Exhibition Venues and Spaces to Show and Sell your Art
Are you wondering where to show your art? Look no further, this guide to art exhibition is for you!
There’s no better moment than right now to start exhibiting your art to the public.
In this post, we’ll go over the many different exhibition venues and spaces where you can display your art. This is part of the series, Show & Sell Your Artwork, dedicated to how to make a living as an artist.
What if I’ve never shown my art before?
Not to worry, exhibition opportunities abound for artists at all stages of their career. Traditional commercial gallery spaces are just one of many possibilities for artists. Newbies may want to start exhibiting in a more informal, relaxed setting (like a library or restaurant) where they can gain experience hanging, displaying, and pricing their art, as well as interacting with potential clients.
Don’t overlook an opportunity!
If you are an emerging artist just starting out, look for opportunities wherever you can. Ask around. You’ve probably noticed spaces in your community that have featured artists on display. Make a list of them. Make inquiries. The important thing is to get your art out there.
Do I have to show in galleries?
Absolutely not! One of the privileges of being a creative artist today is getting to choose what kind of career path suits you best. Exhibition opportunities can be found in non-traditional and unexpected places. Think outside the box to craft the kind of creative career that meets your needs, fits your personality, and melds with your lifestyle. Stay true to yourself and you’ll build the career that is satisfying and sustainable.
Craft an action plan
This series aims to give you the tools you need to create your individualized action plan. There’s no cookie cutter approach: No creative career follows the same trajectory. Don’t compare yourself to other artists. The importance is to identify and realize your dream.
It is, however, important to be realistic. Very few of us will go from being unknown to exhibiting in a top gallery overnight. Whatever your goal is, break it down into do-able steps. That way you won’t get overwhelmed and you’ll have the satisfaction of small successes along the way to fuel your progress.
Ready to get started?
Take a pen and paper and do a little brainstorming. Start by asking yourself a few questions. Try to envision the kind of artistic career you’re after. Do you want to interact directly with the public? Do you want to work closely with other artists? Do you want to spend as much time as possible in the studio? Are you interested in community projects and initiatives? Do you have the skills and tools necessary to promote your own artwork? If not, are you willing to acquire them?
Keep your answers in mind as you read about potential exhibition venues below and try to identify which ones are the most interesting or exciting for you.
Exhibition Venues and Spaces
Part I: Community, non-profit, and retail venues
(Please note that separate posts will be dedicated to selling online and exhibiting in commercial galleries.)
- Shops / boutiques
- Art supply stores
Restaurant and cafe owners are often happy to support local artists and benefit from having artwork on display to create ambience. Shops or boutiques may be interested in selling original paintings, prints, art cards, or art objects for a percentage of the sale price. Art supply stores support local artists who in turn support their businesses.
These are informal environments where you can gain invaluable experience. Ask for feedback from the staff. Did the clientele seem interested or ask questions? Make sure you leave business cards and some information about you the artist for curious clients.
Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if your art doesn’t sell. The clientele at these venues may or may not be interested in art. See it as a learning opportunity and a chance to get your name out there.
- Local libraries
- Community centres
- Clubs (rotary, yacht)
Many community spaces are open to displaying the artwork of local artists or members of the organization. You can learn a lot while building your artist CV and connecting with your community. Showing your art in these spaces often leads to unexpected opportunities: you may be asked to do a commission, invited to work on a project, or told about other opportunities of interests (temporary jobs like mural work, call-outs, contests, etc). Community members are extremely generous, eager to help emerging artists and share resources.
- University or college galleries
- City or government-run (non-profit)
Noncommercial art galleries, like university or college galleries, offer a unique opportunity to display your art in an institutional setting with strong connections to the artistic community. Showing in a dedicated gallery space can help you build confidence and feel apart of your local art community.
Often these galleries will organize opening nights where you’ll be invited to speak about your work and interact directly with an interested and informed public. Not only will you gain experience, you’ll receive invaluable feedback (and sometimes useful criticism) about your work.
This is your chance to network! You’ll meet collectors, curators, and gallery owners who may be interested in working with you in the future. You’ll also build links with other artists, opening up opportunities for future collaboration.
If this is your goal, my advice is: Get involved now. Start going to openings. Talk to the curators. Learn more about their work. Learn about the artists whose work has previously been exhibited. Find out about the application process: Is it open to artists to apply at any time, are there occasional call-outs, or is it by invitation only?
