Is curation something that interests you? Well, I’ve done a couple posts on submission dos and don’ts, but turnabout is fair play, so, if you want to curate a show, here are some things I’ve learned from curating and submitting to shows as an artist.
So here are, in no particular order, things I have learned to do and not do when curating a show.
Do respond to artists who aren’t accepted as well as those who are — there’s nothing like sending your work into a vacuum. Send a nice note, saying that the work wasn’t right for this show, didn’t fit with other works, wasn’t on theme, whatever, but do respond.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep — don’t promise placement in the gallery, acceptance, an image on a card, etc until you’ve made your final decisions. You can always let someone know you’re putting them in the most prominent place, it’s unkind and unnecessary to get an artist’s hopes up for no reason.
Do give yourself a break — you’re human, you’re going to make errors, misspell someone’s name, etc. Fix it, apologize, and move on.
Don’t be aggressive with artists — during the curation process if something odd happens, just ask the artist what’s going on, nicely, then figure out how to progress. Don’t send them angry, or passive aggressive texts and emails making demands.
Do post pieces from the upcoming show for promotional purposes!
Don’t leave participating artists off of the flier and other promotional materials.
Do create a private artists’ group on Facebook or other social media in the months leading up to the show — let the artists get to know each other ahead of time and share their WIPs; community is nice.
Don’t post, “One of our favorite pieces in the show,” or any such qualifiers, in your promotional materials. The other artists in the show may wonder why they are not a favorite. Just say, look at this wonderful art that will be available, or such, no need to play the favorites game.
Do let your artists know when they’re work has arrived and in what condition, if it sells, and when you’ve shipped it back if it hasn’t.
Do try, as hard as you can, to get the gallery you’re working with to provide some kind of insurance, even if it’s minimal. in the 8 shows i’ve curated we haven’t had an issue, but gods forbid…
Above all, in curation as in life, be kind: to yourself, to the artists, to the gallery owners. Everyone in this is a little nuts, We’re all doing it as a labor of love and may have several other jobs. It sometimes takes people a bit longer to get back to us than we’d like, or people just melt down… it’s all going to be okay. This too shall pass.
Here’s something I learned during my second show, I was working with an artist who’s incredibly talented, but difficult. She overpriced her work, because she didn’t really want it to sell. She wasn’t gracious, there was never any thanks when we did sell her work; just not nice or easy to work with at all.
So, I said to the owner of the gallery I was working with, “What do you do when you have an artist who’s just terrific, but a total pain in the ass?” And he responded, “I don’t work with them again. There’s enough talent without dealing with difficult people.” So no matter how talented someone is, if working with them is a nightmare, it’s not worth it and that’s okay!
Curating is like making art combined with doing jigsaw puzzle. You have to figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it, and then you have to find the pieces that fit together best to realize your vision. You get to create not only art, but community, a conversation through art.
And just like art, it takes a bit to find your voice as a curator. But the best way to do that is to jump in with both feet. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to run for a month. Find a space! Pick a night! Put out a call! Curate an art show!!!