How to Set Up an Art Exhibition

Choose a theme. It’s not enough to simply have lots of artwork you’d like to exhibit; in order to tie each piece together, you need to come up with a focus. More importantly, however, this doubles as a marketing technique – especially for little-known or unknown artists – by drawing people who are specifically interested in the concept being explored. For this reason, it’s important not to be vague; “Light and Shadow” isn’t going to have people lining up to see an exhibit.

  • Choosing a theme will also help with a few of the more practical aspects of the exhibit, such as what to title it and which other artists might be included.
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    Find other artists to exhibit with. Browse at local art clubs or street markets where you see artists with good work on sale. Ask anyone you know who is an artist in your community. Artists with related (or even contradictory) themes will help create a group momentum.

    • Don’t limit yourself to artists within your own medium. Consider paintings, sculptures, models, photos, glass work, performance pieces, etc. to create dynamic collaborations.
    Find a location for your exhibition. Renting a portion of a studio is always a possibility, especially if you have connections in the art community. Depending on the scale of the project, however, many different kinds of spaces will do, including a warehouse, restaurant, café, library, or even someone’s home. Ensure that the space chosen is well-presented, clean, and appropriately sized for your exhibit.

    • Be sure to choose a place that is thematically appropriate for your work. A modern space with laminated flooring and white or pale, un-patterned walls will go with just about any exhibit; however, if your exhibit has an industrial, outdoorsy, dark, romantic, or sterile atmosphere, a comfortable modern setting might not give it the right context.
    • Pay particular attention to available lighting. Large windows can be good, and track lighting can be especially useful in illuminating the work.
    Set a date. Give yourself plenty of time to pull everything together or else you might end up with a sloppy job and poor sales. It is always best to hold an art exhibition so that it includes a weekend. This will allow those working during weekdays to attend and often families will make an outing of the event.

    • If you have any idea what the weather’s going to be like around the time of your exhibition, try to go for a dark, cold, rainy couple of days. You don’t want to compete with beach balls and picnics for your
      Set prices. Consider all of your costs including the fee for renting the space, the materials, advertising, the artist’s share, your share, and any percentage donated to charity. Decide whether an admission fee will be necessary or appropriate.
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    • viewers’ time.

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      Be sales-savvy. In addition to selling the artwork, it can also be profitable to print cards with photos of the artwork and sell in packs of five or so. If a percentage (or all) of the proceeds go to charity, there’s a better chance people will come and buy the artwork.
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      Tackle the red tape. Among other things, you will need art-exhibit/event insurance (or signed waivers from the artists), a schedule and helpers to coordinate artwork drop-offs and pick-ups, the particulars of how each piece should be presented, placed, hung, lighted, etc., the artists’ resumes (to keep on hand and in a binder for the show), a master price list, gallery sitters to stay with the work at all times (perhaps requiring participating artists to do a shift), and other logistical details. The best way to address these issues is to go to other shows, openings, and galleries and brainstorm with people who have done it on your area.
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      Advertise the exhibition. Create post cards for the artists to send as invitations. Consider doing press releases for higher-level exhibits. Put up posters around local art schools, universities, trendy areas, cafes, clubs, or even supermarket bulletin boards. Get in touch with local newspapers and tell them about the upcoming exhibition.
    Set up the exhibition space. Imagine how a visitor will interact with the room. Obviously, the arrangement will need to have a visual flow, but you should also consider physically directing people through the space to make them participants as well as viewers. Which piece will they see first? What direction are the likely to move in? Are there any “dead” areas? Would hampered movement perhaps be more appropriate to the theme of the exhibit?

    • Consider adding descriptions to any or all of the pieces.
    • Ensure that there are signs indicating whether or not people may touch or interact with the pieces.
    • Always make the prices clearly visible.
    • Transport the artwork carefully. Remember that stacking heavy, framed pieces can result it shattered glass. Arrange the artwork in the space using your own judgment.
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      Entertain with food and drink. If you can afford it, offer beverages such as champagne, wine and non-alcoholic choices, along with finger food or a buffet. Or, reserve this just for the opening night or morning to share among those who come to an invitation-only opening.

      • If it is an elegant affair, serve finger foods like shrimp, falafel, and mini-quiches. Provide a pleasant background atmosphere.
      • If it enhances the experience, play music at a low level, especially at the end when people start leaving.