Investigating Venues for Showing Your Art

If you have exhibiting your art on your list of goals, as you should, you’re probably overwhelmed.

First, there’s the research into potential venues. As soon as you begin the process (and it is a process), you will uncover venues you never knew existed if you live in a metropolitan area. One leads to another which leads to another…

Jayne Rose painting of man and woman transfixed on landscape

Caption: ©Jayne Rose, Transfixed. Oil on gessoboard, 16 x 20 inches. Used with permission.

Which brings up the second phase of overwhelm. Once you have this list of possible spaces, how do you determine which ones might be good choices for you?

What makes a venue attractive for an exhibition of your art? Let’s look at the pluses and minuses of potential venues using the checklists below.

It’s surely too much to ask that one venue might meet all the criteria for being a desirable location. You will have to weigh the positive and negative of each space. What can you live with?

On The Plus Side

Lisa Jean Allswede art piece of various items representing her life

©Lisa Jean Allswede, Autobiography. Mustard yellow typewriter, library book pages, thread, found objects, paper clips, twine, and 5 viewfinders. Scroll is 21 feet by 8 inches. Used with permission.

The favorable aspects of a particular venue might be that it:

  • Doesn’t charge rental fees.
  • Takes a reasonable percentage of sales, which is congruent to what they bring to the table.
  • Installs the artwork using professional art preparators.
  • Is a known place to look at or purchase art.
  • Has a great location with decent parking and foot traffic.
  • Is open during convenient hours.
  • Has a professional, courteous staff that knows how to sell art.
  • Offers a gorgeous gallery space with excellent lighting.
  • Provides a good opportunity to connect with other artists and potential collectors.
  • Buys advertising.
  • Is known to have bustling openings and events.
  • Is active on social media and has promoted its artists well in the past.
  • Keeps its website updated.
  • Cultivates a mailing list of people who buy art.
  • Has a track record of first-rate exhibitions and artists.
  • Has hosted exhibitions that have been reviewed in the paper or on art blogs.
  • Will sponsor the opening reception.

On the Downside

On the other hand, it might be considered unfavorable if a venue:

  • Asks for a rental fee.
  • Is not insured for your art and has no security staff or system.
  • Has poor lighting.
  • Doesn’t have proper display mechanisms – such as pedestals or cases – for your work.
  • Is off the beaten path and doesn’t see much traffic.
  • Has a wall or floor color that clashes with your art.
  • Is not climate-controlled.
  • Is not known for showing art.
  • Doesn’t advertise.
  • Isn’t active on social media.
  • Has an outdated website.
  • Is, in a word, dirty! You don’t want to be embarrassed to point your guests to the bathroom.
  • Is closed to the public on weekends or evenings, or is known to have unreliable hours.
  • Provides little or no parking places.
  • Has a reputation for not paying artists on time.
  • Has personnel who are difficult to work with or who don’t respond to your inquiries.
  • Asks for an unreasonably large percentage of sales.
  • Won’t sign consignment forms or agreements.
  • Insists that you pay for everything.
Kathy Rennell Forbes painting of the Cobb Marietta Museum of Art

©Kathy Rennell Forbes, Cobb Marietta Museum of Art. Watercolor, 11 x 15 inches. Used with permission.

Your Turn

Help me improve the list. What have you found desirable and undesirable in a venue for your art? Leave a comment below.

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29 comments to Investigating Venues for Showing Your Art

  • Great article Alyson! I’m gonna print this out for my 2016 wall. Do you know any non profit gallery/venue that fits any of the favorable aspects you describe? Thank you!

  • My additions:
    1. Does not encourage employees to sell art, even when you are paying those employees a commission.

    2. Hangs art from others that is way lower quality than yours (and much lower price, too).

    3. Does not check the area’s events for an opening date that will compliment their client email list, not conflict with their client email list.

    4. Schedules your exhibit opening only a few months ahead, although you’ve known it’s “that month” for months.

    5. High employee turnover at the venue.

    6. Short exhibit turn around times. For example, your art will only be on display during Mothers’ Day weekend.

  • Mary Mirabal

    Great article and so timely. Finding the right venue is currently on my task list. Checked out many that just weren’t right. Many more to look at. Your list will certainly help in my search.

  • So very timely, Alyson! This year my goal is finding 2 more (non local) galleries to represent my work. First I’m checking the online presence, then, if the gallery is a possibility, it’s time for a road trip.

    I feel it is important to check out in person, those that look like a likely fit, to see how the staff treats visitors, lighting, display and basic cleanliness – without approaching them as an artist. If the gallery appears a good fit, I’ll email to see if they are accepting applications.

