Let's assume that you have found a place that you think would be suitable. What next? First of all you need to approach the owner or manager. You need to know what the criteria are for getting considered, for example if it is a popular spot with artists there may be a waiting list. I know of one restaurant that features a different artist each month. They have lots of wall space, they hang the art of new up and coming artists in a variety of styles and media and it is a much sought after venue by artists. As only 12 artists are chosen each year, the restaurant manager has to put people on a waiting list. As an aside, this restaurant has a certain type of clientele - very artsy folks, people who value fine art and who look for art that is different. People eat there to view the changing art exhibits. It is no wonder artists want to get a chance at this exposure.
So find out the criteria. You should expect the manager or owner to want to see your work. This may be actual paintings, work in your portfolio or images they can view on your website. They will also expect your art to be ready to hang, framed if required by your medium and with wire on the back. Note that if you are accepted, when you pack your paintings, take some some picture hanging hooks. It is nice to have them on hand should the gallery or restaurant not have enough. I once put some art in a newly renovated space. There were no holes yet in the drywall (I needed a hammer) and they didn't have any hooks. So do yourself a favour and pop some hanging hooks (and maybe a hammer) into a bag. Also, be prepared to provide your own cards that go with the paintings, i.e. some sort of signage that has the title of the piece, your name and the price. Galleries usually print their own version using your info. but cafes and restaurants often do not.
When you are discussing the possibility of your art being in their establishment, be your own best business manager. Sell the business owner on the positive aspects of having your work in their gallery/restaurant. What do you have to offer? For example if you are working in a medium or style that is currently not represented by their other artists, then this is something you have to offer. Ask up front what percentage of sales they take. If the owners do not communicate enough information to you, don't hesitate to ask questions. Ask (in a very diplomatic fashion of course) what is in it for you the artist. They should be doing more for you than offering wall space. I have encountered some small galleries that seem to expect you to be grateful for the heat, hydro and walls they provide. Sorry, but I want more for the 40 - 60% they take. You should expect more too.
What might you be looking for besides the heat, lighting and wall space?
- Well to start with, how will you be promoted? Will your name appear on the pricing card or will just the name of the gallery appear? Do they provide an area where you can display your business cards? Some galleries will not do this. They do not want to encourage the public to contact you directly. A customer may want to see more of your work or wish to learn more about you from your website. There is the risk that they will see something they like and that they will buy directly from you. If you can display your business cards, this is a bonus. If you teach workshops or classes is there a place where you can display your brochures?
- Will they be advertising you as a new artist? If you are dealing with a gallery, ask if they have a website. Check to see if it is regularly updated. You should expect a mention on their website.
- Are they willing to learn about you and your art? For example I work in a rather uncommon medium and I would expect the staff to have a basic understanding of how I work. For example I would expect them to understand that I achieve the look of paint with coloured pencils by building up layers of pigment. I would want them to know I use archival supports and light fast pencils. That way they are prepared to answer questions from potential buyers. Please note that I wouldn't expect this from a restaurant or cafe. The waitstaff are hired to wait on customers and serve food. They are not paid to sell your art. Having said that, restaurants usually take less of a percentage from your sales than galleries do.
- Do they offer the opportunity for a solo exhibit? One cafe I dealt with offered one of their rooms for a solo exhibit to be held on a weekend afternoon. A simple wine and cheese gig, well advertised, can provide wonderful exposure. This sort of thing is not what I would expect from a gallery if I were an unknown artist but it doesn't hurt to ask. Sometimes a gallery will have an opening night when an new exhibit is launched or when they present work of new artists. If your work is part of a new exhibit you can get in on this exposure. Each gallery is different with regards to how they feature and promote a new artist. They may take just a few of your paintings so it wouldn't be enough to warrant a special event.
- With regards to quantity, in a restaurant you may be given an entire room to hang artwork so there is the opportunity to exhibit several pieces. A gallery will likely only take up to four of your pieces.
- Where they hang your art...ouch...if you have read my previous post 'galleries and the conundrum of space' you will be aware that your art may end up just about anywhere. Galleries as opposed to other establishments, do their own hanging. What can you do about this? Ask when they will be hanging your work. Go back and see where your art has ended up. Why not take a camera to snap some pictures for your website? Ask for permission first. Let the gallery know that you are promoting their business on your website or blog. They will appreciate it. If you find that your art work is in a terrible place, you can ignore it, subtly mention it, or boldly ask for a change. Unless your work is on the floor or behind a door, I would suggest that you don't complain, at least not at this stage of your relationship with the gallery. Remember that they make a living from the sale of art. They may wish to gauge the public's reaction to your work before giving you their better display areas. What you can ask though is how often they change their walls, i.e. the placement of the paintings. Galleries should move art around regularly. If they do, there is hope that you will get a different placement in future. Don't hesitate to go back and check up on your art. But remember, this is a business - don't expect the owners to have time to discuss your art placement, your sales or lack of them during peak business hours. Find out when a good time is or better yet make an appointment if you have issues you wish to discuss. They will really appreciate it if you respect their time. Wouldn't you?
Do keep in mind that if you are a new artist you may not get the type of representation you hoped for. They may not hang your work in an area of the gallery that you like and they may not offer the kinds of promotion opportunites I have discussed above. But if this is a gallery that you really want to be in, you might want to put up with some things now in order to get your foot in the door. Use your best judgement in this.
When you are being your own best business manager conduct yourself in a professional manner. Arrive at your meeting on time (don't expect them to waste their time waiting on you), come prepared, dress appropriately and most importantly be friendly, courteous and respectful. Imagine yourself as the owner, what sort of person would you want to deal with? Strive for a win/win in your business relationship. I have talked a lot about looking out for your best interests. I want to now encourage you to do this while also being mindful of how you should be adding value to their business. Remember that if all goes well, you might wish for this relationship to last a long time. You will definitely stand out from the rest of the artists they represent or have represented, if you genuinely care about their business goals as well as your own.
I said yesterday that I would talk about contracts. I will cover this in the next post.
If any readers have insights from your experiences with galleries that you would like to share, please feel free to post a comment!