Friendsourcing for a Successful Gallery Opening

Guest blogger: Marcia Crumley

My first solo exhibition last November in Boston was a spectacular success. I sold 19 paintings on opening night alone!

My secret: I let my friends pitch in any and every way that made sense.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so letting go of certain things was very challenging at first, particularly when those tasks involved the art itself. But as the opening date grew closer and the to-do list kept getting longer, I realized that accepting help from others was the only way to get it all done.

Not only that, but my friends had skills, expertise, and connections that I knew I didn’t have.

Here’s how they helped.

Journeys November 2012 Image 7
Installation view of Marcia Crumley's exhibition, Journeys.

Joe designed my invitation.

I sent my friend Joe, a graphic designer, a half-dozen photos of my work, along with the event details, and asked him to come up with some ideas for the invitation. In my mind, the process would flow something like my day job, where I give my staff a rough idea of something, they come back with a few ideas, and I continue to edit and refine different versions until we land where we need to be.

But later that same day, Joe sent a “final” proof, along with a list of recommended printers. He hadn’t included all of my work on the invite, and had put pieces together in a way that I wouldn’t have done myself.

The bottom line: It didn’t at all look like what I would have done, which made me uneasy.

I shared the photo with a friend to see what she thought. She took a quick glance at it and said: “It looks fantastic. Leave it alone. He’s a pro.” Hearing her opinion, I realized the invitation was different from what I would have done precisely because I don’t know a thing about graphic design, and that’s what Joe does for a living.

Trine Marie cleaned and painted the gallery.

The exhibition was in a co-op gallery, so there’s no professional staff.

To make money, we rent the space to anything vaguely arts-related. The studio had just been rented to a dance class, and there were scuffmarks all over the walls and floor.

The walls also hadn’t been spackled or painted in some time, and the last show seemed to have been hung with tent stakes, the holes were so huge.

Here, I was lucky. We had recently hosted an exchange student from Norway for a month and had become close friends with her. She loved Boston and wanted to return for a visit, particularly since she had some college friends here.

Journeys November 2012
Installation view of Marcia Crumley's exhibition, Journeys.

I asked if she’d be willing to help with my show if we bought her a ticket to Boston. She eagerly agreed; we found a cheap flight; and Trine Marie spent several days before the show scrubbing the gallery floor, spackling and painting the walls, and running errands.

Jeanne served as exhibition designer.

While many artists would never delegate hanging their art, this one was easy for me.

My friend Jeanne is an interior designer, and I had hung group shows with her before. I have always been impressed by her skill at creatively arranging art.

When I picked my show date I had asked her to help me out.

We have a very different work style – she measures everything five times before putting in a single nail, and uses a level to ensure everything looks perfect. I believe in eyeballing things and moving the nail around later if things are off.

Jeanne’s way always looks better in the end, so I took on the role of her assistant. She spent hours laying out the show and thinking about what pieces worked best together, and it looked amazing when she was done.

Renata catered the reception.

A close college friend moved to Boston the summer before the show and she and her family had spent several weekends staying with us while job and house hunting.

As a return favor, Renata offered to cater the entire reception. Her sister is a professional caterer, and Renata is quite the party thrower.

She planned the whole menu, hired local college students to serve the wine and food, and arranged all of the décor for the evening, including candles and flowers.

Journeys November 2012 Image 5
Installation view of Marcia Crumley's exhibition, Journeys.

Everyone expanded the invite list.

Whenever anyone extended a vague offer of help, I’d hand them some postcards with this request: “If you could invite five friends to the show who love art, I’d really appreciate it!” Opening night was packed, and I made plenty of new friends.

Julia, Tim, and Paula added the finishing touches.

There were still lots of last-minute tasks on the day of the opening, including printing and hanging labels. And, all of the painstakingly hung art was starting to get out of kilter because I hadn’t added rubber grippers to the back of the frames.

A group of college friends had come in from out of town and they were eager to help out. I was so used to handing things over at this point that I let Julia, Tim, and Paula finish up.

Husband Scot served as #1 fan.

My husband supported me as I painted and framed like mad in the months leading up to the show.

He did all of the grocery shopping, cooking, and housework without complaint. He also wrote personal emails and postcard invites to lots of friends and made sure everyone had a great time on opening night.

Niece greeted guests.

My nine-year-old niece Kate was really excited about my opening, and wanted play a role, so I found something for her to do that perfectly suited her love of performance. She was the official greeter, along with Trine. Together they greeted every guest and made sure they signed the guest book before entering the gallery.

