From the Archives

From the Archives – Help Desk: Self-Promotion

This week’s Help Desk art-advice column looks back to a question from a “feral” artist and provides some strategies for self-promoting an exhibition. Got a question for our Help Desk? Submit your queries anonymously here

I’m an artist in [redacted city] and I just got a solo show at a little gallery. I have no idea how to promote it. I didn’t go to art school and I’m sort of feral, as in I don’t have a huge group of people to invite. I’m lost on how to market the show. I’ve made a list of some galleries and thought I would send them invitations, but where do I start?

Andy Warhol, People on the Street, ca. 1980. © Andy Warhol. Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. RISD Museum, Providence, RI.

Andy Warhol. People on the Street, ca. 1980. Gift of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. RISD Museum, Providence, RI.

Congratulations! Marketing a show isn’t hard—it’s all about being organized and targeting the right people—and I’m happy to help. The first thing you need to do is read my 2013 column on writing a basic press release (and pay attention to the initial comment below the article, because it adds a good point that I forgot to mention). Once you’re done reading, draft your press release, have a few people give you some feedback, and revise accordingly.

Once the press release is done, you’ll need one to three images of the work that will be in the exhibition. The artwork should be well lit, in focus, and photographed against a white background. There shouldn’t be anything else in the frame; if you’re unfamiliar with the basics of documenting artwork, this four-minute video will be very helpful.

Now figure out to whom you will send the release and images. Your idea of making a list of galleries is perfect—and before you hit “send,” I want you to take a long, hard look at that list. Blasting a lot of strangers has rarely worked to anyone’s advantage, so ask yourself: Do these galleries exhibit work like yours? Are they likely to be interested? If yes, you’re cleared for takeoff. If no, take them off the list. And if you still honestly feel there’s some compelling reason to contact them, make sure you’re sending the email with a personal note above the text of the press release: “I know you only represent artists from China, but I love your gallery and have been inspired by the work I’ve seen there over the last three years. I would be honored if you came to see my show.” (And since emailing galleries is a little like sending an application, read these tips on thinking strategically.)

Before you brush off your hands and call the day done, take some time to think outside the white cube, because there are plenty of arts patrons beyond the gallery circuit. Make another list, one that includes the subject(s) of your work, its material components, and any other relevant information, and then google-brainstorm an inventory of organizations whose interests overlap with some of the elements of your work. For example, if you paint images of trains, you might invite the railway history museum, the nonprofit that advocates for streetcar service, and the members of the local model train society. If you make collages that reimagine the built environment, send a copy of your press release to the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Even the most cursory Google search will be a great help here, and you might find all sorts of institutions that will be interested in taking a look at your show. Go ahead and email the press release to a national organization if you can’t find your community’s chapter—they may be able to help you get the word out.

You don’t need an art-school degree to effectively promote your work. What you need is a willingness to spend hours in front of the computer doing research, a dash of creativity, and a few pals to help you edit your press release. Good luck!

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here.