So You Want To Create an Exhibition…
At some point, artists want and need to exhibit their art work. Whether that moment comes at the end of art school, completion of a group of work, or just the need to see what the work looks like in the world outside your studio, there are many reasons to let others know that you make art. So, how do you go about getting to that next step of exhibiting?
If you are new to this… Resources!
There are many books and articles to assist those first starting out. Some of the best books include Art/Work - Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, The Artist's Guide to Selling Work by Annabelle Ruston, Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon, I’d Rather Be in the Studio by Alyson Stanfield. Some specialty books—that is, books that cover subjects more in depth that artists need to know include Legal Guide for the Visual Artist by Tad Crawford and The Artist Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg. There are also (and I would go to these first) some web sites that provide helpful information. The first to connect to is www.nyfa.org. Explore the whole web site where there are listings for everything from opportunities and calls for art, resources on
finding studios and living spaces, jobs, grants and artist residencies, and career advice. Alyson Stanfield (the author of I’d Rather Be in the Studio) has www.artbizcoach.com and www.artbizblog.com. Brainard Carey also offers advice and classes for artists—some costs $$, some are free. His web site is praxiscenterforaestheticstudies.com and go to “Resourses” to connect to blogs that are helpful. A very plain and extremely helpful web site is /www.artbusiness.com. This web site is aimed for both artists and collectors with its advice.
Me, Myself, or Us
Now that I have shared some resources, I am going to take you through what I did to conceive, organize, and set up an exhibition. It is best to begin by deciding whether you are looking to put together an exhibition that is about your work alone or something in
conjunction with a group. I already had two exhibition opportunities for my own art work this year—called “American Prayer Flags”—one was at Atlantic Gallery in New York and one at Cerulean Arts in Philadelphia. So, I decided to organize something for a group.
Finding a Theme and the Artists
Generally, I keep little notes in assorted sketchbooks and loose pieces of paper as they occur
to me and visit any number of open studios, exhibitions at art centers and galleries in my area. I have also joined art networks like the Art Alliance, Artist Equity, Women for the Arts, and my State Council on the Arts along with Alumni groups. Visiting art fairs, gallery exhibitions, and museums
helps to give more ideas you can use in your own art work and insight into other’s work. You can also follow trends to see what kinds of subjects and how artists are exploring them. For example, following this past presidential election there was a great deal of art on politics, identity, immigration, gender—to name just a few. At other times technology, the environment, sexual identity, the overlap of visual art and other art forms, art history or the materials themselves have all been fodder for artists. As I often do, because I am a voracious reader, I keep quotes that inspire me or expand my thinking. Friends, too, trade articles and book titles. Attending openings, artist talks and meetings allows you to get to know other artists and build a relationship. I
In deciding which of my books-worth of ideas to pursue for an exhibition I had to come up with a list of characteristics I definitely wanted and those that I did not want. I did not want
to be polemic—I did want to be genial but thoughtful. I did want to be aesthetic rather than message driven. I preferred to stay with the more traditional modes of drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and stay away from video, multi-media, and/or interdisciplinary work. I wanted something different that could allow for a broader scope, unusual materials and a contemporary perspective. I chose my target audience for the exhibition to be people who are already interested in and may be studying art—that is, college students, art centers, and community galleries. I found a quote by Noel Coward, “Work is much more fun than fun.” Coward was a wit who often spoke in contradictions. To me it joined to another quote by Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer, gallerist, curator, and former museum director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Arts. He claimed, "I believe that an art exhibition can be engaging, fun and deeply intellectually satisfying and serious. These are not contradictory concepts in art." So, I started to look at work that approached serious topics from a standpoint of play. To me the artists needed to be both technically competent and imaginative. I was looking for artists for whom the process (working) was as important as the object (work) they made. I ended up approaching eight artists—six of whom agreed to be part of the exhibition. YAY!
