  Even a general inquiry like
"I'm planning a trip six months from now and would welcome your advice on
who in your area might welcome a visit...." may open doors.

Sixth, it is probably wiser to think of yourself as intending to make
friends rather than sales.  Many artists have told me that they make few
sales on initial visits.  But a year later, a curator will come back
around, perhaps in response to a follow-up prospectus; a curator will link
your visit with a collector or a donor; or you may find yourself invited
back for a visit.

Good luck!                           .............. Sid Huttner

Sidney F. Huttner * Head, Special Collections *
The University of Iowa Libraries *  Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1420 *
319-335-5922 * FAX: 319-335-5900 *
e-mail: sid-huttner@uiowa.edu
Department homepage: http:/www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/new2.htm

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