Be Smart About Art

Making the most of shows: Three tips for artists and curators

written by: Susan Mumford Feb. 11, 2018 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 514 views

Making the most of shows: Three tips for artists and curators

Whilst doing a major overhaul of my office in recent days, I discovered the ‘logbook’ from a work placement that I undertook as an independent curator while working towards a Master’s in Arts Management. This involved conceiving of an exhibition and seeing it through from start to finish.

Little notes that accompany the pages of the logbook provide insight to my approach. For instance, I decided against one gallery space because the hire terms were too rigid. And as far as working terms with the artist went, I’m delighted to see that the artist and I reviewed a draft of the contract, made edits and both signed a final version to which we were mutually agreeable**.

A lot of what I’ve done in my professional life in recent years has been providing support for people in the art world. Support that I myself could’ve done with while starting and growing various art enterprises. Accordingly, this blog post provides three tips for making the most of shows, equally applicable to Susan the M.A. student as experienced curators and exhibitors.

1) Ahead of the show: Decide what you want to get out of participating.

Rule No. 1: Go beyond overly general aims. Examples: ‘sell’ and ‘make new contacts’. 

Rule No. 2: Make aims measurable + write them down. This will help you review the event.

After all, you’re investing in your career and it’s important to set intentions as well as make time to assess success.

Here are some ideas:

> Grow your list by X number of people (pro tip: have a visitors’ book and a business card bowl);

> Make sales of X value (break-down into different mediums and products as relevant);

> Get X number of new clients;

> Sell to X number of existing clients (who might be prompted to buy as suddenly a piece they’ve been wanting is getting in front of a lot of people);

> Make after-sales of X value in the three months following the show;

> Increase social media followers by X number (break-down figures by platform, noting that Instagram is presently the top social media platform for the industry); and

> Get to know X number of fellow professionals at the event (as peers are an important part of your professional network).

2) During the show: Create legacy.

> Take photographs when the show is quiet and busy alike.

> Get photographs taken of you on-site.

> Take video footage (even if you don’t know how you’ll use it).

Such documentation can immediately be used in social media posts and in emails to your mailing list. Moreover, it serves an important role down the road, for applying to residency programmes and fairs, meeting with galleries, jumping onto press opportunities, building your online profile, creating a printed brochure – you name it. You’ll later be thankful to have it.

Save images / footage and back up all of it to ensure future access. (Pro tip: computer back-up should be in at least two formats, including a hard drive and online back-up.)

3) After the event: Follow-Up!

This point is so important that it’s subtly been mentioned in all three points in this post J.

> Send a thank-you email to the whole of your mailing list and include some of the snazzy images taken.

> Send personalised follow-up emails (and make telephone calls as appropriate) to every person who has expressed genuine interest (and are legitimate, from what you can tell) in a) buying a piece and b) collaborating with you.

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* All students in my year were required to complete an internship, for which a course credit would be earned. As I was already working in a gallery, I didn’t want to repeat what I was already doing. A natural next step was staging a selling show from start to finish it – after all, I’ve never been one to follow tradition! My proposal was accepted and I did it. I was later grateful for the experience, upon setting up my own gallery business. I credited this vital piece of experience for having won press in a pop-up show three years later.

** See this blog post that tells the story of a time that I witnessed an art dealer and artist meeting in a café, in which the artist consigned pieces and signed a contract… without seemingly attaining an understanding of the terms: Are you signing away your life?   

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