In the 21st century, you don't necessarily need a gallery to achieve success and a healthy income as a contemporary artist. Nevertheless, there are still compelling reasons to consider partnering with galleries, dealers, and curators. Collaborating with the right contemporary gallery can elevate your work, introduce you to collectors beyond your local community, and broaden your reach.
When I (Kat) embarked on my journey, my primary aspiration was to secure gallery representation. I believed that this was the path to increasing my income from my art and advancing my career. While it did boost my confidence and connect me with new collectors, I had to reshape my perspective on gallery collaborations and representation. Based on my personal experience, I've come to realize that, at my current stage in my career, galleries serve more as marketing tools rather than the primary source of income. This is especially evident when the substantial 50% commission is factored in, not to mention the protracted wait for payment after months of creating, shipping, and exhibiting your work. It's not the most sustainable way to make a living, particularly for emerging artists. However, it remains an excellent means to cultivate meaningful relationships, receive support, attract fresh opportunities, and enhance your confidence and reputation as an artist.
Here are seven strategies to locate and entice galleries if you are an emerging artist just beginning or new to collaborating with galleries:
1. Researching Peers' Exhibition History:
- Study the exhibition history of artists in your peer group who have successfully secured gallery representation. Review where they have exhibited, the type of galleries they are associated with, and the trajectory of their careers. This research can provide valuable insights into potential gallery connections. You can always ask them about their experience and eventually ask for an introduction when appropriate. Use your judgment and always be gracious and polite.
2. Applying to Juried Shows:
- Participate in juried exhibitions and competitions, both locally and nationally. These events often attract gallery owners and curators scouting for new talent. Winning or even just participating can help you gain visibility and credibility within the art world. Remember, juried shows aren't always the best ways to make sales, but they can help you build confidence, credibility, and introduce you to important players in the art community over time.
3. Local Networking at Gallery Openings:
- Attend gallery openings and art-related events in your local area. Engage in conversations with gallery owners, artists, and other attendees. Building personal connections with those in the art community can lead to opportunities for representation. I can't tell you how many exhibitions and opportunities I was invited to just by showing up and supporting the local community back in the early days of my career. When the time comes and you've established a quality relationship full of mutual support and respect, you may be able to pitch your work for an exhibition or opportunity.
4. Building a Meaningful Social Media Presence:
- Develop a strong and consistent presence on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Share your artwork, artistic process, and engage with your audience. A well-curated online presence can attract gallery owners and curators looking for new talent. Several of the galleries I work with today found me through Instagram. Though I wouldn't sit around and wait for this to happen, this can be part of your long-term strategy in attracting curators and art lovers by sharing quality content and your story consistently. Don't forget to celebrate your sales and exhibitions online to build trust and confidence in your work with new visitors.
5. Participating in Blogs and Online Magazines:
- Contribute to art blogs and online magazines by sharing your insights, experiences, and artwork. Writing about your artistic journey and participating in interviews can help you establish connections with art writers, critics, and potential gallery representatives. A few of my collectors and galleries found me through articles and blog posts, so don't underestimate the power of the internet to connect you to the right people. Once again, this is a long-term game.
6. Applying to Open Calls:
- Keep an eye out for open calls for artist submissions from galleries, both local and beyond. Open calls for magazines can result in exhibitions as well. For example, one of our published artists got invited to a show we curated with Paradigm Gallery a few years ago, eventually leading to her gallery representation. You never know which connection will be fruitful. While I recommend keeping a budget and only applying to opportunities that are aligned and exciting to you, there is value in open calls, but it's not the only way to reach out to new venues. Many galleries periodically announce open calls for artists to submit their portfolios or proposals. This can be a direct route to getting noticed by galleries.
7. Writing Proposals to Aligned Partners:
- Craft compelling proposals tailored to galleries that align with your style and vision. These proposals should include your portfolio, artist statement, and a personalized pitch explaining why your work would be a valuable addition to their roster. Demonstrating your alignment with a gallery's mission and aesthetic can increase your chances of representation. If you are brand new, start by making a list of local galleries and institutions accepting open calls. They may offer artists memberships and have annual opportunities, which is the perfect place to start.
I hope this list gave you a nice start and a strategy to attract the right people to help you share and sell your art. Remember, building an art career is a long game, and above everything else, work with people who respect you, believe in you, and say no to anything that feels strange or pressured.
If you are an emerging artist looking to build a profitable and sustainable art career that will keep you creating well into your 90s, consider joining my free masterclass. You can also join the waitlist for my signature program, the Artist Navigation Course, where I show you how to navigate your art career with confidence and abundance from the ground up. Link to the waitlist.