How to Run a Pop-Up Art Show

How to Run a Pop-Up Art Show

A Guide to the Alternative Way of Showing Art

Martin Creed, Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off, 2000
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Have you ever wanted to have your own art show, be a part of an exhibition, work on planning how you curate a space to provide once in a lifetime experiences for viewing and experiencing art and art making? The pop-up art show has been gaining traction in the art world as a way for artists to show works in temporary spaces, often unused commercial spaces designed for alternative purposes such as empty warehouses, storefronts, office buildings, etc. Pop-up art shows provide an outlet for works to be shown effectively for short periods of time in creative places, offering traffic and life to empty, non-active spaces and to create new, uncommon art-viewing experiences for artists and art lovers alike.

Most of us have been to an art exhibition or gallery show, but what exactly goes into creating an artful, art-filled space? Whether you want to show your own works or show other artists' work, putting together an art show is a fun and exciting endeavor. However, the amount of work that goes into exhibition development and planning is something we normally rely on the gallery to do for us, but here is a list of things to consider to make your pop-up show a success.

1. Pick a theme

Choose a cohesive, comprehensive theme. You can always collect a lot artwork to exhibit, but it’s better to think about how each piece will tie together. Come up with a central theme or focus, and keep it vague but concrete so that it can be open to interpretation, but the show can display works around a central theme.

Subsequently, this will help you in marketing, especially when marketing to unknown artists to display their works. You want to draw people in who are interested in your theme and concept. Later on, having a theme will also help you come up with a title for your exhibition and practical planning such as placement and organization of works.

2. Collaborate

You cannot do this on your own! Collaborate with artists, designers, thinkers, planners, etc. Even if you want to host a pop-up show of your own works, it’s better to collaborate with other artists to create a more diverse setting. Ask artists in your community, at local schools and via social media. Artists with related or non-related work to yours and your theme will help you create a comprehensive show and lead you in directions you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.

Think about medium, art practice and art theory. Don’t limit yourself to painters because you are a painter—consider sculpture, photography, performances pieces, video, etc to offer an interactive, visually dynamic space. Additionally, collaborate with non-artists. You will need a team to come together to help with posters, flyers and marketing, as well as people that are great with numbers and money, technology, lighting, etc.

3. Set dates

Plan ahead! Give yourself plenty of time. In most cases, pop-ups don’t just come up and down overnight. Months and months of planning go into an art exhibition. You are going to need time to contact artists, collect art submissions, budget, find a space and finally curate it for an opening reception. You will run into issues, so creating back-up plans and preparing ahead of time will allow for less stress and for the exhibition to look the best that it can.

4. Set budget and costs

Set a budget. Calculate all costs and prices prior to starting your pop-up show planning. Oftentimes fees for spaces, materials, advertising and printing are a lot higher than you think they will be. Research and compare pricing on spaces and materials, and find where you can get advertising and printing done for low costs.

Additionally, decide whether or not the works are going to be sold, if the artist is to collect a share, your share, or if there are donations involved. Think about whether or not you want to ask for an admissions cost or to charge for printed materials, takeaway materials, etc. Also, think about opening reception costs!

5. Find a space for your exhibition

Research temporary spaces or places that you can rent and secure for a short period of time—a pop-up can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days to a week, but calculate the time it takes to set up and break down the show. Always give yourself a buffer; you never know when things will take longer than expected.

Things to remember when looking for a space: consider the scale of your show and the different kinds of spaces that will work for your presentation. Many kinds of spaces will work, such as a studio, house, apartment, warehouse, café, storefront, gas station, strip mall, etc. But consider theme, size of space, cleanliness and accessibility. Is there parking? Are there bathrooms? Are the floors/walls considerately placed and go with the exhibition theme? Pay attention to windows, lighting, doorways and entrances—how will people interact with the space and the works that you place in it?

6. Think about the details

Consider the unconsidered. You sometimes need event insurance, signed waivers from artists, liquor licenses (if you want to serve alcohol at an opening), so don’t ignore details of the legal requirements. Make a schedule of load in/load out and coordinate art drop off/pick up, and particularly give yourself time to consider how each piece is to be presented, shown, hung, placed, and lighted. Use galleries and museums as a template to consider how all of these things are done.

7. Market the show

Advertise! Create poster, postcards and flyers. Consider local newspapers, magazines and online publications covering events in your area. Reach out to your university, other local schools, cafés, stores, etc, and post flyers on public bulletin boards. Spread the word to your family, friends and acquaintances through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, along with any and all your favorite online forums. Social media is how things are spread—use it as a tool!

8. Curate the exhibition space

Don’t forget about transportation of the artworks. Package works carefully and respectfully, taking into consideration how various pieces are put together if taken apart for moving. Stacking heavy artworks and lack of protection can lead to loss of pieces for your show!

Place yourself in the shoes of a visitor. How will they interact with the space? Do the placement of the art pieces make for a pleasing visual experience? How do you view each piece moving physically through the space? Does the movement and placement work with the exhibition theme? Consider the piece that they will see first, the direction that you lead viewers in and if there are an awkward, empty spaces. Make sure each artwork is clearly visible and is marked with the appropriate artist information, including title, media, dimensions and signs with additional information like an artist statement or rules for interaction with the works.

9. Host an opening reception

Make sure you provide the details of the pop-up exhibition opening on your posters, flyers, postcards and online posts with the address, date(s) and time to provide concise information about the pop-up opening. Hire an event photographer—you will want the event to be documented. And put signs outside the venue and on doors and windows. You can offer wine and food, but consider the costs and if it functions within the space.

Provide a table or pedestal of information about the show and artists presented, or have it on hand if requested. Someone may want to look at more of your work or buy it!

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