Best Ways for Professional Artists to Approach Galleries & Museums
Notes from an RACC panel discussion I attended Feb. 6, 2010
– curator of a university gallery
– two curators/retail gallery managers of art/craft institutions
– three downtown Portland fine art gallery owners
Two of the six panelists prefer CD’s
– photo label on CD helps
– have ALL your info on the CD, including resume, contact info, statements etc
– an accompanying printout (thumbnails of what is on CD) is helpful
Scope out the gallery before sending anything to see if it’s a fit with your work
Dropping off a packet in person is OK as long as you do NOT interrupt their day, especially if they are with a customer. Do not bring actual artwork with you on a first contact.
All panelists kept coming back to: IT’S THE WORK! The rest is relatively unimportant compared to the work itself, and GOOD PHOTOS of it. Art education/degree not all that important compared to the work. One panelist said they’ve seen promising artists derailed by going to art school. Even “pipe fitters” who decide to become professional artists have as good a chance as someone with an MFA if their work is compelling, and in fact their journey may add more interest.
How do gallerists find artists?
– actively go out and look for them
– or, artists come to them
– BMAC (Buyers Market of American Craft)
– art blogs
– showcards / postcards
– existing gallery artists telling them about artist friends they think would be a good fit
– online networking leading to studio visits
– looking in windows of artists’ studios
– art festivals/fairs/shows, anyplace art is on display—so seek to show your artwork wherever/whenever possible, you never know who might see it
Don’t go to a lot of expense producing a fat packet to send out to galleries, because either:
– they will know from a quick glance at three to five photos that they love your work and will follow up by looking at your website (there are so few openings that they must “love” your work to even consider you)
– they’ll know from a quick glance at your photos that they don’t want your work so all the extra fluff will just be a waste of paper, time, postage and money (and will make the gallerist feel guilty). If the photos don’t move them, no amount of other information will make any difference.
Artist statement is very important, but keep it short. Same for bio/resume/CV—don’t “pad” your resume.
FaceBook, LinkedIn etc OK for show announcements and other news tidbits, but not as a substitute for a website.
Website is almost a requirement—well designed, simple, presents your work well, no bells & whistles, easy to navigate.
Do not sell via your website in a way that competes with your galleries. Prices should be at least as much (retail) as your galleries.
Panelists were split on the question of whether you should have pricing info on website. Said it’s OK to have some “sold” items if they are representative of current work.
They want to see a “body of work” as opposed to a few in this style, a few in that style … they assume the artist hasn’t “found his voice” if the work isn’t cohesive.
Think of your approach to a gallery from the gallery’s perspective. Put in writing why / how you think your work would fit in with what they’re trying to do.
OK to ask names/contact info for major collectors, in fact, it’s Oregon law that galleries give artists contact info for major purchases (although customers are not required to give contact info to gallery).
Don’t give art to a gallery that’s similar to work you’ve been selling out of your studio for less. Several such issues came up: basically just deal fairly, transparently, and with common sense. There needs to be trust both ways.
– have a treat for the visitor so their blood sugar isn’t sagging (one panelist closed her eyes and mmmm’ed imagining blackberry cobbler, another EMPHATICALLY emphasized how important it is to have a treat for him…lol’s from audience)
– have more than three or four works for them to look at to make it worth their trip
– they use what they learn about your process and about you as an artist to help sell your work
– figure on about an hour to hour and a half, be prepared with specific things to talk about and show them
– all panelists seemed to really like doing studio visits
Having galleries in other parts of the country is a PLUS in many cases (as in ‘oh, yes, her work is also at so and so gallery in Chicago and New York’).
Be prepared for a LOT of rejections; MOSTLY rejections. It’s just math—hundreds of artists apply for every one accepted. There are MANY reasons for work not being accepted that don’t necessarily reflect poorly on your art (full stable of artists, not a fit with the gallery, too expensive, not expensive enough, looks too much like an existing artist’s work, too big, too small, etc etc). But do keep applying and applying and applying. Persistence pays, but badgering is counterproductive. All panel members felt “guilty” about not having time to get back to every artist, rejecting artists, perhaps discarding their materials (if no SASE) and so on. They don’t like “shotgun” marketing from artists because of this guilt syndrome and because it just takes up time they could give to considering more serious / targeted artists’ packets. Look on gallery’s website for exactly how they prefer to be approached. One panelist said his gallery has recently switched to an ALL electronic application process, to save expense for artists, to save paper, and to make it a bit less painful to deliver the 99.9% “no thank you”s.
If you do get an appointment, be on time. One panelist wants your shirt to be pressed and don’t come with b.o. (he says, “I’ve had to step back from some folks.” ha)
Gallerists/curators are inundated with artists, and can’t respond to each and every one…often don’t have time to chat about your work or tell you why they don’t want it in the gallery. If they love the work, they will get back to you…although it may take a year, or even two or three. Some said they will sometimes offer suggestions of other galleries they think might be a fit for artists they reject. Their first priority is to market work of existing artists already represented by their gallery; to make a profit for the benefit of all concerned.
One panelist said flat out, if you want to make money from your art, get outside of Portland. Portland is really quite a small town. From Portland downtown galleries to Mother Goose Gallery to White Bird Gallery on the coast—80% of repeat buyers are the *same people* he claims. Said his retail store volume is down about 10% due to recession, majority of sales volume is from “under $50” items.
One of the non-profit curators said that due to return shipping costs, they are more likely to feature local/regional artists (in this down economy).
Bottom line: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WORK!!!
© Steve Eichenberger, all rights reserved