Most artists and designers want to exhibit their work in a museum, gallery or other high quality location. Figuring out how to accomplish this is often frustrating, time consuming and even a bit mysterious. With this post we begin a series of discussions about exhibition venues and how to approach them. Hopefully we can demystify this topic and make the challenge more manageable.
Let’s start by talking about museums.
Museums are established and respected regional or civic cultural institutions with a trained professional staff. In the world of art exhibition venues museums are held in high regard. Showing your work in a museum is a prestigious event. If a museum buys some of your work to include in their permanent collection that is even more prestigious.
As a general rule most art museums that exhibit the work of living artists focus their attentions on mid-career or late-career artists who have well-established reputations. These are the kinds of exhibitions that draw large audiences. These exhibitions also attract corporate and government funding to help defray the expense of mounting a show.
While large urban museums don’t provide easy exhibition opportunities, some smaller or regional museums do have possibilities for younger artists to exhibit their work. As part of their regional mission or community outreach many smaller museums will host a juried exhibition once a year or once every two years. These juried exhibitions are usually sponsored by a community art league or similar support group. They publish a call for entries months before the exhibition is scheduled. For a small fee artists can submit one or two pieces of art (or photo documentation of the art). All the entries are then judged by a well-known artist or critic. There are often prizes awarded for some of the accepted artworks.
As an example, here is a call for entry from the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. The exhibition is titled Blue Marble.
Some museums also have unofficial exhibition possibilities that are available for newer artists. They might, for example, have a museum bookstore or gift shop with space to exhibit a few objects. They may also have hallways reserved for showing artwork or a museum cafe with wall space to show work that is not part of their official schedule.
A few art museums also have rental galleries that operate separately from the official museum calendar. These galleries rent artworks to qualified museum supporters who like to rotate the paintings and sculptures in their homes or apartments. The artist and the museum divide the rental fee.
This is a link to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery.
If you live near a smaller or regional art museum, and are interested in learning about their exhibition possibilities, you should visit their website and their galleries. Get a sense of the kinds of exhibitions they have mounted over the past several years. Do they have a rental gallery? Did they have a Winter holiday art show or a Summer art show sponsored by a local craft guild or art league? See if they have unofficial exhibition areas in the building. The juried shows will usually have all the details for submission printed on a card or mailer. The manager of the museum bookstore or gift shop will usually know who to contact about showing your work in their unofficial spaces.
Art museums can seem like formidable places for a new artist to search out exhibition possibilities, but those possibilities exist and it’s worth your while to explore them.