There is reluctance in the Trade, about being able to attract new and especially younger people as to what we sell. Starting with the image of the word “antique”, what might that conjured up in the mind of a smart-phone packing 20/30 year old? We’re in an industry that specialized is turning off the next generation of potential customers with intimidation, abusiveness, and attitude.
Gaining the confidence of this budding generation of customers is going to require more than redefining a failed image. It will entail reaching out to them and trying to accommodate their curiosity. We at Newel are planning to get in touch with colleges and programs in design and art history with the offer of a tour and exposure to what we sell. We want young students (as young as possible) to touch the inventory and see the diverse and infinite possibilities.
We recently hired a summer intern straight out of college and I know this person feels not only lucky to have a job not modeled on the “gallery girl” image, but on making a difference in the industry. I want her and the gallery to be a gateway to attract a younger generation as to what we put on the market; it can’t happen by deception, intolerance, and lack of communication. Everyone should be considered a guest with all the appropriate attention to detail and tweaking for assistance. Why would we charge admission?
I find the admission pricing at upscale decorative and fine arts fairs to be a bit confusing. Sure the opening night gala is “for the benefit of …” but at $500, $1,000, $2,500 at ticket? For Young Collectors Night, it is down to $175. Regular admission is $20. For most students, the $20 is not chump change, like it is for those who attend opening night. And while the Met is based on a suggested “contribution”, auctions are free and so are the dealers own showrooms (if you can get past the door). Perhaps it might just be an opportunity for show promoters to think about expanding their sites beyond those who regularly attend the same circuit of shows with the same stable of dealers.
I doubt that the influx of college age and inquisitive young people (under 25) would cause havoc among the staid vendors purveying their goods. Maybe an additional 10 to 20% bump in attendees could cause a ripple affect among our disenfranchised youth who might actually enjoy the event and learn something about what we do, and not from reality TV. If this industry wants the next generation to collect and decorate with our products, we need to make our merchandise something they can touch, understand, and covet.
People in our industry must be pro-active to survive. Art Basel Miami has evolved into a must be place of energy, sprouting shows of dealers. There is a buzz of style, trends, experiences, and interaction. The international generation of under 25 is ready and willing, but we in the “antiques” business have to be able to make the effort to open any barriers to entry.