Even with all of this help, having a show was far more work than I anticipated, and was especially challenging juggling around a full-time job.

How do you friendsource various aspects of your art career?

About Our Guest Blogger

Marcia Crumley
Marcia Crumley is a Boston-based artist known for infusing bold and unexpected colors into her interpretive landscapes. She works primarily in acrylics, exploiting their saturated hues to full advantage. Read more about her on her Facebook page.

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12 thoughts on “Friendsourcing for a Successful Gallery Opening”

  1. Congratulations Marcia and thanks for sharing your heartwarming story! What a gift you have in your supportive friends and how smart you are to accept their help. It obviously paid off with sales but it’s such a valuable cooperative experience in itself!
    best wishes,

  2. Thanks, Dorothy and Pat! I truly am blessed!! I think our friends always want to help out, they just don’t always know what to do. So now you have some specific “asks” next time someone offers to help!!

  3. I love this post. This past month I noticed my group of friends have all played a really big part in moving my business forward and lending enthusiasm when mine was low. Our walks and quick calls became cheerleading sessions for each others ambitions. This Winter I am opening a studio/gallery in my town, and when they all found out, they really came through with business perspective, ideas and offers to help.
    So last week I sent a letter to 7 women acknowledging them and asking if they would be on my “board of angels”. The term came when I was telling my husband how supportive they have been and he said it sounded like I had a Board of Angels! I asked if they would be willing to all come together once quarterly to enjoy a dinner on me, in exchange for business ideas and feedback. They are all mostly members of my community and have quickly become ambassadors, announcing my new business venture at school meetings, etc. We are all, but one of us, moms with kids in the local schools.
    They, in return receive VIP status and 15% off classes and collections. Now I don’t feel so alone in my venture and they feel needed and appreciated. Thanks for your post and congratulations on a successful show!

  4. Wow, Jennifer! Your Board of Angels sounds like such an amazing group of friends!! It seems like you are already set up for success and, should you encounter the inevitable problems that come up in opening any new business venture, you’ve got a great support system for helping you work through the stumbling blocks and keep on going. I have dreams of opening my own full-time business some day, and will keep your fabulous idea in mind.
    I hope your studio/gallery is a smashing success!

  5. Sounds Like you have an awesome group of friends! Kudos to your blog. This is my first time checking it out but I will definitely be Back! Very good information on how to go about doing a show. I haven’t done one yet, although I did help with my brother’s reception a few years back at a local gallery-Marie C.

  6. Marie – You should commit to doing a show, even if it’s something you plan for a year out. It’s a great motivator to get cranking on new work. I had now idea how many things had to get done, but it was worth it all in the end! Marcia

  7. Were any of these people compensated? I had to stop helping friends with graphic art becuse they did not want to pay me. It took too much of my time and the endless corrections and back and forth changes became a nusiance. I don’t need the “exposure” and I don’t need to trade my skills for something you want to give. Unfortunately, my landlord and utility company only take cash or check in legal tender. These days when I am asked to frendsource, I am sure to reply with my fee structure. It useually ends there. I believe that all people who are asked to perform a job should be respected with adequate pay.

  8. Graphic Artist — You’re absolutely right that no one should give away their creative talents for free! While no money changed hands, all of my artist friends were compensated fairly. As artists, we are all very good at creative bartering. I won’t go through everyone mentioned in the blog, but the interior designer got my help setting up her own event at a designer open house, along with my greeting guests and raving about her work for an evening. The European student got free airfare and a home to stay in so she could party with her college friends in Boston while she was here. And the graphic designer got my digital camera that he coveted and now uses all the time when I decided to indulge in a totally unnecessary, but very fun, digital camera upgrade.
    I love, and highly encourage, creative bartering!!!

    1. The only problem with creative bartering is that taxes don’t get remitted to the government on income…It is a war time type of exchange but should be put aside in times of peace…The bottom line is also something to be considered…How much “money” was spent, versus how much “money” came in, as profit, after income taxes are paid…This type of bottom line thinking needs to be addressed before anyone quits their day jobs or opens up a new gallery…That said I truly enjoyed your post & rich experience & hope that you prosper in your career as both an artist & author! (ps. my site password is Carbon)(don’t want to annoy anybody who clicks on my name)…

  9. Pingback: Branding Your Art Business « Art Biz Blog

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