Curating an Art Exhibition

I have been curating exhibitions and art events since 2015. This May, I was involved in organizing a solo show for Toronto-based fine art and performance artist Jessica Gorlicky. I work with Jess on a regular basis – so I knew what her expectations were and what areas I should take full control of to make it a zero-stress event for everyone. In this blog, I want to walk you through the gallery opening planning and what to expect and consider to avoid any disappointments.

One of the most important elements of organizing an event is to have a plan. For example, you have six months before your show – write out a monthly plan of things to accomplish. Many people will say that “I don’t need a plan” and “I’ll do it all closer to the day.” NEVER DO EVERYTHING ONE WEEK PRIOR TO THE SHOW! As soon as you confirm any event – plan out the following things:
* What is your venue? what is the event date/s?
* How much physical space do you have and what is the floor plan? Allocate all vendors/activities in advance.
* Ticket costs: Is your event free or you will be charging people at the door/ ask them to purchase tickets in advance?
* What is your income goal? How you are planning to achieve this goal?
* What are your expenses like staff, food/drinks, advertisement, venue rental fee, furniture rental fee, materials, etc.?
* What is your budget?
* What is your show/event concept/theme?
* What is your team? Who is helping you?
* Who is your audience. What are the ways to target that audience?

Show description/artist statement/art labels.
When all event planning aspects are taken care of, you can move into the curatorial aspect of the show. When organizing an art exhibition, you need to write a curatorial or artist statement to explains the show. You’ll use this document for invitations and for sponsorship application. However, for Jessica’s event, I curated it as an open house that was less formal and more conversational event type. I asked Jess to write a paragraph for each painting she’s created. Jessica ended up writing very personal, strong and emotional passages that, in my opinion, needed to be experienced directly at the show. So, my job here was to make sure that her ideas were visually easy to read on the labels and the style was consistent on all graphic works.
It was the right move as I had people came up to me saying that the passages were so strong and they kept thinking about them during the show and after it. Art labels acted as art catalogue that wasn’t forced on visitors but was offered as an additional element placed to enhance their experience. See an image of one of the labels from the show.

This part is very tricky and very time-consuming. I reached out to big and small companies more than two months before the show. Remember, that they need a lot of time to approve the sponsorship and many companies plan out their donations months and even years ahead. Also, when you have events every day and all apply for sponsorship – your application has to stand out, be authentic and personal. Don’t change just the company’s name and send the same package to all your potential sponsors. Know the brand, offer something special that will elevate their product and will help reach a new or wider audience. We got our sponsorship one day before the show as one of Jessica’s friend and former client connected us to an alcohol company. A note here – use your contacts. In addition, if you were not able to get food/drinks sponsors – collaborate with local vendors. We ended up having a food vendor who was selling handmade vegan cookies and desserts and people were happy to spend a few dollars on that. As for the free treats, we had a popcorn machine and a cotton-candy station.

Other Vendors.
When you have an art exhibition – you want people to stay in the space and not walk in and out. One trick we all use is the free bar and another one is to have activities to keep the visitors occupied. Jessica partnered with local designer Top Collective (@topcollective) who was selling jewelry and design accessories at the show and we also had a local artist ( who made henna art.

Invites, Press Release, and Advertisement.
I usually send the first blast three weeks before the show. The second blast is one week before the show and the last blast on the day of the show. The first email is more formal where you need to include who, what, when and where. The second email should be more personal and giving some insights into an artist personal story or inspiration behind his/her work/new collection. The last one should be short and sweet and just remind about the location, time and what amazing special features you will have at your event like performances, giveaways, etc.

I use mail chimp as you can custom design the look of your email and send it to all your contacts in one click. If you have more than 2,000 people – you have to have a paid plan, but it’s worth it. Also, you can personalize emails by selecting contact people by first or first and last mane in the intro. This way you don’t need to send one personalized email one at a time and spend days on this. The program is easy to operate and can be used for other purposes like sending out newsletters. If you are interested to invite media – you will need a Press Release. PR used to announce something newsworthy and is typically mailed to editors at newspapers, magazines, radio and/or TV stations. Use the language your visitors will understand.

As long as you have a great team to work with – your event will be a big success!