Musings: Lessons I've Learned About Hosting A Gallery Show

I'm so thankful to my Show Committee of volunteers who are helping me to throw a professional art exhibition. Recognizing that I'm not naturally the best at marketing myself, they have stepped up to the plate to lend their expertise, and its making a huge difference.

Special Edition Mini Love Letter
Paintings are my gifts to Sponsors.
For example, they suggested I ask for Micro Sponsors to help boost my PR effort and raise funds to cover expenses. This has been a brilliant move! My already supportive collectors have enthusiastically signed up to sponsor the event. Normally, the hosting gallery will pay for costs, which can be substantial. The Community Creative Center (commonly referred to as the Carnegie) provides the gallery space for rental, but the artists self-host and self-fund the show. The thing is, artists host a show and hope that the sales of art will cover the costs. The concept of making a profit from a show is less considered, even if it should be the goal.

In the past several years I've hosted smaller shows or participated in group shows. I've learned a lot each time, from building mailing lists, to packing artwork for transportation, to delegating tasks and getting assistants, and most importantly -- keeping a task list. I like lists, but even for me, my 4-page task list is a bit daunting!

Here's a short list of tasks and/or costs I consider for a show:

Gallery Rental
Extended Hours Gallery Rental & Insurance
Wood Art Panel Construction
Art Supplies & Tools
Artwork Photography
Show Planning Committee Meetings
Sponsorship Sales
Graphic Design
Printing: Show Announcement, Poster, Banner, Brochure, & Thank You cards
Exhibition Design
Website & Social Media
Poster & Announcement Distribution
Press Release & Promotions
Office Supplies & Packing Materials
Postage and Mailing Expenses
Loaning artwork from collectors
Private Sponsor Reception Food & Drinks
Drinks Server
First Friday Reception Food & Drinks
Equipment Rental
Exhibition Hardware
Installation & Takedown Crew
Reception & Sales Assistants
Event Photography

With each show I host, I learn to peel off a few tasks and delegate them to others. And the best secret is this: people love to help. Those with professional skills can easily proof a design or edit an artist statement. Others have manual skills, or spare time, or simply want to learn from you. There are many reasons someone might want to volunteer, so be brave and ask.

Some tasks might require payment, like poster distribution and certified drinks servers. This is where the sponsorships will really make a difference, because I can finally hire people for the jobs. Artists commonly have a wide variety of skills, and you can usually find a local artist who has the skills you need, and that in turn helps support fellow artists.

Regardless of the task, I hold myself to a high standard. In my mind, its all part of the exhibit planning. I don't want to throw art on the wall without considering each detail, like what you see when you first walk in the door, how the art labels look, even where the chairs are placed. This is where show planning crosses over into installation art. You are providing an experience from the moment someone hears of the show to the thoughts and images that hang in their heads for days, or months, afterwards. Everything matters.

Here are a few things not to forget (from personal experience): get photos of the show and reception, make sure your credit card reader is working, assign a water-bearer for the reception (because you get dehydrated from all that talking), and keep detailed notes and contacts of people you meet and sales you make. They are the gems you have earned from all your hard work.

August - September, 2016
Community Creative Center, Fort Collins