Artist co-ops (cooperatives)
Getting involved in an artist co-op (a group of artists who collectively rent or jointly-own a space that they run together according to different models) is a great way to break out of the isolation of the studio. It’s also a way to get an inexpensive studio space in a shared building.
Artist co-ops generally organize group exhibitions of their work, or a studio tour and sale, a few times a year. You’ll participate in mounting, organizing, and promoting the exhibition. The advantage of artist co-ops is the ability to combine resources, work together, and share networks.
Artist cooperatives regularly receive the support of the local community and are well-known to collectors and art lovers. Newspapers and cultural magazines are likely to publicize the exhibition. Your fellow artists will send the invitation out to their lists and invite friends and family. This means a new public for your work!
Artist-run galleries provide another great opportunity to get involved, connect with others, and show your artwork. They organize group shows and individual shows, projects, and special events.
Artist-run spaces circumvent the profit-driven logic of conventional commercial galleries. They foster artistic freedom, allowing members to show their work without a constant concern for the bottom line.
If there isn’t an artist-run gallery in your community, consider getting together with other artists and starting your own. Funding and support is often available through grants, arts councils and local governments.
An artist residency or an artist-in-residence program (where artists live and work on-site for specified period in conditions conducive to creativity) almost always involves a culminating exhibition at the end of the residency period (usually it is part of the agreement/contract). You may also be asked/invited to give a community talk, a studio tour, or offer a workshop during the residency.
There’s a wide range of residencies out there for artists at all stages of their careers. Some are very prestigious and highly competitive. Others seek to support new and emerging artists.
Residencies are a great professional experience: you have access to facilities and a studio space, you can concentrate wholly on your work, and you get opportunities to engage with the public and other artists.
Artists will sometimes receive potential clients in their studio. This can be done during set hours, on certain days of the year, during special events, and/or by appointment.
If you choose this option, publicity is key. If you’re hoping for drive-by’s, you’ll need a sign that is visible from the road, with clearly indicated hours and directions. Make sure this information is also available on your website.
Contact your municipality to find out about local policies and programs. Many have official ‘artist’ or ‘artisan’ road signs. If you live in a community with a lot of tourism, an ‘art map’ or ‘art guide’ to the region may already exist. There may also be special art festivals that feature organized tours of artists’ studios. Find out how you can be featured in these initiatives or look into starting one. They are a great source of publicity and bring traffic to your studio.
Art fairs and festivals
Art fairs, outdoor art markets, art festivals are a fun way promote your work and reach a broad audience.
At art fairs and markets, artists generally pay to have a booth. Make the most of the spotlight. Have a stack of business cards on the table. Don’t be disappointed if you have a lot of interest but few sales: these visitors will remember you, visit your website, and quite possible become future collectors of your work.
Art festivals, funded by city or arts councils, often involve an application process or proposal but are free for participants. You may even be able to get a grant for your project. Alternatively, artists will sometimes organize parallel independent exhibitions alongside these public events.
Juried shows, art events and competitions
Artists pay to participate but benefit from the publicity these art shows, events, and competitions bring. The Artist’s Magazine is one of many that offer an annual art competition. Winners and runners-up have their work published in the magazine, benefiting from their wide readership, while others are featured on the website.
You’ll find the information for many competitions and call-outs online. Art Show and C4E are a few websites that offer a list of call-outs for contests and exhibitions. For Canadians, a great resource for visual art information is Akimbo.
Be sure to apply to shows that fit with your style of artwork and make sure that the images of your art are high quality.
It’s important to weigh the cost-benefit of these opportunities and come up with a clear strategy to make sure you get the results you’re looking for without blowing your budget.
Major art events
Those at a later stage in their career may want to consider participating in major art events like the Venice Biennale or Nuit Blanche (or countless other similar events). Large-scale exhibitions of contemporary art exist in most major cities around the world. This is a chance to network with international artists and enter the global spotlight.
Local and smaller-scale versions of these events are organized in most cities. These are more welcoming of emerging artists. Check out what’s happening in the city closest to you. Submission deadlines are usually well in-advance of the event, so make sure you get the details early.
Interested in learning more?
What about commercial galleries? Interested in selling your art online? Want to show your artwork on your own artist website? Want to find out more about how to make a living as an artist?
As the series continues, the next posts will be dedicated to these themes. Stay tuned!