What a Gallery Show Can Teach You

This post is reprinted with permission from Artist Career Training. I highly recommend owner/coach Aletta de Wal as a complete resource for artists who want to learn marketing, promotion and great business practice.

By Robin Sagara

Robin Sagara

Last week I helped a client with the opening reception of his gallery show here in Los Angeles.  I work with artists from all over the world and rarely get to see them in person, so this was a rare treat.

It was a busy, successful show, and being there in person reminded me of some great gallery “do’s and don’ts” and I want to share them with you while they’re fresh in my mind.

So, you’ve got a gallery show. Now what?
If your art career is a sentence, which part of the sentence is the show? Most artists I speak with view the show as the end of the sentence, the period, the culmination. It’s not. The show is a comma, just a pause, not the be-all, end-all and not the final point. It’s good to keep that in mind. The sentence analogy is from Aletta de Wal and she’s right. Perspective: what happens at the show is just part of a bigger picture. Remember this when you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicky, or when you’re counting on this one show to make or break your career. It won’t.

Leave more time than you think you’ll need for marketing and promotion.
Six months is not too soon to start. Really, the time will fly by, so get going on it! Sure, the gallery will probably do something to help but remember: The days of the gallery doing all your marketing and promo are gone. Long gone. Start sooner rather than later getting the word out. Take photos to document the show for your website and follow-up marketing.

Present yourself as a very successful artist.
Promoting the “starving artist” image by wearing old shabby clothing and sporting an attitude isn’t going to help people perceive you as an up-and-coming artist whose work they want to buy. Dress like you respect yourself and your art, because if you don’t, they won’t.

The gallery staff are critical to your success.
Don’t alienate them by making demands or treating them badly, even if they treat you badly. It’s their territory, honor that and don’t lock horns. Tact and clear communication will help you get what you want and need. Introduce yourself to all the staff. They will help you in ways you never expected and offer creative solutions to the inevitable bumps in the road.

Work the room.
Move around, talk to people. I know, I know, it can be intimidating if you’re an introvert (like me). I always feel awkward but I do it. Remember that you will greatly benefit from it, it gets way easier with practice. People will notice, they’ll ask you questions, you’ll start to form critical relationships. People will feel like they’re part of your world, and your art, and that’s a very important part of the buying process.

Work your mailing list signups.
If you just put a mailing list signup sheet out you probably won’t get many names or addresses and it won’t help you build your oh-so-important mailing list. Instead, ask people if they want to be added, or have a friend do it. Just write down their info as they dictate it, painless for them and you’ll get valuable contact info for the future. Don’t leave it to chance.

Oh, and check with the gallery about who owns the names and addresses you collect at the show. A mailing list is a huge asset for a gallery, so get clear beforehand on who gets what and how it can be used.

You sold something at the show? Yipee! Didn’t sell a thing? Still, yipee!
Selling something at the show is great, but it doesn’t always happen. Getting a show is an accomplishment in itself, and many artists never sell a thing at their first few shows. Remember, this is all a comma in the sentence of your art career, not a period.  It all fits into a bigger picture, a bigger plan. Sales at the show are nice, but the bulk of the sales will likely come AFTER the show, from the follow up and ongoing marketing work.

Sell it, but don’t give it away.
Doesn’t matter who the person is, they should pay for your art. Friends, relatives. Really. Show them the price list. You’re in business to sell your art. The very best way people can support you and appreciate you is to pay for it, just like everyone else does.

You can’t do it all yourself, learn to delegate.
You’ll need to be available to circulate and chat with potential and previous buyers (buyers become collectors of your work over time). Get some help. As the saying goes, “Hire your weakness” and have competent people supporting you. Maybe someone for the mailing list, someone to help with the arrangements/food, someone to…

Roll with the punches.
Stuff happens. Unexpected stuff, awkward stuff. Do the best you can and improvise a solution. Forget to bring some red dots to mark sold work? (Yeah, yeah, that would be me.) There is probably an office, gift shop, or a reception desk in the gallery and they likely have some dots or at least some sticky notes and a scissors. Improvise.

Follow-up after the show.
Very important. Get those names and addresses into your mailing list software, follow up with people who were interested in your work or just thank everyone for being there to support you. Oh go ahead, give them a call or drop them a postcard with a lovely hand-written note. The bulk of your sales, long term, will come from follow-up.

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So, hope this was helpful!  If you’re ready to seriously “put the rubber to the road,”  I WANT to hear from you.

Don’t forget, 15-minute consultations are complimentary. We had lots of responses from the last tip and it’s been great getting to know y`all. Truly! To set one up with Aletta (getting clear, strategy, coaching) or me (you know what you want to do, you need help and advice about getting it all done) email me: [email protected].

As always, all my best to you and yours!

P.S. Check out gallery dealer Kathy Swift’s “What I Learned As A Gallery Dealer That I Wish I Had Known As An Artist.”

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting Robin’s post about where shows fit into the scheme of things. I love the sentence analogy from Aletta.

    Getting into juried art shows is just one step along the path to success. I found that once I started getting accepted, the acceptances at other venues seemed to increase as well.

    It is a process that has to continue on and isn’t accomplished in a day, month, or even year. The successful artist has been practicing marketing as well as their art, for a number of years and they will continue for many more to come.

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