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I just received an email from a friend who is planning her own art exhibit without the involvement of a gallery or curator. This can be a good option, but there is always a lot to organise.

I’ve done it a few times before, so I gave her the following checklist. Perhaps it will help you as well:

Invitations

Choose an image for the invitations which is a good example of the artwork you have in the show. Ask a few people which piece they like best, and ask people who are not necessarily arty. You might be surprised what they choose.

Make sure all the info is correct. . . the place, time, date, gallery hours, gallery phone number (double-check by ringing the phone number) and get two other people to read it to check your check spelling.

Ask the printer what format the picture and the artwork need to be in to get the best result. Also, printing colour is tricky. Tell the printer you are fussy and will pay extra to see a proof of how the colour will turn out when printed. It is worth paying extra for colour correction of the image if necessary.

At the same time, don’t assume your printer has a visual sensibility. Unless you are using a top-end printer or designer, your printer is most likely printing things like carpet cleaning flyers, whose clients may not care about the outcome as much as you do.

Spell things out, and don’t take anything for granted. It is important for the image on the invitation to be excellent because this could be the difference between someone attending or not attending your exhibition.

Aim to have the invitations finished three weeks before the exhibition, which means talk to the printer five or six weeks before you need them. This way you have time to put some of them in public places and send out the others so people will have them a few weeks before the exhibit.

Once you get them, carry a few everywhere you go so you can give them to anyone who seems interested. Make sure to get a pdf of the invitation as well, and email it to everyone! Then, email a reminder on the day of the event.

Catalogue

If you don’t have the money to print off a nicely printed catalogue, at least write something about your work and put it on the back of the price list.

You could write about the process of making it, or the thought behind it, or even a quote or an essay by an art writer. The reason behind doing this is because people who are educated about your art are more likely to buy it, and have an enriched experience at your event.

Media release

Local papers, national papers, magazines, arts TV programs, etc, should all receive your media release (radio stations too). This is important!

Write the media release exactly like you would like to see it in the paper. Include a photo of you with your artwork, and then perhaps one or two more of just the work.

Put it on hard copy with print outs of the images and also put it on a disc. Send both to as many places you can think of. Write differently-worded media releases for different publications if they have a different audience.

Whenever possible, phone and ask who you should address it to and what their email address is. Send them the hard copy with disc and also email it, just to be sure they get it. It also doesn’t hurt to email them a reminder just before the show, and send them an invitation to the opening.

Food and drinks

Food is optional, depending on cost and your budget. Wine is more common, and sometimes you can find a small winery to sponsor you with free wine in return for a logo and mention on the invite.

Or, perhaps you could even give them the opportunity to sell wine at the opening or sign people up for their wine club. It can be a win-win situation.

Bulk discounts may also be available from a winery, but make sure its drinkable! People are more likely to buy if they are relaxed with a glass of wine. (If it didn’t work, the big galleries wouldn’t do it.)

As an alternative, I have been to afternoon art openings which have tea, coffee, and cakes. . . kind of like a high tea? If you are going to do that, put it on the invitation so people know what to expect.

Either way, you will need a drinks table with a nice cloth on it (to hide the extra wine or tea underneath.) Look and be professional. You will probably also want someone to serve the drinks?

Put the drinks table in a position away from the door near the back of the exhibition space so you have to walk past all the artwork to get a drink. This is important! I have seen people hang around a drinks table near the door, get to chatting to someone, and not even look at the art!

If they want a free drink, at least make them walk past your artwork first.

Pricelist table

If you have a friend or relative who is able to process sales that will free you up to chat to people. Put up a small table near the door with several price lists for people to take.

Also have the price listed under each piece of work. Make it clear that the work is for sale. Don’t handwrite it! Print it out in a clear, easy to read font, mount it on foamcore board and neatly cut them the same size using a craft knife and ruler.

Why do you need a pricelist if the work is labeled? So people have something to take home with them, of course! And it goes without saying that your website should be on the pricelist, along with your phone number and email address.

Many decisions to buy art are made after the event, so you may even find that you sell more off your website in the weeks that follow, than you did at the exhibit.

Good luck!

To learn more about Shana James, please visit her website.

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Preparation is everything! As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

When I have an art project to do, I put myself through a NASA-like preparation period to get things moving. Maybe it’s because I am an ADHD sort, but I need that prep time to really get serious and focused about my work.

You see, if there is a phone call, or a dinner call, or a floating anxiety, it can. . . read more

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