The artists are Andrea Beizer (www.andreabeizer.com), creator of the Alice © cartoons, Alysa Bennett (www.alysabennett.com) a sculptor of horses created from feathers, Ruby Silvious (www.rubysilvious.com) who uses remnants from her snacks like tea bags, nut shells, and egg shells in her art, Peter Treiber (www. ptphoto.com) who makes light boxes from photographs of fireworks and amusement rides, Ruth Wolf (www.ruthwolf.com) a painter and mixed media artist who stages interactive works, and myself (www.taylor-kearneyarts.com) using the art on windows and doors that I am doing.
Finding a Venue
After drafting the exhibition statement and collecting images, artist statements, biographies and resumes from each of the artists, I arranged a packet and sent these materials out to many places. Most of them were college/university galleries, art centers, and art organizations sponsoring “Calls for Artists or Curators”. How did I find them? I searched for web sites for colleges from a particular state, went through the listing I found on Wikipedia, took down the names of the ones that sounded promising. Then I searched each college's web site for their
galleries. Also sites like www.nyfa.org, www.theartguide.com, www.callforcurators.com, nd services like entrythingy and CaFE. When you do something like this there are a few things to remember. 1. Prior to sending, you should have checked the web site of the organization to see what they are interested in—what is their mission and who are their audience. This saves you from sending to inappropriate places. 2. Check out their calendar. A “rolling calendar” means that you can send your proposal in at any time while specific deadlines mean that there is a window of opportunity only. Also, a calendar of their exhibitions allows you to discern how many exhibitions they have per year. And if they have an “Upcoming Exhibitions” tab, how far in advance they have planned. 3. Make sure that you read all of their instructions and follow them explicitly. To miss any part of the instructions or to proceed wrong makes your proposal ineligible even before the start. 4. Find the name and email of the contact person. You may have questions, and this is the person to ask. 5. If possible, visit the space. This can assist you in two ways: You will know if this space will work for your exhibition and you can tuck a floor plan for the exhibition in with your proposal. (Some places may even ask for one as part of the entry. They may also want a budget to see if you have the resources for setting an exhibition.) 6. Do not expect to hear from the people you sent your proposal to right away. Many places set up their exhibition calendars only every two or three years. If it has been a month or so after the deadline, you can email the space to find out where they are in the selection process.
An aside here. I did not send my proposal to calls that asked for entry fees or charged rental, hanging and advertisement fees, or any other payments to artists/art groups to exhibit their art work. Many art centers and even college galleries are starting to charge artists and even non-profit galleries are charging rents. It is still a very competitive market for getting these spaces, but not all artists are willing or able to pay for exhibition. It is another aspect you have to balance in progressing your career. And this is where I am talking about budgets.
Along with putting together the packet of materials for a proposal, you should write up a generalized budget. Everything that you do has a cost—some is time and some is money. It is helpful to you, especially after you get approved for the exhibition, to know what the costs are. Some items I place on the budget are: Packaging of art work; transport of art work; gallery assistance in installing and de-installing art work; travel expenses—fuel, tolls, parking; travel expenses—food and hotel; design of post card, catalog, printed materials, labels, price lists/inventories; printing costs; promotion—mailing lists and social media; mailing and advertising; gallery sitting; artist talks and/or reception. Include in the budget whether you
receive a stipend and where/how you plan to use it. You can even discuss with your fellow artists a division of work, a division of financial support, and whether you will find funding sources. If you are using funding—either from each other (the artists involved) or from other agencies, you should include this in the budget. For some funding (stipends, donations of money and some services) there may be tax implications. For others, not so much. For example, if the gallery offers to print post cards, you will not to have to pay taxes on them even if they give you some. But, if you are paid a stipend, you will be given a 1099 form as this is income on which you will have to pay taxes. You will also have to pay sales tax on any sales that you might make. Many university galleries and art centers do not collect sales tax on the sale of the work and usually the way sales are handled is stipulated in a contract that you sign. It will also have the commission rate that will be taken from the sale. Consider this when pricing your art work. And make sure that you are following tax law! (For more information on this look at www.gyst-ink.com/taxes/ for simple explanations and definitions and www.greendragonartist.com/taxes/how-to-do-your-taxes-as-an-artist/ for more in-depth information.)
