From the moment the Threads of Resistance exhibit was conceived I knew I wanted to play a role in bringing it from concept to reality. I have received so many emails and have had many conversations with viewers of the exhibit thanking me for my role in putting it together and getting it into so many venues across the country. Being one of the organizers of the TOR exhibit is and continues to be one of my most proudest accomplishments as an artist.
One of the questions I get asked a lot about the exhibit is “what does it take to put together an exhibit like this and where do I start” so I thought I would put together post about what it took to get the TOR exhibit from concept to reality and what you should think about before you take on putting together a traveling exhibit. Let’s start at the beginning…
A strong team is essential to the success of your exhibit. Even if there are only a few people on your team it’s important to make sure that everyone knows what they will be responsible for and be realistic about the commitment involved. Work on the TOR exhibit started in January 2017 and the management of the exhibit as it has traveled across the country for the last 19 months continues. The first six months between the time the call for art was put out to the premier opening were extremely busy and there was no time for working on anything else. So before you sign on for a project like this, make sure you are honest with yourself about the commitment that you are making.
In order to protect the Artist Circle members from any personal legal issues we set up an LLC to operate the exhibit under. The ACA has never intended to make any money from the TOR exhibit and any money left over after all the expenses will be donated. At the time, the lawyer we spoke to recommended an LLC but having gone through one tax season I know now that may not have been the best option. Setting up as a non profit would have been a better way to go. My advice is to talk with an attorney and accountant to see what is the best option for you based on what your goals for your exhibit are.
Financial prep: If you are going to charge a submission fee (sell catalogs and merchandise etc.) then you will need some way to collect that money. Get your bank account and PayPal account set up before you start collecting money!
Submissions: you should decide before your call goes out how you will handle all the submissions. For TOR we used ArtCall which I highly recommend considering for any exhibit. It is very easy to use and it will make your entire process so much smoother. Artists simply logged on, entered all their information including their statement, uploaded their photos and then used a PayPal button supplied to ArtCall by us to pay the jurying fee. The money collected went directly to the ACA LLC PayPal account where it was easily transferred to the bank. Work those details out with whatever platform you will use before you send out your call.
Logo: will you create a logo for your exhibit? ACA member Jamie Fingal designed the TOR logo and we use it on all our marketing and promotional materials.
Once you have your groundwork in place it’s time to work on the concept of your exhibit and write up a prospectus. It can be helpful to use another prospectus as a jumping off point for writing your own. You can find the prospectus we used for the TOR call here.
Some things to think about are:
You will need to write up an introduction to your prospectus that outlines what your exhibit will be about. What will be the unifying element for your exhibit? Will you have a theme and what will it be. Will it be a abstract theme or something a bit more concrete?
Will you welcome both international and domestic submissions?
Will the artists be responsible for the cost of return shipping when the exhibit has come to a close?
Will you allow pieces to be priced for sale – how you will you handle those sales? Will you take a commission?
How many submissions per artist will you accept and what will the submission fee be? When determining your submission fee keep in mind what your expenses are going to be. You want to make sure that you will have enough money to cover things like website fees, purchasing shipping containers, marketing materials, legal and accounting fees etc…
Will you have a size restriction or minimum? Will you accept 3d pieces? Size restrictions can make it easier to find venues for your exhibit. Not every venue is able to accommodate large numbers of huge pieces of fiber art so if you keep your sizes reasonable then it may offer you more opportunities for potential venue bookings. It can also make it easier for transporting and shipping (more on that subject in the travel section below). Another benefit is that it may give you the option to include more pieces in your exhibit so consider the possibility of using a size restriction carefully before you dismiss it.
Make sure you have checked and rechecked your dates before you publish them. You want to leave as much time as you can between the time you put the call for entries out and the deadline for submitting in order to give artists enough time to respond to the call. You also want to leave yourself a good block of time for jurying the submissions. The TOR call resulted in 550 submissions which took several weeks to carefully evaluate so make sure you leave yourself a good block of time for jurying.
And on the subject of jurying – who will jury your exhibit? Will you do it or will you have an independent panel of jurors that are not directly associated with the exhibit do it? Will you pay those independent jurors? For TOR we used a blind jurying process. This means that the jurors had no access to the artists names on the artwork before jurying was complete. They could only see the artwork and the artist statement. Because I was handling all the financials and the jurying process I was the only one who had access to everything. This was necessary because I needed to reconcile the submissions with the payments. I also reviewed the submissions ahead of time to make sure that they were complete, didn’t contain any copyright issues that had to be dealt with and that artist statements didn’t include the artist name. Because I had access to everything, I managed the jurying process but I did not participate it in.
Putting the call out
How will you publicize your call? Will you set up a facebook page, website, blog etc? for your exhibit? There are a lot of places on the web where you can publicize your call for art. You’ll find a few that I wrote about on my blog here.
We got lucky with the TOR exhibit and all the venues sought us out so we avoided having to do a lot of leg work and exhibit proposal preparation. Remember that most galleries, museums and other venues book space at least a year out and in some cases 2 or 3 so you’ll want to pitch your exhibit proposals as soon as you can. Visit the websites of the venues you are considering and review their submission guidelines carefully. Make sure the venues you are proposing to are a good fit for the type of exhibit you are curating.
