Here is an article that was submitted by Molly Crabapple, artist, writer, and creator of the very cool Dr.Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. If there is anyone with the knowledge to help make your art shows more of a success than they normally are, it’s Molly.
Like many artists, you may be tired of waiting for a gallery to sweep you off your feet. You’ve sent your slide packets, you’ve written artist your statements, and you’ve received only discouraging silence in return.
At this point, like many artists, you decide to grab fate by the balls. Why wait for a gallery to notice you when there’s wall space in the local cafe or club, practically begging to be filled. So, with courage and a portfolio, you approach the proprietor. And, unlike those galleries, he’s overjoyed. Of course you can have a show!
You go home, head buzzing with visions of selling your artwork, and telling that gallery to go jump in a lake. But why is it that for all their promise, shows in non-traditional venues so often end in failure?
Bad publicity, bad communication, and lack of confidence. And, using examples from my own life (some happy, some less so), I’m going to give you a roadmap for making sure your DIY exhibition ends in sweet victory, rather than my cheap-gin tears of defeat.
EXAMPLE ONE (The Pathetic)- Having just moved to bohemian Williamsburg, I decided to have an art show in a local bar. I chose the Rain Lounge, whose brothel decor matched my Victorian pen and inks. I showed my work to the owner. He loved it and suggested I have an opening. Overjoyed, I went home, drew like a jacked-up monkey, and came back to hang on the appointed date. But, when I showed up with crates of framed pictures, the owner was nowhere to be found. The bartender knew nothing about my show. Reluctantly he agreed to let my hang my work in the back. As for my poster in the window, he tore it down as soon as I looked away. Undiscouraged, I posted fliers every shop in my neighborhood, and put on my skimpiest dress for the “opening”. No one came. Well, one person. The bartender, who told me that he had to turn off the lights. What did I think this was? An art show? Now, you ask, how do you avoid sitting alone at your own opening, crying into your overpriced drink? Well, lets look at what I did wrong.
1. Bad communication. In stores, it’s very important that not only the owners know about your show, but all the employees. Discuss every detail of the show with the owner beforehand. How many pieces? Where will you hang them? Can you have an opening? How about a poster in the window? Be thorough to the point of aggravation. And make sure the owner tells his staff. Get the his cell number in case you show up with two duffel bags full of paintings and the barista doesn’t know who you are.
3. My fliers weren’t specific enough, and I didn’t make enough of them. I only made 100 fliers, not realizing most fliers just get thrown out. The time range was too broad (I wrote Tuesday evening, not Tuesday 6-8).
4.Most importantly, and most fatally, I didn’t believe in myself. I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a show in a real gallery, so I didn’t tell my friends or try for sponsorships and listings. I didn’t stand up to that obnoxious bartender. Tacky as it sounds; confidence is the most crucial part of success. Remember, your art is important- in or out of a gallery.
EXAMPLE TWO (Triumph!)
It was not without some trepidation that I embarked on my second DIY show. This time, though, I was determined to do it right. This time, I had a plan. So, six months before my planned exhibition date, I trundled up to Jigsaw Gallery, portfolio in hand. Jigsaw is a comic books store that hangs affordable art on its walls. “Ben Jones,” I said to the owner “I want an art show. But I don’t want anything half-baked about it. I want free alcohol and a go-go girl in the window. I want reviews. I want press releases sent. And I want hundreds of people to show up.”
“Alright” said Ben, a bit startled at my vehemence. So, for the next six months, I worked my ass off. I believed that my show would be the hottest thing going. I hired a sultry burlesque babe to dance in the window. I wrote to a local liquor company, who gave me 400 bottles of hard cider for the opening. I pestered over 100
magazines, and snagged a review in one. On that freezing February night, 250 people came to my opening. Over half the work sold.
How did I do it, you ask? Let me tell you what I did right.
1. I had a concept. This wasn’t going to be just any art show. This was going got be my last show of pen and inks. Everyone involved wore black and white vintage clothes. Even the food was black and white. The go-go girl in the window dressed like a Victorian tart from one of my paintings. Whether you do silk-screened gig posters or Xeroxes of your genitals, a strong theme will keep people pique interest for your show.
2. I sent out listings to every event calendar in my city. Notice all the free rags that clutter your local coffee shop? Those rags can be listing your work! Ditto for websites. If you’re in a big city, you’ll find plenty of publications covering your scene, but even small towns have a few. A month before your show, send out listings to them. Listings should include time, place, date, contact info, and two or three sentences explaining the show’s painfully unique concept.
3.I made 1000 fliers. Make yourself some glossy fliers for your art opening. Google “flyers” and hunt around for the best deal. I like Image Media Print. Make sure your fliers tie in with your concept. If you don’t know graphic design, hire someone to help you. Lay those babies around- especially in well off neighborhoods or cool venues. Where would an art patron be likely to find them? If your city, like mine, is gutted by gentrification, use it to your advantage. Pile stacks of fliers around the haunts of investment-banker bohemians. Sure, they might be less fun then your friends, but they certainly have deeper pockets.
4. A liquor company sponsored me. Sponsorship is easier than you think. What companies around you need street cred? Which ones need cheap advertising? Whether your talking to a big company or the girl who knits dildo cozies, business can be persuaded to give you free stuff. Tell them that in exchange for cash or coolness, you’ll plaster their name over your fliers and tell everyone about them. It’s cheap advertising for them, and gives you free booze, food and booty for your opening.
5.Tell everyone. Even people you barely know. I know that you feel like a sorry misfit doing it, but so does everyone else who ever got a rock thrown at them in high school. You’ll be amazed at how many acquaintances you have- and at how generally decent people are.
Most importantly, believe in yourself and your ability to promote yourself. It’s great to have some powerful gallery behind you, but if your work is good, hanging it on a cafÃ© wall doesn’t make it less so.
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