The Artist's Responsibilities for Any Exhibition

As an exhibiting artist, you have responsibilities.
Never assume that venues (art galleries, nonprofit spaces, co-ops) will do all of the work for you. Here's a list of things to think about.

Jordan Vinyard
Jordan Vinyard installs her art at OVAC Momentum 2008. Courtesy Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition.

The Artist's Responsibilities

Read everything! Details are in the contract, but also in email messages and letters. Read every word. If formal words don't exist, make up your own agreement and run it by the venue. People can't perform up to expectations if they don't know what those expectations are.
Depending on your contract with the venue, you might be required to pay for part of the reception costs, invitation printing, postage, and/or advertising. I believe it's a commercial gallery's responsibility to host the reception, but read your contracts carefully. Many nonprofit spaces are set up differently.
Respond to requests in a timely manner.
Deliver the art on time.
Provide a list of works and prices.
Provide as required: artist statement, bio, résumé, and other label text.
Provide clear instructions for installing and shipping your art. Offer to help with installation if necessary.
Show up at the opening on time.
Be delightful at the opening and meet everyone you can. You might think the gallery is the host, but people really came to see your art. They're your guests.
Drive traffic to the gallery. One of the reasons you show your art in public is to benefit from the venues' mailing lists. But you can't rely on it. You must assume some of the responsibility to get people in the door.
Send Thank You notes to anyone who helped you pull it off.
Pick up any unsold artwork on time.
What did I forget?
Next week I'll go over the venues responsibilities.

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12 thoughts on “The Artist's Responsibilities for Any Exhibition”

  1. Excellent post. I would get very clear with the gallery as to who and how – exactly – they will send invitations, and how many. Speaking from experience, sending “alot” to “important people” is not a good answer. Artists, this is your party, make sure the people you want to be there are invited.

  2. Ask if the gallery will have a guest book or a way of collecting names and contact information. Also be sure that you will have access to that list.

  3. Every gallery director and museum curator has stories of nightmare artists who didn’t do the things on Alyson’s list. Whatever you do, don’t be one of those artists. Nobody will want to work with you.

  4. Excellent post. I agree with everything you’ve written, and would add “provide quality images of the works”. Some galleries might document your work for you, but many expect high-res jpgs in advance for press, at least.

  5. Thanks for this! I am going to be putting a bunch of stuff up for commission this week and I had no clue about any of this. Great article and comments.

  6. To expand on the installation instructions: if your work requires certain specific hardware, rods, magnets, etc. (essential for many fiber/textile artists) be sure to include them when you ship or deliver your work — and make instructions as specific and helpful as you can, especially if you are not able to assist with installation.
    Another item to be clear about in the contract or agreement — insurance. Is theft or damage covered by the venue or the artist? Don’t make assumptions.

