There are a few unavoidable things that come along with having your first gallery opening and art exhibition. Primarily among them: Nerves. You’re also bound to face a few glitches – hopefully minor – feel exceedingly overwhelmed, and get that first delightful taste of a complete stranger walking up to you to say how much they love your work.
These things are largely unavoidable – and why would you want to avoid them? – but if you follow the advice from successful artists, you can minimize the not-so-nice occurrences, and capitalize on the good ones.
BEFORE THE OPENING
1. Communicate with the Curator
As appreciative as you will no doubt be for this person opening their gallery or store to your art, don’t forget you have a right to be happy with your show, and understand every aspect.
Make sure the terms of the agreement between you and the host are very clear. Get everything on paper, even little mentions that might make you feel petty. Unless this is their first show too, they’ll understand why you’re pushing for clarity.
And don’t stop at the curator herself. Speak with anyone else who will be at the opening in a professional capacity. They should be able to answer some basic questions about you, should they be sought out by a curious guest.
2. Promote, Promote, Promote
Begin promotion for your show a month in advance. Drop off handbills at restaurants and shops around the neighborhood. Consider putting fliers on community bulletin boards.
Get online and tout your show on every social media site you can think of. Put ads on local buy and sell sites (why not?) and contact any companies who disseminate event information around your area.
3. Prepare the Art
Though tempting, it’s generally not advisable to show every piece of art you’ve ever created. Make sure you are clear on the dimensions of the space and choose accordingly. Select pieces in a theme, or go for an eclectic array (this may not always be up to you).
Don’t just bring a bunch of originals you plan to price at $100+ each. Remember that most of the people who come to the exhibit won’t be rich (unless it’s that kind of exhibit and in that case, good for you!). Bring prints of some of your most popular pieces, or even greeting cards. It’s often more likely that 20 people will buy a greeting card, than that someone will shell out $100 for an original.
4. Gallery Preparations
If you luck into the chance to set up the day before the show, take it! This will give you time to breathe, and you won’t have to bring a change of clothes for the evening.
Make sure you have your cards ready a few days early. Each card should list the name of the work, the media and substrate, dimensions, and price. If this is a group show, the card also needs your name. Spellcheck til your eyes bleed!
If it’s up to the curator to set up your art, you can still wander through, making sure everything is level, the correct cards are on the correct pieces, and there are no distracting shadows or bright spots.
5. Prepare Yourself
Mentally. Have ready answers for the questions guests often ask. You don’t want to reply with a nervous “I dunno,” but you also don’t want to assault their ears with a lofty speech full of thousand dollar words that just leaves them more confused. Have concise, perhaps humorous comebacks ready for questions like “What is your inspiration?”, “Who are your favorite artists?”, and “How long did this piece take?”.
Emotionally. This step is often overlooked. You can do everything else just right, and work yourself to the bone setting up the best exhibit ever. But if you’re exhausted, starving, and cranky by the time the doors open, the guests are going to pick up on that.
It is often the task of the curator to set up the entertainment and noshes for a gallery opening, but you’ll want to know what to expect. Ask questions. Make sure they aren’t serving cold cuts in the midst of your artistic attack on factory farms. Double check they won’t be playing Bach among your retrospective of 70s rock gods.
DURING AND FOLLOWING THE OPENING
7. Have Reasonable Expectations
Remember an art exhibit is as much about networking as selling your art – if not more. Don’t let yourself get distracted watching for red dots, or discouraged by the lack of personal cheques changing hands.
Even if you end up carting most or all of your originals back home with you at the end of the run, don’t underestimate word of mouth. Chances are a good number of those browsers passed your card along to a friend who they just know would love your work.
8. Promote Yourself
If you’ve taken care of all the visual aspects early, you’ll be prepared to really jump into the networking scheme of things once the show opens. Make sure you have business cards on hand, and pass them out to anyone you talk to.
Approach people who are looking at your work. Don’t be presumptuous and try to sell to them, but introduce yourself, let them know you’re around if they have questions.
And remember networking is a two-way street. Don’t just field inquiries about your work – actually interact. And collect as many of their business cards as you can. You never known when you might need to get ahold of a fellow artist, publicist, or gallery owner.
9. Talk To, Not Over
People are bound to ask about your work. As mentioned above, you should have some statements prepared (memorized, of course), but be conscious of the tone. You don’t want to simplify everything into one syllable words, but avoid sounding like the stereotypical, esoteric artist whose work can only be understood by minds of the highest caliber. Be humble, honest, and direct.
10. Keep Promoting
Your opening night is over. Congratulations, you survived it! But the work of an artist who wants to make a living is never done. If you had a mailing list set out at the show, send out a thank you within the next day or so. Not only is this the polite thing to do, but it will bring the memory of your show back into the guests’ minds.
Be rigorous about updating your social media pages and website in the days following the opening. This is when people will be looking you up, and they shouldn’t see an abandoned Instagram or unattended Twitter. Be present and you’ll have a better chance of staying on their radar.
These tips from exhibiting artists provide the bones of a great checklist for your first show. Scour the internet for other advice and feedback to get yourself as prepared as possible.
Have any pointers you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments!
Brick and mortar walls are rarely the only place artists show their work. If you’re looking for an online outlet for your 2-dimensional art, check out our own Artist Gallery Program. We offer a place to show your paintings, photographs, drawings, or digital artwork at no cost to you. If a customer orders a print, we do all the work and send you the commission.
As always, if you have any questions about our products and services, our blogs, or your own art, don’t hesitate to contact us!