Art Business 101: Event Planning

You’ve made some art and found a space to show it, but your work has only just begun!

Our sidewalk sign built by ChiPRC director John Wawrzsaszek helped bring in traffic

Our sidewalk sign built by ChiPRC director John Wawrzsaszek helped bring in traffic

Obviously, the aspects of the show that will be within your purview will vary based on the nature of the show. If you are participating in a big event that has its own staff, you will not get to choose the refreshments or the background music, you will not get to design the décor, you will not be in charge of promotion, and you may not even be allowed to hang your own work.

But if it’s a DIY show, then all of these elements will be your responsibility. Whether you are working with other artists or by yourself, it is a good idea to make sure these aspects are coordinated. For example, you should decorate your space with the same colors that appear on your promotional postcards and posters. If the theme is blue and white, then put white tablecloths and blue napkins on the buffet.

Playin’ Our Song

Tailor your background music to the art style. This is more difficult for a group show, but jazz has a way of working for all styles. Here are some more specific ideas that are suited to particular art styles:

Feed Me, Seymour

Many art shows include light refreshments for their guests. Don’t overthink this, and don’t overspend. You can quickly destroy your profit margin by splurging on food. Agallery-party-wine-2 simple cheese and cracker platter with wine and sparkling water would be appropriate. Your function is not to give your guests a meal. It is to make them feel comfortable while they peruse the art.

When I curate shows, I typically schedule the events between obvious meal times. That way, guests can go to dinner before or after the show, and they don’t come in expecting anything more than hors d’oeuvres.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The real secret to a successful event design is planning ahead. There are a lot of moving pieces, so you can’t leave anything to the last minute. For example, you will want your promotional postcards to arrive early so you can invite your guests before they make other plans.

If you are working with a group, each person can volunteer to manage one aspect of the event prep. That makes everyone’s job more manageable. Here is a sample plan based on some of my previous shows:

  • 12 Weeks Before
    • Establish branding and write up basic event description
    • Create event logo
    • Create Facebook event page and website presence
  • 11 Weeks Before
    • Establish a meeting schedule for everyone involved
    • Begin soliciting sponsors/donors
  • 10 Weeks Before
    • Reach out to Chamber of Commerce with sponsors as leverage
    • Begin social media campaign
    • Research refreshment pricing
  • 9 Weeks Before
    • Research print pricing and select a vendor
    • Determine print order date
    • Determine eBlast schedule and send off first message
  • 8 Weeks Before
    • Research décor pricing and determine purchase date
    • Complete graphic design for postcard front side
    • Put together projected expense list
  • 7 Weeks Before
    • Confirm all sponsors and collect their logos
    • Using logos, finish back side of postcard and create poster
    • Place postcard order
  • 6 Weeks Before
    • Distribute print media and begin hanging posters
    • Artist bios and websites due
    • Purchase beverages and cups
  • 5 Weeks Before
    • Finalize press research and write press release
  • 4 Weeks Before
    • E-mail press release
    • Design in-house brochure/guide with bios and websites
    • Plan artist name cards, door signage, banners, etc.
  • 3 Weeks Before
    • Print all in-house media
    • Purchase décor
  • 2 Weeks Before
    • Plan art displays and designate display areas
    • Schedule art drop-off/pick-up times
  • 1 Week Before
    • Purchase food, plates, and napkins
    • Art set-up

It looks like a lot to do, but there are never more than 3 things that need doing in one week. For my last group show, we had four participating artists. One person handled gallery-party-catprint materials, another handled décor, the third handled food, and I handled graphic design and web promotion. This sharing of responsibilities reduced the number of obligations each of us had to fulfill.

However you slice it, you are perfectly capable of designing and executing your event. Remember to have fun with it, and don’t expect everything to be perfect. Each event you create will teach you a little more and help you make the next one even better.