How to Plan and Prepare a Solo Art Show on a Shoestring Budget

Published Oct. 20th 2008

Congratulations! You’ve bravely bared your soul as an artist, you’ve worked hard, and you’re finally ready for a solo gallery show.

As a self-described ARTrepreneur, I’ve always tried to produce great results from a limited budget—and what I’ve learned is that for $250 or less you can plan an exciting two-day exhibit that will make you money, build a following and leave people wanting more. So how do you go about it?

Ideally, you should start planning three months in advance. Your first objectives will be booking a location and setting a date.

What to look for in a location

The location cost will be your greatest expense, but don’t exceed $150 if possible. Search out an area that provides walk-in traffic allowing you access to potential customers unreachable through your advertising.

A great idea would be an empty storefront along a busy street that’s currently waiting to be rented. Many landlords are happy to liven the space up for a couple days in exchange for a few dollars. Local community centres may also have space to rent.

Be creative with this! Don’t be afraid to approach business owners (restaurants, coffee shops, etc) and barter some artwork in return for a location. Your budget is $150, but your goal is to get it as cheaply as possible.

How to choose the right date

Unless you’re located in a popular tourist destination, plan your solo show for the middle of the week and avoid the summer months. If you don’t, you may miss a large portion of your potential audience to vacation and travel.

Coming up with a creative theme

Once you’ve set the date and location you’ll need to develop a theme for your show. Most likely you can do this for under $30, if not for free.

Always present your exhibit in a way that ties in with your artwork and leaves visitors with something they’ll remember. For example, if much of your art is about beaches, oceans or waterscapes, plan your decorations with that in mind.

Bring in buckets of sand, seashells and rocks. Add a beach chair with towels and an umbrella. Play ocean sounds in the background and wear shorts and a t-shirt to top it off. If you’re having fun, others will notice and respond positively.

Cost-effective ways to promote your show

I love no-budget marketing—if you’ve never done a solo show before, you might be surprised how much free advertising is available for artists.

However, you’ll still want to set your budget at $40 to allow for printing costs. Print 100 or more fliers announcing your show and distribute them to businesses and community bulletin boards throughout your area.

Plan to distribute your fliers a month before your show and then take advantage of the free advertising provided by community cable, radio and newspapers along with any other art marketing channels you know of. You can usually give your information online or through a phone number provided by these services.

In addition, contact your local newspaper(s) a week before your show with a press release providing who, what, when, where and why. Remember, editors want stories their readers will be interested in hearing, not a sales pitch—so make it interesting .

Don’t forget to add your contact number and information to the press release. (You can research sample press releases on the net for proper formatting.) Hopefully you’ll be contacted to do an interview, but there’s never any guarantee.

Don’t hesitate to contact individual journalists on your own, either—specifically those who write for the arts and entertainment sections of the paper—if you don’t hear back from the newspaper within a few days.

Last minute details

By now you’ve booked your location, set a date, developed a theme and advertised your show. All you have to do is tie up the loose ends in the final week.

Plan to spend $30 for finger foods and drinks. Don’t go gourmet, but don’t be cheap. This shows your customers you care about them even if they don’t make a purchase.

Make sure your art is completed and ready to hang and everything priced properly. As a bonus, something I highly recommend is writing down the history of each piece of art, along with the name, price, size and medium, and posting it next to your work.

Most of all, keep in mind that when it comes to art, people want to buy more than just an image—they want to buy the experience as well.

If you’re creative and willing to follow the steps outlined above, it’s quite possible to create that experience without breaking the bank.

For more articles by Robb Scott, visit .

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