  7. Again, great article. I thought I would add my own exhibition checklist in case anyone wants to customize it for themselves.
    Once you have secured a venue for your exhibition, make sure you understand the following: (print out a copy and then check off the appropriate boxes, or fill out the Exhibition layout in the GYST software) Actually, these are good things to ask before signing or agreeing to a show.
    (Choose the questions that are applicable to your project and the venue)
    Name of Exhibition:
    Dates for the exhibition:
    Date and time of the opening reception:
    Who is the main contact person for the venue:
    When can you sign the contract, or loan form:
    If work is sold, what is the commission for the venue:
    What is the honorarium or artist’s fee:
    Who pays for shipping, insurance, reception costs:
    What are the responsibilities of the venue or gallery:
    What are your responsibilities as the artist:
    Who pays for shipping, insurance, reception costs and invitations:
    Is there a floor plan for the space? If so, where is it located?:
    When are the installation dates:
    What are the installation procedures:
    Who installs the work:
    What tools are available for installation:
    Who designs and mails the announcement:
    If the gallery designs and mails announcement,
    What is the deadline for information from the artist:
    Who pays for the announcements and the mailing:
    What is the deadline for information needed for the press release and other publicity:
    Does the venue have an e-mailing list for announcements:
    How many invitations will you receive as the artist:
    What equipment and technical support is available:
    Are there issues with electrical outlets and extension cord routes:
    3 months before the show opens
    Sign agreement with exhibition venue detailing dates, commissions, and any relevant information listed above.
    Write up a budget for your project.
    Plan any new work that needs to be made.
    Make sure your mailing list is updated and ready to go.
    Do a layout of the installation of your show, using a map if helpful.
    Make sure you have a contract if possible.
    Photograph any works that are finished.
    Send publicity to magazines.
    Check the press release for accurate information or write it yourself.
    Organize publicity packets and Include a copy of the announcement if available. Images can be included, or make sure to state that images are available.
    6 weeks before the show opens
    Design your announcements or work with a graphic designer.
    Check all spelling and use the announcement checklist to make sure you have included all the necessary information. Be sure that the reader will understand the difference between when the show opens, and when the opening reception is.
    Get bids from printers.
    Print announcement.
    Announcement Contents Checklist
    Title of show.
    Dates of show.
    Hours the show will be open to the public.
    Date and time of opening reception.
    Venue and address, phone number, E-mail and Web site information.
    Directions if needed.
    Parking info if needed.
    If the space is wheelchair accessible, note this on the invite.
    List of artists in the show, or your name.
    Be sure there is room for the label or address, and the stamp or nonprofit indicia.
    4 weeks before the show opens
    Recruit people to help with the reception: bartenders, parking attendants, ticket takers, and gallery sitters, etc. if needed.
    Distribute publicity (announcements, flyers etc.).
    Mail announcements if using bulk mail.
    Mail press releases to newspapers, weekly publications, reviewers and radio stations.
    Make a checklist of those things you need to do to finish the work. (framing, installation hardware, painting walls in gallery, etc.).
    Send a save-the-date invite to your e-mailing list.
    3 weeks before the show opens
    Make sure your artwork is ready to install.
    Go over any special requirements with the venue to make sure you are in agreement with the site management.
    Arrange for photographer or videographer to document the work or performance at the exhibition site.
    Design and order any exhibition signage you will need.
    Mail announcements if using first class mail.
    Send press releases to broadcast media.
    Assemble and mail press packets to special writers and publications. (see press section)
    2 weeks before the show opens
    Make calls to calendar listings managers to make sure your event will be listed.
    Make phone calls to arts writers and invite them to the show or event.
    Create Facebook / Myspace Event invitation and invite your friends.
    Schedule installation and/or performance rehearsals.
    Design and print any handouts, exhibition checklist, price lists, artist’s statements, programs etc.
    E-mail announcement to your e-mailing list. Be sure to put your e-mail addresses in the BCC area of your E-mail so your reader does not have to scroll through all those E-mail addresses to read your information and private E-mails are not made public
    If you send an image as an attachment or inclusion, make sure it is the smallest size (both in size and resolution), which you think you can get away with.
    Including the information in the e-mail, instead of requiring the reader to click a link, will ensure that they read it more often than having to go to a link.
    1 week before the show opens
    Make sure all supplementary materials are printed or in a binder. Resume, artist’s statement, price lists, reviews, guest sign in sheets, etc.
    Make sure the venue is ready for you to install the work, and do so if needed.
    Print, mount and install any labels needed.
    Install exhibition signage.
    2 days before the show opens
    Set or adjust lighting.
    Patch and paint any walls or surfaces.
    Set up guest book and supplementary information.
    Get your reception supplies that don’t require refrigeration.
    Test all equipment and do any rehearsals necessary.
    Send a very brief reminder email to your email list about the opening.
    Take any clothes you plan to wear to the opening to the dry cleaners if necessary.
    Opening day of the show
    Buy any reception supplies requiring refrigeration. Don’t forget the ice.
    Check to make sure everything is installed and working.
    Show up on time to the reception.
    Call any special friends or writers to remind them about the show.
    During the run of the show
    Document the show with slides, video, or digital images early, in case you need to re-shoot the images.
    Make any appointments with curators or writers at the venue.
    Week before closing
    If you plan a closing reception send reminder emails.
    Send reminder emails about the last chance to see the show.
    After the show
    Send any thank-you notes to those who volunteered.
    Send letters to those who donated money or in-kind services to your show, including a 501(c)(3) letter if needed for a tax deduction.
    De-install the show, making sure that the space is returned to its original condition if required.
    Make sure your show is taken down in time for the next person to install.

  8. Pingback: The Venue’s Responsibilities for Your Art Exhibit — Art Biz Blog

  9. Taste the wine beforehand…And the food…This is where most openings fall short- cheap wine & mundane not plentiful enough snacks…A filtered water dispenser is much appreciated…Bathrooms are a Godsend…Phone people you really want to come…Get a friend or relative to pick- up people who are disabled or infirm…Children are wonderful, tell people to bring theirs…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Marion: A professional art venue or gallery should insure the art on the premises. Unfortunately, not all do and you must ask and have it in writing.

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