Know when it’s time to move on to new exhibit venues

You have to start somewhere. Your career might begin in childhood when a parent praises a class assignment and hangs it on the refrigerator. You move on to making work for family and friends and it gets seen in private homes. Everyone encourages you, so you put your art at the local coffee shop.

Your art might sell and it might not sell at the coffee shop. You don’t care. Okay you kinda care, but heck! You have a free place to hang your art. So you keep putting it there over and over again. Why not? It’s comfortable.

Janice McDonald

Visitors enjoy the work of Janice McDonald at Edge Gallery in Denver, Colorado. Image courtesy of Janice McDonald.

That’s precisely when you know it’s time to move on. When something starts feeling too easy, you must reevaluate and make sure it’s serving your goals. You’ll never get anywhere by playing it safe. Moving beyond your comfort zone is a big step, but necessary if you want more from your art.

After the coffee shop, you might show at bookstores, libraries, banks, and then enter juried exhibits. What I have found is that many artists get hung up right about here. Acceptance into juried exhibitions seems to be the be-all, end-all. But it’s not. There is much life after juried exhibits, and you need to know when it’s time to move on.

Juried exhibitions are great for building your confidence and testing the waters. They’re not usually great for sales or exposure. (Yes, I know, there are exceptions.)

You need solo exhibitions for a more satisfying career. Even an open studio or a restaurant showing–when done right–can be more beneficial to your career than the juried exhibition.

Always be thinking about your next step. Is it gallery representation? A better arts festival? A two-person exhibition at a nonprofit space? Curating your own exhibit? Getting your work into a museum collection?

Whatever your next step may be, know when it’s time to get uncomfortable and move on.

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22 comments to Know when it’s time to move on to new exhibit venues

  • Jacqueline Webster

    Boy, this is totally on the mark. I got fed up last year with juried shows – the lack of sales and the lack of respect some venues have for the artists. The easy path is almost never the right path. This is my year to move on. Thanks, Alyson!

  • I have had my work in a privately owned and popular restaurant for about 8 years. Sales were good in the early years when there was another owner, but not happening now. HOWEVER, so many local people eat there that I often get “I saw your work at XXX restaurant”, etc. etc. So I consider it is good for dissemination, if not sales currently. I show there with another artist and we are about to change out what we have in favor of things we think may be more ‘sellable’.

  • I’m at the point where I need to get into more venues, but for a jewelry artist, this can be somewhat difficult (excuses I know!). Many places don’t want to show jewelry due to insurance costs, plus it can be hard to display appropriately.
    I want to have a solo show, but I need to get juried into a gallery space to do this. I like the idea of a 2 or 3 person show where we could have three different mediums represented, I just need to find 2 other artists whose work compliments mine (and mine theirs).
    A lot of research to get done.

  • Thanks for featuring the photo from my show, which was a turning point for me (!) — an eye-opening learning experience and success as well.

  • Very serendipitous for me. I had just in the last two weeks decided that I need to move my work out of the Georgia area and start hitting the road for art festivals and meeting with galleries in other states. This just reiterates my decision. Excellent post, thank you!

  • Jacqueline: I sense good things ahead.

    Lynne: I think it’s fine to keep your work in a place for name recognition. You know you’re in trouble, though, if that’s ALL you do.

    Wendy: You can make it happen. I’m sure of that!

    Janice: Thanks for sharing. It’s a great photo. I am so bummed I didn’t see the show.

    Will: Happy travels!

  • Fortunately that isn’t all I do and since I get my art sales via other venues, I am content for the moment to leave things as they are at that restaurant.

  • Well…When I read this, I thought “oh no” “I hope she’s not talking to me”…So, anyways…Today I went for a long walk & happened to walk by my gallery…As I peered into the window to see my work I noticed a typed letter at the front window…” Dear customers…” “closing” ” economy”…& so on…Anyways…It’s nice to know I am in the presence of a visionary…I was getting comfortable too…Funny how this time I feel set free…Like since I’m not the captain of that one I don’t have to go down with the ship…

  • This is just what I needed today!

    You just described the last 10 years of my career!

    Restaurants, coffee shop, banks, town hall, spa, been there done that.

    Local juried shows, entered, got in, won prizes, CHECK.

    Regional and National juriede shows… still doing that very selectively.

    Gallery representation in the secondary market I’m there right now.

    Next BIG step…way out of my comfort zone….approaching top tier galleries and I’m terriffied!

    Secret ambition? A Museum show and a painting in their permanent collection.

    Thanks for the reminder about the value in always presssing forward towards your goal. (I’m still scared though, LOL)

  • A very thought-provoking post, Alyson.

    And, fyi, your link, curating your own exhibit is broken. I was really interested in what you had to say on that.

  • So very true! The same can be said for gallery venues. One gallery owner told me that she noticed the average “life span” of an artist in a particular gallery is usually about 3 years. If things have been stagnant at a venue for a long time, and changing out your pieces doesn’t stimulate sales, it might be time to change galleries. You could always come back to that one in a few years with fresh new work and their patrons haven’t seen you there for a while.

