Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Alternative exhibition spaces

Most artists strive for commercial acceptance and success. There are several paths to achieving those (often elusive) goals, commercial galleries being one of them. But if you’re having difficulty breaking into a commercial gallery or if you feel you might not be ready for one yet, there are many alternative spaces that you may want to consider.

I have to admit that I live in a town with two universities and a thriving art scene, so you can hardly go anywhere around here without seeing artwork from local artists and art students. But I’m sure you can find similar venues in your town.

I'm not going to cover rental galleries, vanity galleries, and community art centers. I'm going to focus on free spaces that might not currently exhibit art.

Some of these alternative spaces include:
Coffee shops
Wine shops
Hair salons/spas
Fitness clubs/dojos
Dance studios
Record stores
Bank lobbies

Basically, any wall is a potential exhibition space.

Do some research. Visit different businesses in your town and notice if they have artwork hanging in their space. If they have changing exhibits, ask to speak to the person in charge of the artwork. Ask him or her about submission guidelines – would they like to see slides or a CD, view your website, or see actual work?

Carry a packet of information (or brochure or business card or CD) around with you to leave behind if the opportunity arises.

Approach businesses or spaces that relate to your work.
If you paint floral still lifes, you might approach a flower shop, garden shop, or a botanical garden. Figurative work might lend itself to a day spa. Landscapes from your trip to Italy would look great in that little Italian restaurant. Asian-inspired work might appeal to the owners of a dojo or karate school. Photographs of dancers in a dance studio. Watercolors of historic missions in your local Catholic church. You get the idea…

Some businesses that currently exhibit artwork from local artists might also already do receptions. If they don’t, you might brainstorm about how to do your own reception. They might be open to live music, jugglers, dancers, etc. Try to find something that would be mutually beneficial to both of you – getting your work seen and bringing in customers to the restaurant or shop.

Unused and empty retail spaces
Consider approaching the owner of a vacant space that would lend itself to your work. Maybe there’s an empty store on your town square that you could borrow or rent fairly cheaply for a couple of weeks. You would need to consider how to staff the space – posting specific gallery hours and having someone work as a gallery sitter.

A couple of years ago I went to a show at a gallery space that was actually a house. A couple of art students were renting a house and realized that they had a room that they weren’t using. They emptied out that room as well as their living room. Then they invited artists to have short (usually one or two-day) shows. They also knew music students and invited them to provide music for the reception/parties.

Things to consider
Trust your instincts.
If a restaurant owner seems shady or untrustworthy, tell them thanks anyway. Work out the details of sales – if they handle sales then usually they will take a commission. If they don’t want to deal with sales, they might have interested patrons contact you directly.

Find out what the venue will provide.
Some restaurants or shops might already have receptions and PR in place. You can just hang your show and show up for the reception. But others might leave that all up to you. If so, then you'll need to decide how you want to market the show. Consider writing a press release and sending out postcards to promote the show.

Be sure to have contact info available during your show.
Frame and hang an artist’s statement. Leave a stack of business cards or brochures.

It may be a great opportunity to show, but not sell.
If you look at it as a way to show your work to people who wouldn’t normally see it, then you’ll have a good experience. If you expect to sell every piece, then you might be disappointed.

Strength in numbers.
Enlist a group of artists to have a show with you. Find artists who do work in a similar theme, similar format, similar medium, etc. Having a group and assigning tasks helps to alleviate the work load associated with mounting a show.

What are some other alternative spaces that you’ve exhibited in? Were they successful? What did you do to make them successful?


Nancy Van Blaricom said...

Thanks for sharing these often forgotten about alternatives to galleries. Some times a gallery just isn't for us, and possibly something a little less intimidating than a gallery will be just what we need to boost our confidence and give us a few bucks in the process.

Anonymous said...

not only do alternative spaces offer places for artists to show their work but they also offer the public a non-intimidating way to enjoy art. many non-"art" people never go near a gallery....but they'll look at every painting on the wall in their local coffee shop or doctor's office. The public that doesn't go to galleries still does buy art when it's offered to them--they still love to look at art--they're just afraid or sick of galleries. When we put our art in public spaces the public feels we are more like them....and if it helps educate people about the value of hand-made, artist made over factory made...well, isn't that what we're hoping for? I belong to a pottery coop that has hugely successful sales in local libraries, etc. These shows not only offer exposure but a percentage of the proceeds goes directly to the library, etc. Most of our members have their own studios and shops but these shows introduce people to the whole idea of pottery making and each artist includes pictures and info about their process. Sorry about the long comment ;)

Anonymous said...

hey there! Those are some great ideas! Once I rented out the headquarters of a company that throws huge parties. There were no parties scheduled for that time and they allowed me full reign of their premises for a show that I organized with 4 other female artists. The only downside was having to do ABSOLOUTELY EVERYTHING, which made me realise how much behind the scenes work galleries do! At the end of the day, we just paid a small amount of rent money and no comission, which is always nice.

Rosa Murillo said...

yes, starting this blog was a great idea, I am there too and I'm reading your blog, nodding... yes, to the post cards, yes of course.. the alternate spaces, I've done it although alone but not any more. isn't it funny how we all go through the same things? your blog today made me feel less lonely. Good luck with your art and congrats in your solo and group shows!
best wishes


Julia said...

Great advice! I worked with a local non-profit theatre to turn their lobby into a gallery. Of course, I was then appointed to the board and given the title of Gallery Director. I did this work for two years. I put on group and solo exhibitions. It gave me great insight on what a gallery can do and does for an artist. It also allowed me to be creative with my shows and to set up business systems so that when I walked away they could keep it running. It also gave me insight on how much help some artists need in the business side of art. Things such as showing up on time, pricing their work, coming to their opening, putting proper hanging wire on work, artist statements etc.

I'm glad you are offering up your wisdom!

Rebecca said...

I just stumbled onto your site, and I'm glad I did. Looking forward to reading more!


Bill Pocock said...

Good post.

I like the style and substance of your blog, Deanna.

I've added NYFA link to my own art blog. Another set of articles on business for artists and collectors can be found at Alan Bamberger's SF art scene website, www.artbusiness.com. He's also an art gallery photojournalist (like me) who posts images of what's showing in San Fran.

I'd say another tactic for your art career strategy would be to do as Alan and I do - cover art gallery openings. You'll get to meet all of the city's artists, gallery owners, directors, curators you could ever want to. They get to know you, then they may wish to see your work. If you do, don't forget to bring along some business cards with the website address on it.

Lisa Hunter said...

If you're primarily interested in being seen and appreciated, rather than making sales, try hospitals. A study at the Rockefeller University Hospitality a few years ago found that patients who had original artwork in their rooms responded better to treatment than those who didn't. (Why? Who knows? Maybe art helps patients remember that they're human beings in an environment that treats them as diagnoses and nuisances.)

jooyoung choi said...

Thanks for writing this post. I am new to your blog.

I am wondering though, have you ever met anyone who was able to get a store front to allow them to use or rent the space for a low price?

I'd love to chat with someone who has done this, I have read in books about it, and I plan to start a gallery like this, in an unused shop, in Seoul, South Korea. But, while I am here in the states, I would like to try my hand at this.

Is there anyone you feel would be good to contact?

I am in the boston area, if you know anyone local or in new york, I would gladly take a trip to meet them!