Submit a Museum Proposal

Recession, recession, recession! That's all we're hearing these days. Things are going to be tough for a while, but there's still a silver lining in every situation if you look at all the angles.

Carpe diem!

For instance, now would be a terrific time to put together an exhibition proposal for your local museum or art center. Museums are hurting these days. They're laying off staff and cutting back on budgets. You–the local artists–could be a budget-saver for them. I hate to put it this way, but you're a cheap program.

Jo-Ann Sanborn
Jo-Ann Sanborn, Beach Path.
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches. ©The Artist

Museum exhibitions are often planned 2-4 years (or more) in advance. Big-budget exhibits may be scaled back right now or even canceled. Guess what? The gallery spaces still have to be filled with something! If you have the work and reputation to back it up, now is the time to propose your exhibit.

Museum Considerations for Scheduling an Exhibition

In the museums where I worked long ago, it was important that any exhibition we booked from outside our collection was (1) fundable, (2) educational, and (3) something that would bring people into our galleries.

Curators don’t always have ultimate control over what is exhibited. They must consult with:

  • Educators: What programs could we line up with this exhibition? Would school groups come to see this?
  • Development directors:  Could we get a grant for this? Is there a major donor that would partially fund this?
  • Preparators: Does this work with our installation schedule?
  • Director: What do you think? Can we fund this?
  • Board of directors: Can you get behind this?

Don't Forget Other Museums

Art museums are a natural target, but don't forget about history museums, botanic gardens, zoos, science museums, and the plethora of other museums out there. The type of museum you contact will depend on your type of art and your subject matter.

Line up all of the details and include them in a solid proposal. Double-check the facts so that you're confident in the content you submit. Take a look at the previous newsletter Draft a Winning Exhibit Proposal for more information and tips.

It's always easier to ask for something when you have built a relationship, but, as they say, it never hurts to ask. The worst that can happen is that you get turned down, which leaves you no worse off than you were before you started the process. Think of the knowledge you'll gain!

One last piece of advice: While a solo museum exhibit might look nice on your résumé, it might be smarter to propose a curated group exhibit (2 or more artists) with a cohesive theme. Group exhibits are safer for museums to book if the artists aren't well known. Think of this as your first step toward a solo museum exhibit–not your only chance.

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