Draft a Winning Exhibition Proposal

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All good art exhibitions begin with a curatorial thesis. This thesis is the idea–the theme–that ties all of the artwork together.

When you consider submitting an exhibition proposal, keep in mind that you will be judged on the strength of your curatorial thesis. Make sure it is sound. Get very clear on what the exhibition is about before you sit down to draft your proposal.

Now, I’m not talking about asking to hang your work at a coffee shop or other lower-tier venue. I’m talking about those times when you want to approach a gallery or nonprofit space and are asked to submit an official proposal.

The first thing to do in these situations is to ask the venue if they have a particular exhibition proposal format they prefer. If they do, take careful notes and follow their wishes to a T. If they don’t have specific guidelines, here are the three major components you’ll include.

1. A cover letter thanking the venue for considering your proposal. Be sure you have the exact name and correct spelling of the exhibitions director or curator so you can personalize your letter. Briefly tout your credentials in your cover letter if it’s necessary to do so.

2. One to two pages (only as long as needed) of text that explains the particulars of the exhibition. Use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to make it more readable. Include these key items:

  • Description of the proposed exhibition (your thesis in 3-4 sentences)
  • Explanation of how your work fits with the collection or exhibition program of the venue
  • List of the artists to be included
  • Number of artworks to be shown
  • Space required (square feet or linear feet)
  • Shipping expenses, if it’s not a local venue (usually prorated)
  • Exhibition fees, if you are touring the exhibition and charging a rental fee

3. Support material to back up your proposal. The most critical piece of your support material is the images of the artwork. If it’s a small-ish exhibition, include an image of every work you plan to show.

For a larger show, you can use a sampling of 10-20 images as long as the images you choose are clearly representative of the entire exhibition. You might also include bios or résumés of each artist and any substantial articles that have been written about you or the other artists in your proposal.

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