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Tips for the Emerging Artist

By Santo, Fine Artist
ARTTIMES September 2004

My story picks up in late summer of 2003 with tip from a friend about an opportunity to show at a prestigious NYC University. I constantly look for ways to show my art other than the usual association sponsored art shows or by gallery representation. The benefits I achieved as a result of the ensuing University show were more than I dreamed! I encourage the emerging artist to be proactive and self-promoting. Through this article I relate the steps taken to produce and market this show. Here’s how the next few months unfolded.

The University tip so intrigued me that I immediately made an appointment for an introductory meeting to discuss a show. Before I knew it I agreed to produce a show. We settled on the dates and off I went!

Up to this point, my limited experience with art shows included sending a check and slides to an organization’s selection committee and waiting to hear back. Never had I produced a show! Suddenly I was confronted with every facet of a show’s production. I estimated that approximately 100 works were needed to fill this grand space.

I had eight months to plan and produce an event that would be on exhibit for 3 months. Here’s what my to-do list looked like: Invite artists who paint in a representational style (8 fellow artists from The Art Student’s League) • Name our group of artists- we agreed on, “The Artists of Studio Seven” (our ASL studio) • Plan a publicity strategy: write a press release, organize a press packet, personalize cover letters, obtain photos, bios, etc. (postage, stationery and copy costs) • Research and prepare a mail list of galleries, news media and alumni publications with appropriate contacts, titles, snail mail and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers (I used Excel spread sheet, Word and Avery labels) • Visit prospective galleries in NYC on-line and in person to evaluate suitability (web access, time and transportation) • Design, paint and prepare my own paintings for hanging and delivery • Collaborate with the media: The Art Times, “The Plight of an Emerging Artist”, by Santo, Jan/Feb 2004; American Artist magazine, “Power in Numbers”, by Derrik J. Lang, July 2004 (a 2 page spread with photos); The Improper Hamptonian, by Nada Kucharski, May 2004, featured our opening including photos; Reflections, my alumni magazine, Spring 2004 announced the show (press packet, labels, photos and slides, and transportation). How good can it get! • Collect the lists and slides from each artist to present to the University making sure the slides are correctly labeled (ex. painting height x width). We were required to submit slides of our work for review to manage space considerations • Plan and organize a guest book for the opening including welcome, bios, painting lists, and photos of the artists and their paintings (stationery, binder and copy costs) • Design and print invitations to send to friends, galleries and press for the opening (stationery, labels and postage costs). This show was at a private institution with a substantial built-in audience • Coordinate the opening reception with the institution (each artist contributed) • Coordinate painting delivery to the show (organized the vans to transport the work) • Plan and purchase a gift for our show liaison (each artist contributed) • Arrange for a group photo of the artists and the artwork • Call, mail, e-mail and fax invitations to the media and galleries a few weeks before, and every few weeks to remind them during the show (telephone, fax, postage and postcard costs).

Renée Phillip’s books about artist self-promotion and her gallery guide were of enormous help to me.  With her books and other books such as these as a reference I prepared bios/resumes, press releases and packets, etc. and a list of every business that might be interested in viewing our work.

Each artist benefited from the show in different ways. Personally, I met my initial goal as an emerging artist to show my work, and then some.  To be sure, producing this show was equivalent to a part-time job, severely cut into my painting time (and everything else), and cost more than my initial budget estimate. 

Just look at the opportunities I uncovered with the initial tip! You decide from the results if the show was worth it! • A three-month exhibition at a prestigious NYC institution • A significant institutional credit on my art resume • An invitation to produce another group show in a year or two • 2 acquired paintings for the institution’s permanent collection, with a brass plaque under each (I think the plaque is the cat’s meow!) • A solo gallery show this December • A huge solo institutional show in February 2005 (133 linear feet to fill!) • A portfolio review by two galleries • An invitation to jury a show this Fall • An invitation for a speaking engagement summer 2005 • Video footage and photos for future promotional pieces • Accomplishments for the resume and material for future publicity packets • Experience painting a body of large scale work for a public space • Visibility and name recognition • The experience of producing an art show • A place to exhibit a dozen of my paintings to a large audience for three months • The pleasure of meeting and networking with innumerable business/industry contacts: art editors, publishers, writers, galleries and institutions • 4 published articles and announcements • A lead for a portrait commission • Most of all, invaluable first hand experience in the Business of Art

Would I consider producing another show? – you bet, in a heartbeat! Was the production time consuming and sometimes aggravating with much time spent away from my painting? – yes! Was the marketing costly? – yes, but modestly so considering the benefits! Were there any guarantees for success? No. Did the show offer unlimited upside potential? Yes. Would I encourage you to do the same? – absolutely! Was there a downside risk? – none that I can think of! Can you?

(Santo’s painting of “Woman in Shawl” won second place honors in the Portrait classification in The Artist’s Magazine’s 21st Annual Competition; she lives in Manhattan).

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