In our last article, we reviewed some of the various financing models artists use to fund art exhibitions and other projects. Some of those models include self-funding or crowdfunding through platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, while others rely on local and national arts organizations that offer grants and other kinds of financial assistance to fund art exhibitions and projects. Notably, these various models focus on the individual artist seeking funding opportunities for their projects, but what if an artist chooses to pair up with other art partners and work as a team? In this installment covering funding for art activities, we will look into examples of partnerships, and explore the formal terms for the myriad ways you can work with art partners to bring a project to fruition.
A Primer for Working with Art Partners to Fund Art Projects
There are as many different types of potential art partnerships as there are projects, but some of the more common arrangements can help ensure that the project gets completed. When working with art partners, make sure that there is some type of written agreement that allows all parties to understand their rights and obligations. Be specific about which art partners are paying for what, and make it clear which tasks are assigned to which participants. Though it may be difficult to have a practical conversation at the start of the relationship – especially if it feels like there is uneven leverage – get all the details discussed while everybody is still “in love.” Remember, it is much harder to work out the details among art partners once the relationship has soured, and it’s far easier to avoid conflict if everyone’s role and responsibility is defined at the outset.
Fellowships and Residencies
Another potential avenue when seeking financing sources is participating in fellowships and residencies. In exchange for the grant of studio space and/or time in residence at an institution or with other artists, the program may have a series of shows featuring the artists, or an exhibit at the end of the residency. Both arenas are opportunities to present work, whether the artist is looking for a conventional show of many works or a site-specific installation, at no cost to the artist. Therefore, working with fellowships or residences as art partners offers an opportunity for an artist to present a body of work or specific project at no cost to the artist.
Form an Artist Collective
When it comes to presenting work in a public forum or gallery space, some artists create a collective and share the costs of an exhibition by renting space, doing press releases and marketing and hosting an opening reception. Forming an artist collective allow art partners to pool resources and share the costs of presenting new work. Once again, it is important to have a contract delineating each person’s responsibilities and individual financial obligations in this type of partnership in order to have a successful show and to ensure that everyone can spend time making work, not running around buying serving bowls.
Another opportunity to fund art exhibitions or special projects? Artists can also solicit corporate sponsorship for their exhibitions or art events. Potential corporate sponsors are looking for the opportunity to get the corporation’s logo or product in front of a segment of its target audience. One could theoretically even get a corporate sponsor for the project itself, as long as the artist is comfortable with the placement of logos on artist’s promotional materials or looming presence at an installation or show.
In order to target corporate sponsors, one must know the intended audience of the product or corporation and show that the artist’s audience fits within that demographic. The pitch requires data: the reach of the artist’s and venue’s mailing list; ages of those people; education and income level; how many of them buy work and attend the venue’s functions, and other similar information. The next step is to target smartly, using the proper scale. For example, do not seek out a national sponsor for a small regional venue; instead, try a new local company looking to increase its presence or a regional corporation that has a reputation for being a good community partner.
Each party within this type of partnership has much to gain. For example, an event can have a liquor sponsor or a printing sponsor for a discreet and targeted highlight of the partner’s product, which can aid in drawing more guests to the artist’s show. In turn, the corporate sponsor has the opportunity to align themselves with an artist’s brand, which is a proven strategy for growing a new audience.
Of course, the most common team of art partners in the visual arts is that of artist and gallerist. Finding someone to present the work, either for a single show or for a period of years is fantastic; it shifts much of the risk of presenting from the artist to the gallery. In exchange for the assumption of that risk, the gallery will traditionally split the sales revenue with the artist. Additionally, a presenting gallery can help defer some of the other costs to the artist such as: paying up front for the framing of the works in an exhibition, having staff to assist with installation and de-installation, and shipping works from the studio to the gallery and back. Artists spend considerable time and energy seeking representation for these reasons, which makes gallery representation the ultimate type of financial sponsorship in the art world.
For all its many advantages and the wonder and glory of a healthy and productive partnership with a gallery, this is a relationship fraught with peril. There is a long history of gallery-artist art partners made on a handshake deal (an organic and inviting way of doing business within left-brained communities, right?) that have gone terribly wrong. Always clarify the terms of this relationship- initially in conversation, sure, but then reduce it to writing. Some things to discuss: Is this a single event? What is the period of representation? What is the territory of the representation- North America, the universe, greater Poughkeepsie? Are all those extras- framing, shipping, installation- covered, and under what circumstances do they need to be reimbursed? Is the artist consulted on price discounts offered? What if the artist wants out of the representation? What if the gallerist does?
Ensuring that both parties know the answers to these questions and those that might be specific to an artist’s work, form the foundation of a productive partnership. Plus, the conversations the art partners have around the agreement they are entering is a solid preview of what the working relationship will be.
If the artist needs to call multiple times before speaking with the gallerist, or terms are laid as ultimatums, the artist needs to consider how that will feel for the term of the agreement. Even if nothing extreme happens, but the relationship feels flat, trust that instinct. Finally, artists need to be aware that, should things go wrong in a partnership with a gallery, the gallery is not legally allowed to hold or refuse to return work until the artist pays any amount owed. Work must be returned to the artist at the end of a term of the agreement or, in the absence of an agreement (please always have an agreement!), once the exhibition ends. If there are any outstanding unreimbursed expenses for which the artist is responsible, the question of how it’s paid must also be handled – and that may mean in court.
Again, these more common types of partnership arrangements are just the springboard for finding ways to work with others. Use them as a guide, but know that any arrangement and agreement can be sculpted to reflect the needs and obligations of each of the art partners involved. Whether it is an even split between the art partners or you are doing the heavy lifting with just a boost from the other side, communicating what you need and expect is the key to forming and maintaining partnerships that get your projects financed.
How do you fund art exhibitions or other projects?