So you’ve decided that 2013 is the year you have your own art exhibition? Good for you. Now that you’re working toward this goal, the first thing you’ll need to do is find a gallery that’s willing to host it.
Finding a gallery isn’t as simple as choosing one from the phone book. You’ll need to send in an exhibition proposal, and the gallery owner will decide if your exhibition fits with the gallery’s projects for the year. Proposals are usually sought on a yearly basis—so keep up-to-date with your local arts community website, or contact galleries directly to find out closing dates for proposal applications.
Most galleries require you to submit a resume, artist statement, exhibition proposal, and portfolio. Let’s take a look at each one, to see what’s required:
Putting together your resume
Your resume should tell the gallery that you are a serious artist who has had some experience of the art world before. The gallery will want to see that you will be able to bring visitors their way.
List your contact details, including your website and online art shop. List your most recent achievements and experience first, then follow in descending order. List anything you’ve done related to art, such as:
• Group exhibitions you’ve participated in
• Performance pieces you’ve participated in
• Residencies you’ve undertaken
• Grants, prizes and awards you’ve received
• Memberships to professional organizations
• Commissioned projects you’ve worked on
• Articles or books you’ve published
• Institutions that hold collections of your work
Your resume needs to be functional and concise. This is not a document to showcase your creativity and design skills. Focus on the content of the resume above all.
Writing your artist statement
The artist statement explains your interests and influences; it distills your artistic experience and expression into a short, cohesive narrative about your work.
You will probably need short (50-100 words) and long (500 words) artist statements. Write the long one first, then distill it down to its essential points. When writing your statement, it helps to look at the statements of other artists, and to think about:
• Why you create your art and what it means to you
• The techniques you use that make your work unique
• Why you chose your medium
• Who you are and how your art has affected you as a person
Use simple, down-to-earth language. Avoid jargon, and don’t compare your work to other famous artists.
Creating your exhibition proposal
Now we get to the most important part of your package – the exhibition proposal. This document tells the gallery what you plan to achieve with their space and helps them to decide if your exhibition concept is a good fit for the gallery.
Your proposal should consist of a written explanation of the concept behind your exhibition, plus at least 12 images to accompany the written report.
In your exhibition proposal, you need to tell the gallery:
• The appearance, theme and aesthetic of the exhibition
• The minimum size of the wall/floor area you’ll need
• Any unusual requirements, like projections or large constructions
• When the exhibition will be available (be flexible!)
• The materials you’ll use, and their health/safety factors, if any
• If you can offer any educational elements alongside the exhibition
That last note is especially important, because any sort of community outreach (like workshops, classes, lectures, etc) will raise your application to the top of the pile.
Submitting your portfolio
Finally, you’ll also need to submit a portfolio of your work, including commissions, editorial work and pictures from different exhibitions you’ve been involved in.
Your supporting images will need to include either pictures of the finished works or, if the work is not yet constructed, examples of past pieces that represent the style you’ll be using. Don’t send originals or sketches—use a PDF file on a CD or pen drive, or submit a printed portfolio.
Although this all sounds like a lot of work, once you get started creating your exhibition proposal it’s really not that difficult. Just make sure to get a handle on your overarching concept before you begin the proposal, and then follow the suggestions above to finish each task.
Or read the next article in the series, below.
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When you ask to show your art at a venue, you need to be very clear about what you are offering. People don’t often say Yes to vague offers.
Think about what ties the work together. This is your curatorial thesis – your big idea. Writing it out, as you’ll see below, helps you find the clarity you need.
Before sitting down to write your exhibition proposal, ask the venue if they have a particular exhibition proposal format they prefer. If they do, follow their instructions. If they don’t have specific guidelines, you’ll have to compile an exhibition proposal for yourself.
The details of your proposal will vary depending on whether you’re proposing a show at a coffee shop, a pop-up space, or a nonprofit gallery. You will have to judge what is appropriate for your situation.
Here are major components you’ll include.
Personalize your cover letter with the correct name and spelling of the manager, exhibitions director, or curator. It’s much nicer to show you have done your homework than to start off with a generic To Whom It May Concern salutation.
I like to begin cover letters with an acknowledgement that I know something about the recipient. You could compliment them on a recent exhibition or say that you’ve been reading about them. You should also mention anyone you know who is associated with the venue – a patron, board member, or artist.
Thank the recipient for considering your proposal.
The meat of your proposal is a document that outlines the particulars of the exhibition.
- Explain why your art is a good fit with the venue’s exhibition program.
- Describe the exhibition contents and curatorial thesis in 3-4 sentences.
- List the artists, if others are to be included. Insert your résumé or bio, as well as those from any other artists.
- Provide a complete inventory of works to be shown. Include titles, media, and prices.
- Estimate the space required in square or linear feet and any expenses that might be incurred by the venue.
Finally, include images of your art in the proposal.
For a small show, include all of the works you plan on showing. For a larger show, you can use a sample of 10-20 images as long as the images are representative of the entire exhibition.
I hope you see how the process of writing an exhibition proposal can be a valuable start to a successful exhibition. And it’s just a first step. Once accepted, you will need a written agreement that outlines the terms between you and the venue and a plan for executing all that you have promised.