When inventor Earl Tupper developed those small plastic bowls in 1946, later known as Tupperware, those who witnessed it considered it a miracle. This new product was much lighter and less likely to break than traditional food containers made of glass. The problem was, Tupperware was not selling in retail stores. No one knew how they worked. It was out of this need to find a non-traditional method of reaching customers that the first Tupperware Home Party was born.
Artists are faced with a similar problem today. Our potential customers do not understand how “art works.” The same way Tupperware was not able to sell in retail stores, the traditional method of selling art through large institutions isn’t working. Both individual artists and arts organizations can learn from the Tupperware Party Economic Model to engage communities with their art while creating an additional revenue stream.
Here are two principles from the Tupperware Party Economic Model which artists can learn from:
People Need Demonstrations to Understand How the Product Works – Even though artistic expression is as ancient as human breath, for many people it is as revolutionary technology as those small plastic containers were in the 1950’s. In my career as a performance poet I have found that people need to see a demonstration of the product. Often times, after attending one of my workshops or performances, people will email me to tell me they used a poem in the book to start a conversation or they wrote a poem of their own. People realized they considered poetry irrelevant to their everyday lives. My demonstration reminded them of the usefulness of poetry in the world.
My guess is that this need for people to see “art work,” exists across artistic disciplines. How can a dancer remind someone to connect to their body? How many shower-singers are waiting to be reminded of the power of sharing their voice? When you transform someone’s relationship to the way art can be expressed in their lives, they are likely to become loyal supporters.
People are Empowered Through Participation – Everyone knows, if you go to a Tupperware Party, be ready to play games. Participation, from the host to the guests, are a key principle in the Tupperware Party Model. Games are an opportunity to engage the guests with the product. During these games, guests compete for play money which can be used to buy giveaways. This takes advantage of a universal human phenomenon: reciprocity. When people receive something free, they are inclined to give back. For you, this can mean ticket sales, donor support, or product purchases.
Let other People Promote - The Tupperware Party Economic Model takes advantage of one universal human characteristic: “people buy things from people they trust.” By using social networking, partnering with one host can lead to twenty to thirty new supporters, which in turn can lead to two or three more events. For artists, this is an excellent way to get around large cultural institutions, with their bloated budgets, and bring their art directly to people. This is an excellent way to develop your audience as an artist.
For my Living Room Readings, I arm hosts with promotional materials: a description of the event, a description of my book, a short bio, a photo, and a YouTube clip. Everyone wants to throw a good party, so the hosts are sure to promote. As they promote the event, they also promote me.
Using the Tupperware Party Economic Model gives artists access to performance space and the highly-coveted new audience. It also forces artists to get close up and personal with people, sharing their artistic process and breaking that fourth wall between performer and audience. Over the course of nine months, I held ten Living Room Readings, leading up to the publication of my book. At the release party, more than fifty percent of the audience had participated in a Living Room Reading. They came because they knew that poetry worked.