[Our recent New York City salon was so much fun that we asked host K. Tempest Bradford to share her wisdom. Want to host an IAF Salon in your city? Worried that no one will come? Read on!]
Since the IAF started doing salons we’ve seen a lot of interest from folks outside of NYC (where the salons started) who want to do salons of their own. I’m all for that, especially since I have such a great time at salons myself and want other people to have the same great time. Creating and hosting a salon isn’t hard, though it may seem so from the outside. And we often get the same questions from folks who are interested. So I thought I would share how I put our salons together. It’s actually easier than it looks!
Finding A Space
I spent a lot of time worrying over where we could have IAF salons because I wanted to find somewhere perfect that didn’t cost any money and would work no matter how many people showed up. Our first salon had around 70 people. Our second had 10. So flexibility had to be a big part of it.
However, I realized recently that I needed to shift my perspectives about how a salon would or should go, which then helped me find a great space to have them. Instead of thinking of a salon as an event where we needed to take over an entire venue, I realized it should be more like a get-together were you stake out a table in a bar or café and expand outward as needed.
I have a favorite café in NYC called The Vagabond Café that I practically live in, so I know the owners well. I also observed that Tuesday evenings are very slow because there’s no scheduled music. So I asked the owners if they minded if I planned an event that would bring a bunch of people in on Tuesday evenings. (Spoiler: they did not.)
Other than letting me take over the music selection for the evening, the employees didn’t have to do anything special for the salon. At Vagabond we have the option of doing a short reading or musical performance if we want (luckily the cafe has a setup for that) but these things are not at all necessary. Overall, we were pretty low maintenance and everyone left good tips, thus making all parties concerned happy.
We started out in just one section of the café, but as other patrons left we took over their tables as needed. We could have expanded into the entire café had we wanted to and if we had the numbers. And all of it happened organically.
This model for finding a location will also work outside of New York City. You don’t have to be on personal terms with the owner of a café to make it work, either.
You just need a space that fits the following general properties:
- A place where people gather regularly for informal hanging out. Cafes, bars, bookstores, community centers, galleries, hacker spaces, hotel lobbies, etc.
- A place that has weekday evenings or weekend times when business is slower than usual. If you don’t know from experience, don’t be afraid to ask the manager or owner.
- A place where they serve drinks and/or food.
- Somewhere easy to get to, especially in cities where most people use public transportation.
I’m lucky in that I live in a city where there are many cool indie cafes. You might not. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck, though! Your local Barnes & Noble may be more willing to host a salon than you think. Even a Starbucks can work out if it has the right vibe. The most important aspect in that case is that you’re bringing these venues business — people who will eat or drink during times when there’s a natural lull. That appeals to the business end of things.
Getting The Word Out
For our most recent salon we used Facebook’s events feature to advertise, plus we tweeted and posted on blogs and stuff. Given the nature of a salon, word of mouth is probably the most effective tool you have for advertising your event.
Other methods to consider:
- The new Google+ Events feature
- Submitting the event to a local paper that artsy people read
- Asking friends to post on their blogs, Tumblrs, Twitters, Facebooks and other social sites
- Creating flyers and posting them in places artsy people hang out
- Email announcement lists for artsy groups
At every salon you should have a mailing list sign up sheet specifically for the local salon community. This way it’s easy to remind people of future salons.
What If No One Shows Up?
One of the mistakes I made early on was expecting every salon to be like the very first one where we had over 50 people show up. Even in a big city you’ll have salons where only a handful of people will show. That’s perfectly okay!
Again, this going back to my shift in thinking about what a salon should look like. It doesn’t always have to be a large number of people milling around; sometimes it will just be an intimate conversation between a few people. It’s up to you as host to be prepared for either outcome.
Also keep in mind that the salon doesn’t have to be a one-off thing. We’re now doing them monthly in NYC. Holding salons consistently gives them time to grow. The group may be small at first but get larger as more people learn about it, regular attendees make new friends and invite them, and new folks move into the area.
Now Go Host!
Hopefully this answers some of your questions about how to run a salon. There’s also a more detailed How To available here. And if you have any questions about the ones we’ve done in NYC, ask in the comments!
[K. Tempest Bradford has been a core member of the IAF’s New York City branch for years. She is an Interfictions author, the mastermind behind our Interfictions art auctions, and a fascinating example of an interstitial person. Her fiction has appeared in the Federations anthology, Strange Horizons, and Electric Velocipede and Sybil’s Garage, amongst others.]