Most artists and designers want to exhibit their work. Figuring out how to accomplish this is often frustrating, time consuming and even a bit mysterious. In previous posts we have discussed different exhibition venues and how to approach them. Those posts focused on museums, art centers and galleries. We also described the materials you should prepare in advance and bring with you when you contact one of these spaces.
Today we finish the series by discussing what you can expect when you contact one of these spaces and what you should do in the long run in order to maximize your chances of becoming an exhibiting artist.
Museums generally show the artwork of established artists as well as established collections of art. If the museum you want to contact hosts a regional juried exhibition, or if they have a gift shop or alternative exhibition area, you should focus your attention on those possibilities.
Art centers are more approachable than museums. They usually host a wide variety of exhibitions and are interested in showing the work of local or regional artists. Like museums, art centers also have juried exhibitions and alternative spaces. Some of them accept proposals for exhibitions. Focus your attention on those possibilities.
Galleries have the most options for entry level artists, but there are many different kinds of galleries and it is important that you do some research before your approach any of them. Do they exhibit and promote the kind of artwork you make? Do they exhibit the work of younger or new artists? Would you like to be represented by them?
If a gallery is interested in showing your artwork it’s unlikely that you will have an exhibition right away. They will probably want to start by including one or two of your pieces in an off-season group show. They may also want to keep one or two of your pieces in their back room to show to a few of their clients. This tentative arrangement is designed to gauge the amount of interest collectors have for your work. It also gives the gallery a chance to slowly introduce your work to their regular clients.
Of course – and unfortunately – it is also possible that a gallery owner will choose not to represent your artwork at all. If that’s the case, don’t take it personally and don’t give up. There are many reasons why a gallery owner might choose to not show your work and most of those reasons have nothing to do with its quality. Try another gallery.
Regardless of what happens during your initial contacts don’t stop promoting your artwork. Self-promotion is an important part of being successful. It is a skill you should develop early in your career and then constantly work at. Promoting yourself might seem awkward at first, but successful artists are good at it. Self-employed business people, in all fields, view promotion as a natural and essential activity. You should too.
The primary rule of self-promotion is to be visible. Write a brief note or e-mail to thank the gallery for considering your artwork. Then make a point to attend future gallery openings and artist receptions even if the events are for other artists. Stop by the local galleries you are interested in on a regular basis and stay current with what they are doing. Get to know people and become part of the community.
If a gallery or art center decides to show your work it is absolutely essential that you attend the opening reception and all other events that focus on the exhibition. When a gallery agrees to show your artwork it means they are making a significant commitment to you and you should respond in kind.
In today’s digital world it is also possible to make yourself visible through the internet and social media. Websites, blogs, Instagram pages, Pinterest boards and Facebook posts are some of the wonderful resources that can help you gain exposure as well as maintain connections. Galleries and collectors looking to identify emerging trends and talent often use these forums to learn about new artists. There are lots of online articles that can teach you how to build a following and market yourself using social media.
The bottom line for young artists trying to get their first few exhibitions is to be professional, persistent and visible. Promote yourself in person and online. After the many hours you’ve spent in the studio you deserve the recognition.