You know the basics of getting into a gallery. You have a killer portfolio of current work. You researched and targeted galleries that show relevant work. You polished your CV and artist statement. Everything has been prepped with the utmost care and professionalism. Check. Check. Check.
But sometimes, a little extra effort can make a big difference in capturing the attention and interest of your target gallery. Here are a few ways you can go above and beyond to give you an extra shot at success.
1. Referrals are King
When you drop your portfolio off at a gallery, you’re just another name in the hat. The owner and director doesn’t know you and isn’t familiar with your professionalism. That makes you somewhat of a risk. But, if someone they know and trust—especially another artist they’ve enjoyed working with—sings your praises, you immediately have a leg up. Gallery owners may be hesitant to open their doors to an artist they know nothing about, but a call or comment from an artist they trust works as an endorsement of your work and your personal brand.
To build the relationships needed to get referrals, it’s important to get involved in your local arts community. Join local artist organizations or set up shop in a shared studio space. One of the best ways to start is to find an artist in your community that you admire and invite him or her to coffee.
2. Create Your Own Luck
Again, a gallery owner is more likely to pay attention to your portfolio if you’re even the least bit familiar. So, how else can you make yourself known? If there’s a juried show that will be hosted by one of your target galleries, consider entering it. Go to shows at the gallery and make a point to find a good time to introduce yourself to the owner. If the gallery has a frame shop, perhaps you can use it for your work. Get creative! The goal is to put yourself in a position where you will meet a gallery owner and have the opportunity to introduce yourself and your work. Don’t sit back and wait. Make things happen!
3. Respect Their Time
When you have a big deadline coming up, the last thing you want is for a stranger to interrupt you - especially if it’s not urgent. If you approach a gallery owner when they’re stressed, busy or overwhelmed, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Instead, do your homework and find a time when things seem to be slower. If the gallery appears to be busy all the time, a good rule of thumb is to avoid approaching an owner or director during a transition time. When they’re beginning or ending a show, there is a lot on their plate. Don’t add to the stress!
Some galleries have set times or dates when they’ll review portfolios. This is great news for you because it’s clear when they’re ready and able to review your work. Take advantage of this. Make sure to follow the protocol exactly and use this opportunity to shine.
4. Keep Your Ears Open
Remember that network of artists you’re building? Use it to discover opportunities that others aren’t aware exist. Think outside the box and interpret any involvement in the art world as a way to bolster your career. This may mean getting out of your comfort zone. Volunteer at a gallery or art museum, write reviews, work for an art handler, draft blog posts, go to lectures and shows, help with an art competition. Anything. When you’re participating in events, keep your ears open for new opportunities. You might find out about a corporate commission, public art project, or find another interesting avenue to grow your profile and build your business.
5. Learn from Rejection
In the business of art, you can’t lose. You either win, or you learn. Odds are that you will be told no. Or, you may get no response at all. All of that is okay. The competition for gallery spots is incredibly competitive, so chances are you will not get in every gallery you admire. Learn from the rejection and be reflective of the process. Maybe the gallery isn’t the right fit for you, or maybe it’s because your body of work needs to be developed further. Maybe it’s just not the right time. Whatever the case, don’t shrug your shoulders and move on to the next thing. Do everything you can to learn from rejection and use that new knowledge to evolve your approach, grow your work and enhance your brand.