  • Sari: That’s how you found out about your gallery closing? A note on the door? I find that disturbing. What if you hadn’t walked by?

    Jan: Happy to be of help!

    Michelle: Link has been fixed.

    Julie: That’s an interesting statistic. I never heard that the average gallery-artist relationship was 3 years. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Even more disturbing is that there are 4 new paintings on the wall of that closed gallery, still…I left a message with the landlord, whose number I got from the business upstairs…It looks like the owner is so depressed over the lousy Xmas take that she is hiding & moping…I’m not worried yet though- this was a good person & I trust that things will work out…Worse comes to worse, Carfac(artist union here) will act on my behalf to tell the landlord the paintings were on consignment & aren’t part of bought inventory…But like, the neighbour says it has been closed all January- it’s a good thing I like to walk…(would have gone by sooner, but hate to be That person who always comes by to see if anything sold, or checks up, like a spy)…

  • Just to update the thread…Wow. Our artist union Carfac has had to intervene on our behalf. (husband is an artist too). The landlord claimed (falsely) that works on consignment were his property to seize. Also, wants a ‘writ of declaration’ that the works were really consigned & not sold to the owner? From a lawyer. I feel for the jewelry artist whose work is locked in too- all consignment too…
    Anyways, word of advice to artists- make sure you get gallery to sign a piece of paper with a date saying the word consignment on it (when you deliver)…Not for you, or for the gallery, but for 3rd parties like a landlord . (we were on a verbal contract-which was fine just for us)…
    I actually now have a voice recording of my gallery owner, online, which I taped from my voicemail onto my computer, superimposed on a Fine Art Registry (dot com) screenshot of my works which are registered online & all have security tags…(vouching that the works were not bought)…
    Meow! (all today)

  • Sari: Wow. I’m sorry to hear about the mess! I hope it gets straightened out soon.

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  • This post comes right at the moment I happen to be REALLY thinking through these issues. I live in France, and was very comfy at a gallery in Paris here, doing group shows and one (my first) solo show two years ago (that went very well). I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone when I moved to the South of France, but, alas, didn’t choose well and reversed the process. I went from my gallery (the gallerist had become a friend over the years, and somehow I decided that wasn’t a selling point for the value of my work) to shows in the regional part of the South of France where I live (with has much more conservative tastes), did one “show” in a hotel and followed all the rules to try to do it well, two others in a small rented gallery space, another in a space in Paris that was a big mish mash of unrelated objects, and one I’m doing right now in a vineyard. None of this has been particularly productive, I’ve spent lots of energy, money moving the art around, and there have been very few sales. I’m wondering what the next steps after the Paris gallery should have been. How should I have pushed my comfort zone and kept myself going in the right direction ?

    • I’ve just realized something when writing my comment. I’ve never gone out and looked for venues – not really. They have presented themselves to me- including my Paris gallerist who I met when I was doing a show in a restaurant, and offered to show me in his gallery. Maybe, next steps out of my comfort zones should have been looking for juried shows, or really trying (I only half tried), to find other galleries in other parts of Europe. Or something that required a selection process of some kind ?

  • Hey Alison!
    Thanks for this post – it’s just what I was looking for…information on where/how to get started. I was thinking of contacting you separately, but wanted to get feedback from your followers as well…

    I’m a photographer – I’ve a degree in my field and nearly 20 years experience in my field, but my career has been built as a wedding photographer and I am very well known and respected in the community. Even though my focus has been to create wedding art, I’ve won awards in competitions for both my wedding photography AND my personal art photography and now I want to focus more on creating art and expanding on that side of my career.

    When I first started in the field of photography, there were dues to be paid: assisting for next to nothing, and at the time it was a field that was dominated by men. I never believed in the “dues to be paid” mentality and felt that when I acquired success, I would help others do the same minus any “dues,” and I’ve mentored many a photographer into their own success.

    Now that I’m moving more into the art end of my career, I don’t want to have to go back to dues-paying. So, pardon me if I sound impatient, but I want to “exhibit” in places that will get me noticed, not started. I’m a go-get ‘er – having built my career, success and reputation on my own and without anyone’s help. I have every faith I can do this again, now in fine art, instead of wedding art.

    My problem is this…art photography is a new direction for me and I’m not sure how to move it forward. I am passionate about it, have tremendous skills in both the technical and creative aspects of it, but I don’t want to feel as if I’m climbing a slow ladder, or a crooked one – I’m happy to climb the ladder in a direction that will give me results, but I don’t want to waste time.

    I’m not intending to talk down to anyone who is exhibiting in coffee shops – it can be a safe place to start, but I’m a risk-taker and never been afraid to jump in full force, so feel I can do more than starting small. I just want to start out in middle- or higher-ground. Call me impatient, call me 55 and highly-motivated by death knocking on my door at some point in my future…I just don’t wan to waste time.

    Can you, or anyone offer me some suggestions or provide me with some direction on jump starting my new art career? THANKS!
    Joanne Bartone Photographer