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
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 café 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 décor 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
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
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
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 café wall doesn’t make it less so.
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