  • Great post, Alyson, thanks for this.

    I would add to the list of “On the Plus Side” – a great venue will have access to, or relationships with, a high volume of people that are in your target market.

    It doesn’t always have to be a gallery; could be a charity venue or large organization that caters to the people who will connect with your art and who have a large mailing or membership list.

    It’s difficult to find a venue that fits all of the pluses. I have yet to find one, after all these years of being in this biz. But I’ve gotten close.

    Have a great New Year, Alyson!

    • Maria: I did write “Cultivates a mailing list of people who buy art.” I guess I should clarify to say “your target market.” Thanks for that.

      Yep, hard to meet all of those pluses. That’s why you have to decide what you can live with.

  • Glenda

    Or you can host your own pop up gallery show. I’ve done this for the past 2 years to rave reviews and new collectors all from my current collectors. Check out http://www.thestorefront.com and find a space in your area.

  • The plus side “aspects” listed above for “venues” would be for a gallery only. What would be good aspects for an alternative venue. Most alternative venues have many fewer pluses.
    Thank you!

  • I would have to host my own. There are no venues within 40 miles. I have shown my art at a couple of art & crafts events, but not at a gallery or anything like that

  • Glenda

    Yes absolutely Alyson you still have to consider the pluses and minuses, but the great thing about the store front is that they are stores that are renting their premises for certain periods of time. They look fantastic, have great lighting and great windows, etc. The pluses are fantastic. And best of all you choose where and from whom you wish to rent, based on what you can afford. Even better what I have found is that pop ups create a sense of urgency because they are for such short durations, the public understands this so the turn around for product is usually quite good. You can blog about it far enough in advance to really create a buzz and if you coordinate it with something else going on at the same time in the same area, you’ve got it made.

  • Great advice. I would add that the artist also needs to promote the event as well through their contacts and social media.

  • I have exhibited in many places, mostly cafes and restaurants and non-profit galleries. In most cases, I have had to hang the show, provide refreshments for the opening, and promote it (though some will do this). What would you consider a reasonable commission fee?

  • Thank you so much. I spent almost seven hours Saturday investigating venues. That was a huge step. Mostly I searched them out and printed off the information. I will sift through on Monday. I am going to read this before the sun comes up but not now or I KNOW I will be awake all night.
    Perfect timing!
    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  • Mariruth Brown

    Hello, great list … thanks for sharing. As to non- gallery exhibits: My local senior center holds monthly exhibits giving local artists exposure as they hold many events open to the public. They list the exhibit in their monthly newsletter and on their website. They do handle sales 2. The local library also has monthly exhibits and are always looking for artists. They don’t handle sales but do put a notice of the monthly artists in their newsletter and on their website, with a brief bio. 3. The local credit union hangs art work on their walls. Again they don’t handle sales but great exposure. There are several places that like “free” rotating artwork to decorate their offices, the waiting rooms of the dentist, doctors, lawyers, social services, clinics, chamber of commerce: all great venues for exposure.

  • I’m in a negotiation now with a gallery that wants 40% commission, yet they won’t pay for advertising (only doing free digital ads), or install the art, and have no dedicated sales staff. I felt that I should negotiate for a reduced commission considering that I’m going to have to pay for advertising and the lack of sales staff reduces the likelihood of sales. Even though the place is known as a place to see art, it doesn’t get much foot traffic except at openings. What do others think?

    Oh, and I would also add to the list: if the venue says they’ll provide the food and/or beverages, get an idea of what’s planned and how much they’re willing to spend. One time I had a venue try to put out cheese puffs at my opening. Thanks, but um, no.

  • Great list of pros and cons. My concern in seeking gallery venues is that the truly commercial gallery is becoming an endangered species, by truly commercial I mean a gallery that makes its income solely on selling artwork. I find a good number of Non-profit galleries which typically equate to Non-sale galleries as the staff is usually more concerned in asking for a donation than a sale. The more typical gallery now seems to be what I call a Vanity Gallery where the gallery poses as a commercial gallery but is really propped up by classes and workshops or other events the owner is typically an artist and is only interested in selling their own work. these galleries usually are terrible at closing a sale. They seek out good artist to fill their walls and they would rather not see the art move out the door as it would create a hole in their decor scheme. I think artist that show their work in venues like restaurants and offices are really only giving those venues free art. I wish more artist would approach those venues with a art rental proposal it would be more lucrative. The restaurant or bank or doctor’s office would at least see there is value in having art on their walls. Alyson you probably remember Eugene Bavenger from OU he rented his paintings to the corporate offices in OKC and made good money without selling any of his art.

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