Open Studio Tour Creates Big Opportunities

The Portland Open Studios event is a win for artists, sponsors and the public

It all started in 1998. Artist Kitty Wallis, having participated in a Santa Cruz studio tour, brought the idea to Portland, Oregon. Using a guidebook from her first experience, she banded together with other artists to invite the public to visit their studios, get to know them, learn about their techniques, and purchase art.

Fast forward to 2012. Portland Open Studios, a not-for-profit public benefit corporation, now runs this event, which is scheduled for the second and third weekends in October. The tour has increased to 100 artists, offering art enthusiasts a robust selection of studios to visit, encompassing many mediums.

“About 6,000 volunteer hours are required to put the whole thing on,” says Bridget Benton, president of the board of Portland Open Studios. Although a few workers are hired to do graphic design and media promotion, most of the staff donates their time. Many of those volunteers are the artists who are participating.


mixing paint


They have garnered sponsorships from local businesses and organizations. These relationships, which have been built over time, have a reciprocal benefit to offer. Sponsors and advertisers are able to reach out to the community of artists, collectors and art fans.

Benton estimates that between 3,500 – 4,000 people will tour art studios in Portland and its suburbs during this event. Visitors are invited to start wherever they like. They can do so by using a tour map, catalog of all artists, and even a smartphone app that will help plan their itinerary.

Artists are juried early in the year, and the selected group meets at an orientation. They hear from other artists who have leveraged participation in this event to further their own careers.

“We have had artists who were offered art residencies, taught workshops, and even opened galleries after being a part of the Open Studios,” says Benton. “We organize artists into community action groups, where they can meet each other, get critiqued, network, and help promote one another.”

Portland Open Studios is publicizing their tour by promoting on social media and sponsoring giveaways, as well as partnering with businesses such as Zipcar, which will offer discounts to visitors who need vehicles to travel to the studios.

Benton offers some suggestions for artists who are planning to open their studios:

  • Have an area with work for sale, clearly marked with prices
  • Plan to serve snacks for visitors to encourage them to stay longer
  • Make sure that where visitors enter your studio, all of the art they see is your work
  • Offer a variety of price points on your work, so that many people can afford to buy something (this encourages “entry-level” collectors)
  • Ask guests to sign a mailing list for further contact
working with a grinding tool


She also mentions that when artists give a studio demonstration, it can lead to sales, as well as attracting prospective students. Some artists have built class or workshop lists this way.

“Having an open studio is a great opportunity to build your mailing list, and get used to talking about your art,” she says, “That will serve you well at gallery openings or art shows later on.”

Besides direct sales and commissions, other good connections can be made. Gallerists will be attending the Portland Open Studios event, scouting for new talent to represent. And that is certainly good news for artists!


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