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7 tips to organise your first art exhibition in a creative space

For artists looking to hold their first ever exhibition, a creative space for hire is a picture-perfect solution.

A creative space can be a literal blank canvas for an artist and they come in an array of shapes, sizes and styles, from rustic, white-walled warehouses to sleek gallery spaces in well-known arts precincts.

art gallery

Finding the right space for your exhibition is key/ Picture: Unsplash

Freddy Grant – the PR and communications manager for art marketplace bluethumb, who often organises and curates exhibitions – shares his top tips for putting on a show.

1. What do you want from the show?

Artists should start at the start and ask what they actually want to achieve from a show, as this has a big impact on the budget.

Is the exhibition to raise your profile or awareness? Is it just something you’ve always wanted to do? Or is it actually for selling some art?

This last one is the most difficult and will probably mean you need to invest more time and money into the exhibition.

“If you’re clever, you can do the first two without spending much money at all. You’ll still need to put the hours in though” Grant says.

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2. Find the perfect space

After working out the why comes the fun part, finding a creative space. Spacely is a great place to start.

The key things to think about are the foot traffic, the space’s reputation and whether it will generate a crowd or bring you collectors, if that’s your purpose, Grant says.

Also look carefully at how art will be installed. “This can cost you dearly if it’s a space that insists on installing (themselves) or requires expertise and charges.” So, always check.

Artists should do their homework on any prospective spaces, gathering first-hand testimonials and reviews if possible.

3. Look at the costs

The hiring of the creative space is one of, if not the biggest, costs involved in putting on an exhibition, so Grant recommends looking carefully at costs to work out if the space is worth it.

Knowing how much to spend comes back to the purpose of the show. Spaces are often open to negotiation, so don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal.

Event space

Remember to factor in all the costs of the space into your budget.

4. Accept help from the creative space … but don’t assume it’s free

Many spaces will help artists with a range of things related to their show, like event listings, media releases, invitations or hanging the art, but it comes at a cost, Grant warns.

This help is usually never free and is either factored into the price of the space, a commission or charged on top.

Grant says it can sometimes be all three.

The quality of such help can vary too, so Grant recommends going to an opening night at the space before making a decision.

“Did they advertise the event well? Did many people show up? Did anything sell? Did they have a solid cohort of collectors that showed up and spend regularly? You need to make sure your expectations are in line with reality, otherwise you will be disappointed and out of pocket,” Grant says.

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5. Be realistic

The biggest mistake Grant sees artists make is setting their expectations too high.

“If the only people coming are your family and friends who have already got a collection of your work, you’re probably not going to sell much.”

Artists – especially those showing for the first time – need to be realistic. Grant says bluethumb has come to see exhibitions more of a community-building exercise than an opportunity to sell lots of art.

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Spending too much time and money on small details, like fancy invites and canapés, and not enough on the fundamentals is a rookie mistake.

Let the art speak for itself, instead of pouring money into graphic design for invites and promotions or pricey caterers.

Use networks to get the right people there and then make the event enjoyable for those who attend, but remember, it doesn’t have to be lavish.

Balcony Dining table

Focus on the art over fancy extras. Picture: Getty

7. Think about insurance

In the excitement of setting up an exhibition, the less-glamorous topic of insurance can be forgotten, but it’s something emerging artists should think about, Grant says.

“Whether you need to insure your work depends on the space, the security and the value of the work. Make sure you know the deal so there are no nasty surprises.”

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