Cultivating spaces for extraordinary artists

What to Send to a Gallery

What to send to a gallery – if anything at all:
A handy guide produced for DASH by Aidan Moesby

I’ve been asked: What to send to a gallery as way of introduction?

Even before we get to this point, I think you need to ask yourself why do I want to send something to a gallery?

We grow up with the dominant message that galleries are the model, these are rules and codes we need to follow and play by if we want to succeed in the art world.

Ask yourself do you really want to play this particular game?

Perhaps there is a different game to play where you can make up some of the rules and/or negotiate others as you go along.

We haven’t all been to art school. Some of us aren’t being followed since our degree show. A few of us maybe have a studio and probably fewer have been visited by a curator. Even fewer may have had a show in an institution sitting within the mainstream arts ecology.

We are probably all part of the 99% which keep those 1% of artists of the financially bloated, distorted art world afloat.

So, let’s presume you have thought about sending something to an art gallery. I am presuming an institution which is an NPO or municipal gallery rather than a commercial one.

What do you want to get out of the exchange?

It is an exchange. It is a two-way thing and you need to think about it as developing a new friendship/relationship.

You are not going to be instant BFF’s. You are going to need to work at it and probably play the long game.

Bear in mind galleries work on long cycles. Sometimes this maybe 3-5 years. However, many now have mixed programmes with varying time scales.

If you are wanting an exhibition you may need to manage your expectations initially.

There are other ways of getting a foot in the door. You are probably going to have to be determined, dogged and persistent.

And resilient, adaptive and flexible.

And thick skinned.

Curators are busy people. And I acknowledge many don’t reply to our e-mails but plenty do. That is a good litmus test. Getting a reply is a good start and a basis to build on.

Which Gallery?​​​​​​​

You need to research which gallery to write to. Sometimes they have particular themes or media. It is no good writing to a gallery that specialises in arts and craft if you are a digital artist for example. Or if you know they only show work of certain established artists and you are emerging.

Target your efforts. Research.

Knowing the gallery and their programme and aims will help when you get to meet with the curator.

Who to write to?​​​​​​​

It is better to find out the name of a person to write to and their role than sending to a generic e-mail address which may not be part of the programme team and may not get passed on.

NPO’s should have a list of staff on their website, however many don’t. If this is the case ring up and ask who to send something to. I know this can be incredibly anxiety provoking. Some organisations have excellent gatekeepers.

If you haven’t heard back after a couple of weeks send a follow up mail to check, politely, if they received your last email and that you are looking forward to hearing from them.

What should I say?​​​​​​​

Introduce yourself in a brief informative human manner. Say who you are, what you do and why you are contacting them.

Ask to meet for a coffee and a chat as a first point of contact – or invite them to your studio.

An institution may have a main gallery to show works by an established artist. They may have a smaller gallery which displays work from their collection. They may commission new work. They may also have a programme working to develop and nurture local artists. They may also have outreach, education and audience development. All of these are ways in.

You may want to tell a particular story using objects from the collection.

You may want to hold an event in partnership with the gallery or as part of their programme.

You just need to be clear and in the first instance keep it manageable – don’t go or the full Broadway musical before they know you can sing and dance.

What to send.

You need to write a succinct email to introduce yourself and why you are writing.

Say something about your practice and how it fits with why you are writing.

Include an invitation to meet.

Send some images to highlight your work and fit with the paragraph above.

Really think about your documentation. Good quality documentation is priceless. Think about the types of documentation – close up detailed photos and wider shots. Which form of media – file size.​​​​​​​

Keep your file sizes manageable.​​​​​​​

Generally, people won’t download files from a stranger, it is more effort and potentially dangerous for digital systems/security.

Send a CV – probably no more than 2 pages detailing selected relevant projects, education, exhibitions, publications, events, involvement or membership of local arts collectives/organisations.

Include your email address and phone number on your CV.

They don’t know you. Be nice. ​​​​​​​

The alternative to the e-mail approach is to send something physical in the post – a small portfolio of images, a cv and letter of introduction.

Most people love getting nice things in the post addressed and named to them. It doesn’t happen that often.

When you meet them be you, polite and human. Say if you are nervous, they should understand. Offer to buy the coffee, though they may put it on expenses it’s a nice gesture – but be prepared follow through.

…And don’t be late.

Enjoy yourself.

Good luck.

This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully offers some helpful advice, a starting point and the confidence to contact galleries.​​​​​​​

Copyright: Aidan Moesby