We Got Picked… Now We Begin…
About a year after I sent in the proposal for “More Fun Than Fun”, the name I gave to this exhibition, I heard from Madalyn Barbero Jordan of the Brother Kenneth Chapman Gallery at
Iona College. I had visited the Brother Kenneth Chapman Gallery and I had heard wonderful
things about it from other artists that I know—specifically from a ceramic artist who had been part of a group show there. She gave me the dates for the exhibition and we set a meeting at the gallery to go over the details and expectations. I immediately confirmed the dates with the other artists (two of my original artists were unavailable) to place on their calendar. One of the artists, Ruth Wolf, volunteered to be my coordinator. An assistant is very helpful as, at any given time, the person organizing the exhibition can be called in many directions. For example, while I was telling the artists where to stage their work for unwrapping, other assistants were clearing paths, setting up tools, unloading trucks. Moreover, even with the best of plans there are some last-minute changes. Good assistants can be helpful in bouncing off ideas as the exhibition develops—they can see your vision along with you!
The meeting with a gallery director is both a “get to know you” and strategic/logistical meeting. Madalyn showed us (Ruth and I) the facilities, explained the facilities and services that the Iona College and the Iona Council on the Arts provide. We went over the dates and times for delivery, where and how delivery and return are to go (including if storage is available), artist reception, and de-installation, samples for post cards and a catalog for the exhibition, and promotion. I always have a notebook with me with questions and the answers and information that I receive. By the end of the meeting I should be able to know specifically what will be in the contract when it arrives. (Yes there is a contract and usually, if there is an exchange of money, a 1099 tax form.) For this day, the only thing I had left to do was make measurements of the gallery space (Madalyn gave me a floor plan) and mark positions of electrical outlets and any permanent signage or fixtures on the walls. Follow-up from this meeting was a “thank you” email to Madalyn that included all vital contact information (email, phone number, brief review of what was discussed.) And emails to the other artists of the exhibition so that they are reminded and informed.
Catalogs, Post Cards, Press Release
Because Brother Kenneth Chapman Gallery and the Iona College Council on the Arts was sponsoring a catalog, I asked each of the artists to send me the images (at a particular size), artist statements, and biography so that each could have a page devoted to them. And since I was designing the catalog I decided to design the post card as well. This is quite a bit of work but if you have artists that are professional and responsive—and this is an important quality to look for in artists—it can be quite straightforward. (Thanks artists of “More Fun Than Fun”!)
I could write a whole blog on designing and producing catalogs and post cards, and maybe someday I will. For something like a catalog, I find Photoshop easiest as long as the pieces I have to use to create the pages are large enough. I asked that the images that were sent to me were 300 dpi, 1800 pixels on longest side minimum, and JPG. This
allowed me to make conversions as necessary without distortion—something that can be a problem when using Photoshop as opposed to Illustrator. There are standard sizes for post cards and catalogs/booklets. Many print business web sites have free templates which makes things easy. If you want to work from your own template you will have to set the template design to .5 inches bigger than what the printed object will be. The .5 inches allows for room for the image to bleed to the edge of the page and for loss from cutting. So, a page that is to be printed to be 8.5 by 11 inches should have a template of 9 by 11.5 inches. After setting this up you can use the rulers (make sure that it is clicked on) and by double-clicking on them while holding shift, the guidelines should show up and you can place them. I use two sets on each side—one that warns me to the size of the page, the other to tell me where the page will be cut. Because I wanted a collection of information for the visitor to connect with the art and artists, I included the exhibition statement, a page containing pictures of the artwork, statement, and biography of each artist, and a page that has portraits of each participant. An acknowledgement page thanks the many who assisted in this exhibition and a little game page was added just for fun!