Will you charge venues for your exhibit and how much will that be? TOR doesn’t charge a fee for the exhibit but each venue is responsible for insuring the exhibit and the cost of shipping it to the next venue when they are finished with it.
Once you have booked a venue you will want to have a contract or letter of agreement with them. Some venues will have one that they prefer to use but not all will. The letter of agreement we used for TOR was adapted from one in the book Business and Legal Forms for fine Arists. You may want to consult with a lawyer when drafting yours.
If you are using a platform like ArtCall then your jurying process will be a lot easier to manage. Once you have completed your jurying process you will need to inform both your accepted and rejected submissions. I set up a Constant Contact account for TOR and all the communications were sent from that account. I asked each accepted artist to respond to the notification email so that I could make sure that everyone received, opened and read their notice and I made sure to note that response on my master list. Because we already had our first venue booked the email included all the details about where and when to send the artwork as well as information on making sure that it was properly labeled and ready for hanging. Follow up emails were sent to remind the artists of the upcoming deadline for artwork delivery. Once the notification emails were sent out we also posted the acceptances on our blog and social media accounts.
Catalog & Website
Will you create a catalog for your exhibit? We used createspace for the TOR catalog for two reasons. We wanted to do it ourselves and using createspace mean that the catalog would be listed on amazon and easily purchased by overseas followers. Because it is a print on demand service we were not obligated to buy any copies up front and have to deal with storage and shipping. Its also very easy to use. The downside is that it’s only available as a paperback but the quality of it is very high. I do not recommend putting your exhibit schedule in your catalog because you will not be able to make changes to it easily.
Will you have a website for your exhibit? What will your URL be? What will you post on your website? The TOR website has a lot of information on it as well as a gallery of all the work submitted. It also has a companion blog too. Will you collect emails for a mailing list and send out regular newsletters?
Will you have a splash opening event to premier your exhibit? Most galleries and museums will have an opening reception. You may want to do a short talk and have as many of the artists that are in the exhibit at the opening to engage with the public. You may want to work with the venue to design a postcard for mailing and announcing the opening as well as reach out to local print publications, newspapers etc and invite them to review the exhibit and announce the event in their pages.
Shipping and traveling
TOR is made up of 64 quilts that have been shipped all over the country. It is not practical or feasible to ship that many quilts in cardboard boxes. You want to be able to keep the pieces together and protected from the elements and the rigors of being transported in trucks from location to location. TOR is shipped in two containers that were purchased from Road Cases USA They have locking wheels for easy moment, they’re padded to protect the artwork and they are easily secured shut with zip ties or a padlock.
Before the quilts are put into the cases, the larger ones are rolled and placed into heavy duty vinyl zippered garment bags. Several quilts can be put into one bag. Smaller quilts are stacked and placed inside. These zip bags provide an additional layer of protection for the quilts.
You will have to provide labels for the quilts that can be hung with the artwork at the venues. Each venue may have their own method of producing labels but in general for quilt shows a laminated label that can be clipped to a curtain works great. Consider having an extra set in the trunks in case labels get misplaced or lost during the packing and unpacking at each venue.
At each stage of the exhibit schedule I am in touch with the venues that it is leaving from and headed to and I make sure that they each have contact info for each other so that shipment tracking numbers can be shared and monitored.
A bunch of other stuff
Some venues may want to sell catalogs if you have produced one. You will need to determine your wholesale and suggested retail price. The easiest way to handle wholesale shipments through create space is to place the order and have it shipped directly to the venue.
The TOR exhibit has two stand up banners that have information about the ACA and the TOR exhibit on them. These are important because we can’t always have a TOR representative at an exhibit so the banners give us an opportunity to let viewers know what the exhibit it all about. They also include info on how to access the audio tour that we use for the exhibit.
Guide by cell is an online recording platform that allows you to easily add an audio tour to your exhibit. Each TOR artist recorded a statement that viewers can dial in and listen to while standing in front of the artwork on display. This information is included on each quilt label. We also downloaded the recordings and added them to our blog so that viewers can listen to them online if they can’t get to see the exhibit in person.
You may want to produce some marketing materials such as postcards, bookmarks and buttons to give away at events. We have an online zazzle store that has a variety of merchandise with the TOR logo on it.
Keep your website and social media site updated and use them to engage with your audience. TOR has a very active following on Facebook and Instagram as well as a pretty robust newsletter list. We regularly post and notify our newsletter subscribers about where the exhibit is on view and what artists will be in attendance.
At some point you will have to return the artwork to the artists and you will need packing and shipping materials in order to do that.
As you can see there is a lot of work that goes into putting together and managing a traveling exhibit! That’s why it is so important to have a good team in place to help out. The ACA is made up of terrific group of strong amazing women and all have worked hard to ensure it’s success.
If you decide to put together your own traveling exhibit, I hope this outline is helpful for you and I wish you nothing but success!
Update 7/30/18: Click here for a pdf version of this post that you can download, print and share with your exhibition committee.