In 2015, I produced my largest art show to date. It was entitled “Small Town Glories.”
I was booked to exhibit at Artistry Galleries and Workshops, a highly regarded gallery in West Greenville. This show was the third in a series, featuring work created over a decade that covered the Abandoned Space landscape of the South Carolina backcountry.
With 10 months to prepare, I had to draft a plan that would take into account the time it took to create and ready artwork for exhibition, the ordering of supplies needed for my show, marketing, and of course funding. I found that in doing so, I got a crash course in business management. To prepare for an art exhibit is to prepare for the opening of a brand new pop-up business, except that your business has a lifespan of one day.
It all starts with networking. Getting yourself on the radar of a major gallery is the result of being active in your local art community. This means supporting other artists, going to shows, communicating your unique vision to your peers, and most importantly, constantly creating work. Your reputation is built on the quality of your work and the strength of your network. Practice your elevator pitch. You need to be able to talk to anyone about the scope of your work, no matter how different or weird it might be. These connections prepare you to present your work to a gallery for consideration — or even better, will lead a gallery to approach you.
To set the tone for “Small Town Glories,” I wanted to present an experience that took my audience on a journey through the small towns of South Carolina with stops in each region of the state. A soundtrack that paid homage to these towns, along with quotes from their inhabitants, drove this journey forward. I turned my apartment into a mood board, complete with song lists, photo proofs, and scribbled notes. This changed almost weekly, as my vision adjusted over time.
Once I knew the tone of my show, I designed my own marketing materials to distribute to key artists, patrons, and influencers in Greenville. I utilized social media for show teasers and visual updates on the show’s progress. While all of this was occurring, I was still heading out on early weekend mornings to explore new sites. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to spend the morning in the woods and then rush home to change and appear on television to promote the exhibit.
As with any business, funding is important. Due to the lack of traditional art patronage that would allow me to work full time on my show while being fed and clothed for free, I worked three (yes, three!) jobs to back my exhibit and pay for my marketing and production costs. I hired a printing company in Maryland to print my exhibited work. In the last weeks before show open, I was tracking 20 different shipments of prints from their facility. My show opened to great response from the creative community, and my personal financial investment had a great return. Most importantly, my work and vision found its place in the Greenville arts landscape.
Artists are continuously working. When they are not creating, they are working to support their vision financially. It is no longer a badge of honor to be clueless about the business of being a successful creative. In today’s market, it has become necessary to be knowledgeable about basic business principles. Artists are not only responsible for the production of new work; they are also responsible for the marketing strategy, supply chain, location scouting, venture capital, and accounting.
Artists are already business owners. It is crucial that business management principles are included in their education and training, which many universities are doing. The days of the starving artist are over.