A mistake I see a lot of new artists making is not taking full advantage of their first art exhibitions. Even if you only have one piece in a group show, there are plenty of things you can do to reap rewards from the exhibit long after it’s over. It’s not just about showing up for the opening.
Prior to the Event
The first thing to pay attention to is any possibility that you could help the gallerist. Let them know that you’re available and stop by in the days leading up to the opening in case they have a task for you. Just be careful that if they are busy when you show up, you don’t take up any of their time. Consider even offering specific help – like offering to hand-deliver the sold art to any local customers. That would save the gallery money and put you on their good side, but even more importantly you would get a chance to connect with the customer directly, potentially forging a long-term relationship with them that results in more sales.
Ask the gallerist what their policies are on connecting directly with collectors. Some galleries take issue with you getting contact information from a customer because the gallery doesn’t want you making sales behind their back (galleries need money too!). Others have no issue with this.
Just make sure you know their rules so you’re not covertly signing people up to your mailing list at the show and ruining your reputation with the curator.
As it gets closer to the opening, let your local contacts know about it and promote it on your social media channels. It might be that your reach is quite small, but anything you can do to help the gallery generate buzz and bring in warm bodies is a good thing.
Try to talk your closer friends and family into coming to the opening and bringing a friend along. Even though these might not be potential art buyers, it always looks really good (and brings in other people who are potential art buyers) to have more people at the opening. This will also make the curator happy and they’re likely to want to continue working with you in the future. If you’re able to push a bit on friends and family who are potential buyers, do that too – as long as you think they’ll like the show.
If the gallerist hasn’t, send a pitch or press release to your local newspaper and any popular local magazines that cover events.
Ask for them not just to mention the opening in the publication, but to come out and cover the opening with a full story.
You can encourage them a bit by offering to take a few minutes to answer their questions about the show, introduce them to the curator, and help them get all the photographs they need.
During the Opening
Take pictures with the guests. This makes the event feel really fun and makes the guests feel special – everyone loves meeting a celebrity even if the only thing that makes you one is having your art up on a wall.
Answer questions and be available and talkative. If you’re introverted, try to take on a role of someone who isn’t and literally be an actor for the night. Turn on the role of an artist who is confident and comfortable. You don’t need to answer questions differently, you just need to act like someone else enough that you can answer the questions at all.
You’ll be drained afterward, but it’s important anyway.
If you find yourself standing by the wall or the food table, pick someone out of the crowd and go up to them and ask them what their favorite piece in the show is. Try to relax.
This isn’t about being the most popular, likable person.
It’s just about making normal human connections with people and not seeming standoffish.
Have a note-taking app on your cellphone to collect names and emails from anyone at the event who wants to keep in touch or hear more from you (as long as the gallery is ok with this!). Don’t be shy in asking people if they’d like to get an email when you have another show or put out new work. You’ll get a lot more yes’s than you think!
Make sure that you say hi to everyone you know. Thank them for coming and let them know that you’re around if they have any questions about the art.
After the Opening
Before you leave for the night, make sure that you thank anyone who helped put on the event or run it – from the gallerist to the person pouring drinks.
The next day, followup with those who showed interest at the opening and anyone who has shown interest at all in previous days. If you have a piece that you know a particular person who has bought your art in the past would love or that it would go well with the piece they bought before, then send them an email or call them.
Offer to take them to the gallery to look at your work.
Ask the gallerist if they’d like you to hold an artist talk or a meet & greet. If they say yes, make sure you take on most of the advertising burden.
Send a nice email or even a handwritten note thanking all your friends and family who came – and make it personal.
After the Show
If you can get a hold of the mailing addresses from the gallerist, send anyone who purchased your work a handwritten note expressing your gratitude (or ask the curator if they’ll send it for you).
Also ask them to send you a picture of the piece once they’ve hung it so you can post it on social media and on your website.
If you had more than a couple pieces in the show and it was successful, reach out to the gallerist a few weeks later and ask if they’d like to do a solo show with you when you have some fresh work. Try to get a sense of how soon they would be able to do that and when you would have to show them new work by. Put some rough dates on your calendar to remind you.
If the show wasn’t a success, it could be a number of things that went wrong. But most likely the problem was that your target market didn’t show up at the opening and didn’t visit the gallery during the exhibit.
You’ll need to take some time to think about why they didn’t come.
Analyze whether they didn’t show up because they don’t like galleries, or because this gallery didn’t appeal to them, or because they didn’t hear about the show, etc. If you can pinpoint the problem, you’re more likely to find a solution that works.
If you were able to get their information, reach out to people who were interested but didn’t buy, offering to show them more of your work or to discuss a commission if they like your style but didn’t find the right piece.
Just a little time set aside beforehand to plan will help you appear extremely professional and reap wonderful rewards from your exhibition for months and even years to come!