Investing in Yourself: Exhibiting on a Tight Budget

As artists, we have various goals: create dynamic and meaningful work, exhibit, publish and hopefully even land gallery representation. Yet in these tough economic times (a phrase we commonly read and hear), many galleries are simply not ready to take on new artists.

© Enid Alvarez
Young woman admires work by Manuel Rivera-Ortiz and Valdir Cruz at an En Foco group exhibition. © Enid Alvarez

As someone who worked in a commercial gallery, I can see why. The galleries need to narrow their focus, shave off the excess and prioritize their marketing time and dollars into artists they already invested in. And from the artist’s perspective, this is something we need to do too plus, there is no telling which galleries will be around after these challenging times.

However, for any determined artist – you must press on and continue to build your CV (curriculum vitae – ie, resume) and as the saying goes, ‘add another line.’ It is important for your artistic career to keep sharing (exhibiting) your work. One of the most important lines to add is under the category “Exhibitions.” Solo exhibitions are great exposure but can be very costly. Most non-profit university galleries depend on the artist flipping the bill for one-way shipping. Unless your finished sizes are small, it can be a hefty expense when shipping 30 framed prints!

Less daunting in expense is to participate in a group show where you may only need to send 1-5 pieces. Options for group shows are to either:
1) Get into a juried show (only submit to shows where the juror is someone you want to put your work in front of;  it is also a good way to support a non-profit org).
2) Hope, pray and use “Law of Attraction” that someone will one day… hopefully… invite you into a show.
3) Take matters into your own hands…

Work by Stephen Marc in a group show, En Foco's New Works #10
Work by Stephen Marc in a group show: En Foco's New Works #10 at Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos.

A pro-active method, and a great learning opportunity, is to curate your own. Be sure the work has some sort of thread to pull all the work together (AKA, a theme): subject matter, concept, geography and more.

Think of ways that you can create a show around an existing opportunity. As an example, myself and many other artists were published in “Elements of Photography” by Angela Farris-Belt. To ride the wave of this new book, I asked the author if would be okay for me to organize a small group of artists in the book and ask if they are interested in a traveling exhibit. I would create a proposal, mail them out and book our shows. We have nine artists and just landed our first show in Michigan (Eastern Michigan University, August 29-Oct 4, 2009).

Below are a few tips to consider when coordinating a group show. Feel free to contact me with any questions, other helpful tips to share, and even suggestions for my next En Foco blog article.

Good luck!

Photographer and educator Angie Buckley. Photo by Miriam Romais

Coordinating Your Group Exhibition

Select the group – there are two approaches:
1) Begin with artists first and see if you can thread together a topic;
2) Come up with a theme/topic and select artists from there.

This exhibition at Light Work is an example of "artist first," then "topic" then back to "artists," culminating in a four person show.  Curator Miriam Romais knew she wanted the show to deal with aspects of how memory is created or recreated, and sought other artists that addressed those issues in their work. Tracing Memory featured Cyrus Karimipour, Paula Luttringer, Pedro Isztin and yours truly (Nov 5-Dec 31, 2008).
This exhibition at Light Work is an example of "artist first," then "topic" then back to "artists," culminating in a four person show. Curator Miriam Romais knew she wanted the show to deal with aspects of how memory is created or recreated, and sought other artists that addressed those issues in their work. Tracing Memory: Cyrus Karimipour, Paula Luttringer, Pedro Isztin and yours truly (Nov 5-Dec 31, 2008).

Think about tha money, honey:
Costs to get the show on the road will be for the packets (large envelopes, CDs, postage); and mula to ship the exhibit. Don’t forget time is money too, and you should spend some on marketing in addition to what the gallery will do.

Invite the artists and things to discuss:
It is an opportunity and a great way to get your work out there. And make certain they understand it can take MONTHS before you hear ‘yay or nay’ from the gallery submissions. Everyone should chip in money for packet and mailing costs. Each person will likely handle that on their own, but don’t forget shipping costs – which is dependent if the gallery ships both or just one way. Best to do these initial conversations via telephone and follow up with an email once everyone participating is confirmed.

Research, research, research:
When contacting a gallery (or doing online research), it’s important to find out what their preferred submission method, ie, make it EASY for them to review the work. Also, find out who should receive it. Doing your homework can avoid unprofessional mistakes, like misspelling the persons name, or calling a woman curator “Mr.” (or vice versa – just ask Ariel at CPW).

Collect the following for your submission packet:
1.    Cover letter to the curator/gallery director, describing your purpose with a brief description of the show, and your contact information.
2.    Artist statements.
3.    JPGS (rarely do galleries want slides these days).
4.    CVs.
5.    Copies of published reviews for each artist (nice to make a folder or notebook to accompany the show with all these paper documents in it), or invites from prior exhibits.

Create a gallery list to send proposals:
1.    Aim to mail 10 packets for the first round and continue from there. For sanity’s sake, don’t forget to track when the packet went out and to who’s attention, so it’s easier to follow up later.
2.    There are many wonderful small, non-profit galleries at universities and community colleges, and you can find their address and phone online.
3.    Call to ask for their submission guidelines. While most of these spaces are always looking for shows to host — your packet will simply go in a pile and one day they will get around to it. Which, is why it can take 6-12 months before you hear anything. Be patient!
4.    You can also look at various sources that list ‘Calls for Submissions.’ En Foco’s monthly e-newsletter lists these every month (sign up to receive it on their homepage); and the NYFA Source.
5.    If you’re an emerging artist in NYC, consider attending one of En Foco’s free “Foot in the Door” seminars and learn more tips in preparing your work to send out.

JUNE 24:
People/Places/Things, an international photo competition celebration En Foco’s 35th Anniversary (get your work seen by 8 amazing curators; great prizes from Canson, Olympus and others; open to all photo-based artists of any nationality/ethnicity; entry fee is a membership to En Foco);
JULY 31:
New Works Photography Awards Fellowship #13 (juror Anne Tucker, curator at Museum of Fine Arts/Houston; open to artists of color);
Nueva Luz photographic journal, and Touring Gallery community exhibition program. Click here for submission tips.
Note: It is FREE to submit to all En Foco calls for entry, with the exception of the 35th Anniversary competition.

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