Art Business 101: Fundraising

Dean at salon show

I have already written about some of the costs involved in an art show. If it’s a festival, there will be a hefty entrance fee. If it’s a DIY show, the artists will have to pay for everything from food and napkins to posters and postcards. The list of possible costs goes on and on.

We have already discussed one possible solution: raise your prices to cover these costs. There is another solution that can help to reduce these costs before the show even starts, and that is to raise the funds. For a group show last year, we tried multiple fundraisers in advance of our big event.

  • Crowdfunding – We made a video and posted a campaign on Indiegogo. (Other crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter and GoFundMe.)
  • Craft Sale – We hand-painted wine glasses and put them up for sale at a small preview event. 6 of the 9 glasses sold.
  • Freewill Donations – We set out a jar at our preview event and invited our guests to support the group show. The jar was loaded, making this option our biggest money-maker.

It’s good to have a lot of ideas on the table, because not all of them will come to fruition. For example, we had planned a wine tasting, which would have been promoted by the city as part of Chicago Artists Month and given us valuable exposure. When that campaign was unexpectedly cancelled, we also had to cancel the wine tasting.

So how did we do with our various fundraising efforts? We managed to cover 66% of our expenses — a huge savings!

Food & Beverage Donations

LagunitasDonations don’t need to be limited to money. Many food and beverage makers accept applications for product donations. For example, Lagunitas Brewing Company will consider donation requests for NFP events. They kindly donated beer for last year’s art show. In return, the company got valuable promotion and a tax benefit.

It’s important to note that our host was a non-profit organization. We couldn’t have gotten the donation without that connection. Give some thought to your own connections, and see what they can do for you.


Take a moment to look up “grants for artists” in your favorite search engine. You may be surprised at the number of opportunities that come up, like this list of 7 Artist Grants. You will find that some grants are project-based, which means that the donors are looking to fund a specific work or installation. Other grants are less specific about how you use the money, so long as it goes to fund your artwork.

The key to success with grants is to apply for lots of them. Do some research on how to write a strong proposal or talk to someone with grant experience. At the NFP space where I teach and curate art shows, we have applied for numerous grants over the years. We were thrilled to receive funding last year from the city of Chicago, but it was an uncommon victory.

Expect Nothing

As you plan your own fundraising strategies, proceed with an open mind. Grants and product donations are totally unpredictable, so don’t take rejection personally. Your best source of revenue may be thegallery-party-donation-jar people in your network.

These results will depend in large part on the generosity of your friends and family. If they are supportive of your art in general, they are more likely to invest in your show. If possible, offer something in return for donations, such as early admission to your show, art prints signed by the artists, or small hand-decorated souvenirs.

Aim to reduce costs, not to completely cover them. Expect nothing, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results!