Let’s start with the obvious: preparing for any exhibition is a headache. From packing the artwork to completing a new commission in time to meeting exhibition deadlines, there is a lot at stake for independent artists when mounting a new show. While artists still generally work closely with galleries and museum spaces to exhibit within their space, and resources are provided by administrative personnel at these sites, artists are increasingly invited to show in non-traditional spaces. Hotels, cafes, pop-up events and concept stores are just a few of the new opportunities for artists who seize the chance to show new works. While developing a new audience through these non-traditional spaces is rewarding, the challenges in transitioning to working with these spaces can be daunting and complex.
Below, we outline some of the key facets of planning for and mounting a DIY art exhibition with mixed-use and non-traditional spaces and lay out the groundwork for a successful showing.
Understand the Logistics Involved
Logistics, logistics, logistics. Independent artists exhibiting at spaces that are managing other demands in addition to their art repertoire will quickly realize that hands-on logistics management is key, and artists who are accustomed to working with registrars and in-house art handling and install teams are in for a rude awakening when it comes to preparing for a DIY art exhibition.
The key points here are setting up budgets and timelines well in advance as you negotiate with a space. This will ensure that the space hosting your exhibition understands the expectations before you begin mounting the exhibition. Every space is unique, and budgets and timelines will often reflect each space’s existing dynamic. Is the site a flea market pop-up that a friend just put together? Is it the Google Headquarters in New York City’s Meatpacking District? While each of these spaces can be considered a non-traditional exhibition venue, the expectations, understandably, vary widely. The best strategy to effectively execute a DIY art exhibition is to plan with a liaison at the site. Hammer out the specifics of who is handling what (is the site covering shipping, install and de-install? Will the artist be responsible?) in order to firmly establish the amount of time you will need to coordinate these tasks.
As with any other timeline and budget, allowing yourself wiggle room will be paramount to ensuring success when mounting a DIY art exhibition- unexpected expenses crop up, unexpected roadblocks arise, and it’s best to have a little extra time and money to reduce stress on yourself. Also worth considering is partnering with other independent artists who may be participating in a group exhibition at the same site: Can you share resources? Is one artist an expert with art handling, while another has a van to handle local shipping? Pooling your strengths can make the entire experience much more seamless, for both the exhibiting space and the participating independent artists.
Organize The Details Extensively
Non-traditional exhibition sites often will not have the expertise or familiarity with DIY art exhibitions that independent artists have.It will be key to understand how to curate your own art exhibition, as the parties involved may not be so savvy. As a result, often the unspoken rule is that artists can direct the exhibition from behind-the-scenes a bit more than with traditional venues, but extra organization is key. Something as simple as an artwork/inventory list, complete with identifying images of each artwork on display and key information – such as title, medium, and date – may be foreign to the space organizing the exhibition.
Independent artists should draw from their own – or their network’s – experiences with exhibiting with established art venues who frequently mount exhibitions to ensure the right documents are in place. This will ensure fluid communication with the non-traditional exhibition space. A simple example of this is to ensure, well in advance of the exhibition, that the right insurance documents are in place, so that both the artwork and the exhibition space are properly covered. Additionally, determine the windows for installing and de-installing any DIY art exhibitions, so that you leave plenty of time to carry out installation properly. In the case of a pop-up, the window may be very short – perhaps just a few hours – for delivering, installing, de-installing and collecting, and it’s important to establish these factors from the outset so that expectations are reasonable.
Make a Plan to Promote Your DIY Art Exhibitions
Traditional art exhibition spaces understandably have a stake in sharing their cultural programming with a curated audience. However, when you move forward with a DIY art exhibition in a non-traditional space, it may be unclear where the marketing responsibilities for that show lie. Some brands will make an effort to highlight the cultural inroads they are making in partnering with the artists they feature, while others may prioritize sales goals and other initiatives over marketing their exhibition.
It’s best to ask firmly but politely at the beginning what resources the site plans to allocate toward marketing your artwork. Do they have a social media or PR team in place? Alternately, are they expecting the artist to take part in a shared media campaign focusing on the art exhibition as a part of a larger marketing initiative? It’s best to put aside what you’ll need for the show to make a lasting impression early on in the planning process. In addition to PR, does the space have a photographer who will be documenting the event? Ensuring that you have materials in place – press, installation images, or a social media strategy – to properly document the show for a wider public is a crucial step in the process of exhibition planning that needs careful handling when undertaking DIY art exhibitions with non-art specific exhibiting partners.
Keep The Momentum Going
One of the most exciting facets of planning a DIY art exhibition with a non-traditional space are the unexpected factors, so make sure you use these to your advantage! In a gallery or museum space, the audiences tend to be repeat visitors, while at venues with a wider focus (retail, hospitality, etc.) your work will really stand out to patrons who may not have such a practiced familiarity with contemporary art. Take the opportunity to meet new potential partners and collectors from different walks of life! You never know where a conversation on opening night at a non-traditional space can take you.
In addition, use the experience as a jumping-off point for forming similar DIY art exhibitions. Perhaps another brand is seeking out artists for a cross-promotional endeavor similar to the La Mer Wave Walk in New York, or the LOVE sculpture in the Palazzo hotel in Las Vegas. Make sure to utilize every aspect of exhibiting with a unique space, and to establish new contacts who can broaden your perspective as a result of this partnership. By showing that you are confident and ready for the next exhibition opportunity, you’ll stand out to potential partners looking to feature independent artists as a part of their interdisciplinary programming.
So in short: Be hands-on! While creating work is an integral part of the artistic process, indicating that you are ready to exhibit for mixed audiences with a wide array of partners will open up new opportunities and career pathways. In addition to the above tips on staying organized, make sure you’re not afraid to make a few mistakes as well! It’s more important to push ahead with new partners, even if it’s uncharted territory and you’re not an experienced DIY art exhibitions organizer, as the experience will be priceless. Some partnerships exist as one-time only affairs, while others can develop and grow into positive, lasting commitments. Whether your partner is an exhibition site offering a quick installation opportunity or an established retail giant, fear not! Own it, and set yourself forward on a path to making interesting and diverse networks moving forward in your comprehensive artistic career.
Have you mounted your own DIY art exhibition? Share your best practices in the comments.
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.