What is an emerging patron?
Early on in the Harrison Center for the Arts’ existence, the staff and board recognized a need to connect emerging artists with potential buyers. HCA identifies this non- traditional audience as emerging patrons, referring to individuals who, whether or not they realize it, hold a latent interest in supporting artists by purchasing work for their homes and workplaces.
Traditionally, art patrons are considered as individuals with money, class, and highly- developed aesthetic senses. They have an affinity for the “high arts” and heavily support the museum, the theater, and the symphony.
HCA is creating a new, more inclusive definition of a patron, to include those learning about art and developing a personal aesthetic taste. The center develops a rapport with these individuals, encouraging them to experiment with art and engage with new concepts. And, as an emerging patron grows willing and eager to purchase a one-of-a- kind piece of art, HCA facilitates the introduction to hip, affordable artwork along a range of price points through regular exhibits and open studio nights. The majority of HCA’s shows feature work by local and regional artists; occasionally, the gallery’s curator brings in exciting work from artists across the country.
HCA’s monthly gallery exhibits are not predictable wine-and-cheese affairs, but big, interactive, multi-disciplined parties. The featured exhibit typically takes place in the Harrison Gallery, the center’s 1,100-square-foot showplace. But the experience extends from the main gallery to the other three galleries, the hallways, the gymnasium, and the basement performance space. Visitors now expect to be surprised, finding something new and different on every floor, every time, from live music to bicycle polo in the gym to guerilla kitting to film screenings. Frequently, HCA artists open their studios to share where and how they work - creating a compelling and personal connection with potential buyers.
Sometimes, the monthly exhibits are connected with important causes, such as education, urban renewal, poverty relief, and green living. HCA recognizes the potential impact as its large, listening audience encounters issues and creative solutions in a cultural setting.
Today, HCA’s First Friday openings attract an average of 1,000 guests, even up to some 3,000 visitors in a single night. Unparalleled, quality shows invite a crowd that’s eager to interact with each other and the art. HCA has created a welcoming environment that says “yes” to children and families. The crowd is incredibly diverse, drawing everyone from the city’s top philanthropists, prominent businesspeople, and influential politicians to working artists, students, young professionals, and families. Among this audience, HCA has helped many discover a fresh hunger for art and has provided an easy opportunity to replace youthful posters and mass-produced decorations with distinctive “conversation piece” works of art.
HCA continues to emerge as a national model for urban arts organizations by providing a non-threatening and relational bridge from emerging artist to emerging patron. And, as HCA’s events grow bigger and better, the bond between artists and patrons grows stronger, and the perceived distance between them grows shorter. The emerging patrons have embraced their role as supporters of the arts in unique ways. One family offered living quarters in their home to one of HCA’s artists. For another family, HCA provided a rich experience through which they built an incredible connection with the artists; having never before considered buying art for their home, they are now among HCA’s most consistent emerging patrons and support their much-loved artists through the purchase of new work, month after month.