Evolution of an Artist Salon

by guest blogger Samantha Levin

Events for artists to show and share and network with their community have lots of benefits.


Artists at "The Happening" in New York City.

Artists at “The Happening” in New York City.


A few years ago, my colleague and friend, artist Allison Sommers along with her husband, musician and scholar, Gerrit Roessler, started to organize artist salons that took place every few months in their apartment. They were hoping to create an environment for artist friends to stretch their creative muscles.

They began hosting these gatherings with one essential rule: attendees have to show a piece of artwork or perform something. They could bring anything they wanted. Old work. New work. Strange work. Work they’re afraid to show to anyone. In fact, they were encouraged to bring things that were frustrating them, or had been left aside for too long. They were encouraged to test things with the salon audience, or bring things that were unfinished.

This rule is the heart of the event, as it is (somewhat ironically) meant to engender creative flexibility. Those artists who get stuck in a creative block, or who are too confined by the needs of their client’s brand, benefit largely by the freedom that these gatherings provide to their creative minds.

They also serve as a place for a network of peers to gather and talk freely. Attendees learn about new events coming up, and meet new friends who might be able to assist with projects they are creating for goals they are hoping to achieve. These things certainly happen with a simple phone call or at a meeting in a cafe, but the salons with their multiple sources of stimulation seem to provide a different sort of boost.


A display of artwork at "The Happening"

A display of artwork at “The Happening”


At these salons, music has been improvised and visual art collaborations have started. The events have seen mini-puppet shows, presentations of computer art in development, a myriad of sketches, paintings and sculptures, clothing, prints and jewelry. More than I can list. And there are always art trades!

Alison and Gerrit’s apartment is quite small, thus the parties are generally pretty small. There is a benefit to the size of these gatherings – the intimacy of them fosters a certain kind of conversation – but last year Allison thought that we might benefit from a larger gathering. The Happening was born.

The first Happening, which took place last August at Skylight Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan’s famed art district, had a new rule: nothing on view could be for sale. That was always a given in Allison’s apartment, but here we were with a larger group of exhibiting and performing artists, and an even larger group of attendees along simply to ogle and enjoy the art.

We wanted to keep commerce out of conversation as much as possible so the artists could retain the freedom to bring something unusual or off their brand. The first event was a resounding success with a packed space, and we are currently in the midst of organizing our second one.

These sorts of events are good for artists in any stage of their careers. I’ve talked about them on Artsy Shark before here and here. They can be started easily by anyone and can take many forms. Lots of bars would love to fill their quiet nights with drink-n-draw events. An artists’ pot-luck brunch at a central private apartment works too. You can’t hang artwork in the park, but you can still show your peers what you’re each working on while having a picnic at the same time. There are tons of variations of Allison’s salon that you can organize on your own using what’s available in your own community.


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  1. I am part of a group that meets monthly at one of the members homes or sometimes we have been fortunate enough to use a local gallery space. It is very informal and it definitely lends itself to an open and free creative environment. We share upcoming events that is local, member participation, and friendly and supportive critiques!! Thanks for the article. You can check us out on face book under Art Critique. Sandra Davis

    • Thanks for posting, Sandra. This is exactly the kind of event I’m talking about. There can be all sorts of variations. The Happening is very informal; it’s similar to a private party. A more structured event works, too.

      Sandra, can you post a direct link to the Facebook page?

  2. This is a great idea! I’m trying to meet other artists; and if I knew any, I’d definitely do it.

    • Check to see whether there are any artist guilds or organizations in your area, or art events where you might meet others. Even Craigslist has a section for artists that you might check out.

      • I belong to two groups that meet for coffee/breakfast & sharing – be it art, art business, opportunities & more. Both groups have been very supportive & have helped me grow as an artist. I’ve always been supportive of networking & would encourage others to create/participate in such groups!

  3. This sounds like a lot of fun, going t go searching now for one in Chicago, thank-you for the great read!

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