One of the other things an exhibition organizer is responsible for is a press release. This should be completed and sent in about two months before the exhibition. Press releases are the official announcement of your newsworthy event. They are used by media to write articles/posts on the exhibition. A good press release begins with an attention-grabbing headline in bold font. The body copy has the date and city that the release is from. You should then answer the questions Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How? I usually add a colorful quote by an authority (could be the gallery director, one of the artists, the curator, a critic or art historian who is familiar with the artists or these art works. (As I was the exhibition organizer, I used a quote by me!) I always have an image with press releases on art exhibitions. It generates interest. The press relaese can be sent through email (most places prefer this) or snail mail. Something to remember, and I have received any number of press releases where this is forgotten, is that it is best to have the image right on the press release and not as an attachment. Most people won’t take the time to open your attachment. Also, for each email you will have to insert the image—a cut and paste of an image will not show up. I always send my press releases to my contact lists as well as post them on social media. And even after you have done all of this, do not forget to post pictures continuously on social media and have the other artists do the same. And hit the “SHARE” button a lot!
Communicate Each Step of the Way
It is important to stay in touch with the artists involved letting them know where things stand on the timetable to the exhibition. As I finished each page of the catalog for each artist, I sent them the page for them to read and tell me if any changes needed to be made. I also sent them as an attachment the contract with the gallery space for them to read. This allowed them to know what they were signing up for as far as insurance of work, responsibilities, sales, etc. Although I signed the contract as point-person, as my email to them said, these were the terms that we would be held to. Other emails included the press release for them to share with their mailing list and an announcement image. The announcement image is basically the front and back of the post card in JPG form that can also be posted or sent out. I also emailed, and even called if I didn’t hear back, reminders for price list information and important dates and times like drop-off of artwork and pick-up/closing of the exhibition. Always close these emails or text messages with “If you have any questions or concerns. Please let me know>” And answer your artists questions immediately when they have them. This is also true with the gallery representative. Even with this, the press release was lost between Madalyn Barbero Jordan and I for a few days. Because we each acted professionally and stayed on top of our communication, it was found and disaster averted.
Delivery and After
Iona College is not organized to have package deliveries to the gallery. They do not have a storage area for art work. This means that all the art work had to be present on the first day
of the two days that we were given for setting up the exhibition. Because several of the artists (including me) had large work and/or would not be able to take their art work
themselves to the gallery, I rented a truck. I am fortunate in that my husband, a school teacher, has had experience in any number of extra jobs to drive delivery trucks and vans. And I was further lucky that my daughters and son have had experience with packing, delivering, and generally assisting with art exhibitions. As I mentioned earlier, it is best that the organizing person is in the gallery to greet, orchestrate, direct, and problem-solve. This is a time of much nervous energy and it is great to have plenty of professionals—artists and assistants—there. And it was a pleasure that Madalyn had had the gallery space so primed for us to begin the hanging.
Setting up the exhibition is laborious, but as each section comes together, the excitement grows. I had a general plan laid out before we got started and I was familiar enough with the work to know what each needed to take ownership of its own space. Having assistance from Ruth and my daughters MaryKate and Caroline made reconfigurations better and easier. Some of the artists, Peter and Alysa, were available for setting their pieces up in the spaces I showed them. Ruth was great with the hammer and John, Sarah, and Kyle were wonders with the truck packing while John, MaryKate, and Caroline assisted with the unpackaging and clean-up.
Here are two videos of the whole exhibition. The first one is a little longer-- about 6 minutes; the second one is shorter-- almost 4 minutes. Each starts in a different direction arround the gallery. Thank you to my daughters for taking them. I hope you enjoy them!
#MoreFunThanFun #BrotherKennethChapmanGallery #IonaCollege #IonaCollegeCouncilontheArtsntheArts #MadalynBarberoJordan #CarolTaylorKearney #RuthWolf #PeterTreiber #RubySilvious #AndreaBeizer #AlysaBennett #Settingupanexhibition #Howtoexhibitions #sculptureswithfeathers #horses #painting #drawing #lightboxes #neonart #Alicecartoon #mixedmedia #glassart