Tips on Managing an Exhibition

To start with, I make no representations that I am any good at managing exhibitions… These are just my learnings from struggling through a few..

Don’t make it a Democracy

  • Opinions are like backsides – everybody has one. Get 7 or 8 arty types together and aligning on a decision is harder than herding cats. The more people you have, the less likely you are to gain a broad consensus on most issues. So don’t even try to develop one. One person needs to take the lead for organising the show and making decisions. Let participants know this right from the start, and they can decide if they want to come along for the ride. Don’t ask for input on most stuff, just make a call and communicate it.
  • Be firm but fair – establish your benevolent dictatorship, and stick to it.

Gallery Selection

  • Select a gallery that you do not have to “sit” – ie. the gallery is staffed by people who run it. Some galleries require the participating artists to staff the gallery for part or whole of the time. Whilst everyone will claim they will “pitch in” – experience would suggest this is not the case when crunch time arrives. Are you really going to take days off work to sit the gallery on a Tuesday and Wednesday? People will often gravitate towards galleries where you can reduce the overall cost by “sitting” – but will then not deliver on making a contribution.
  • Galleries with an existing bar and coffee set up is ideal. People expect to have a couple of beers on opening night, so having a bar just makes things easy. The gallery will have refrigeration, a licence, and people to serve drinks. Just put $600 or so on a bar tab and let them worry about it. Otherwise, the alternative is to go buy a bunch of wine and beer, get ice buckets, buy ice, perhaps get a liquor licence, spend time serving at opening night, make sure you have rubbish bins, clean up, and the list goes on. Get the idea?
  • Make sure the gallery is in a location with good foot traffic. “Walk ins” can deliver quite a few sales, and make it more fun.
  • Meet with the owner – if you like them, you will probably have a good exhibition. Don’t do business with people that you don’t like!
  • Expect to pay about $2000 for two weeks.



Promoting the Exhibition

  • Facebook pages seem to be the easiest way.
  • Having a theme or an idea to link the show together can be a great way to capture people’s attention.
  • Local media like MX etc are all desperate for content – a participant in a recent show wrote a great PR piece for us this year which got picked up by quite a few publications. Just goes to show that you never know until you give it a try.

Things You Think You Need, but Probably Don’t

  • One exhibition had an elaborate catalogue for the first time I organised it – price, artist profiles, method of capture etc. They were printed up in lovely colour, and probably about 3 people picked them up on opening night…
  • Posters, invitation cards etc. In the digital age, just stick with PDF invitations. We had printed invitations and posters for the first exhibition, a few years back, and I can’t recall using any of my allocation at all!
  • A website – again we had one the first year, but haven’t since. Facebook page seems to do the job, and it is much easier to invite friends from there than to create a website.

Managing Participants

  • Set deadlines for payment. If a first time participant misses the deadline, just email them with a final 48 hour deadline. If no cash turns up, just cull them. Adults should not need to be babied when it comes to meeting their financial commitments.
  • Assume that if you start with 10 interested participants, you will only end up with 7 still on the books by opening night.
  • Final payments should be made at least two weeks prior to opening night to make sure people have met their commitments to the show.
  • Once a payment has been made, there are no refunds if someone pulls out.
  • The most frequent reason for someone to pull out is leaving it too late to select their images and get them framed… So regular reminders about a month out is a good idea.


Setting Up

  • The suckiest part of organising is setting up the gallery. Get to the gallery before the rest of the exhibitors. Measure out the spaces, and mark them with masking tape with people’s names. Don’t give people a choice – just allocate the spaces as you see fit.
  • Bring extra hammers and hanging hooks. Remind people to bring their own, but inevitably some will forget.
  • Golden rule – every image must be in a “ready to hang” format. No exceptions. Otherwise you will have people turn up with printed photos and blutac.
  • Do not let people have “untitled” works. It makes reconciliation of the sales at the end, and ordering extra prints for multiple sales a complete nightmare. Even better is to have a small image on the image card. It makes it easy for the gallery owner to manage sales transactions. Not being able to identify each image makes life very difficult.
  • Image cards like this make life easier :
The Perfect Image Card
The Perfect Image Card


  • Make it clear each person can do whatever they like with their space. There will be a broad range of outlooks on how to hang, from finicky peeps who bring a spirit level, to the other end of the spectrum of photographers who slap stuff up anywhere. Casual hangers and precise hangers are never going to agree, so don’t try to go with one style. Just let people manage their own space, within the masking tape markups!
  • People who do not have a lot of experience will ask what to charge and what to frame. For first timers, I would always have two thoughts.
    1. Only invest in framing something you would like to put up at your home. This is the most likely outcome – stuff may not sell, so be prepared!
    2. Only charge the cost of producing the framed print. Make it as affordable as possible. Having someone buy your print is quite an experience, so make it as easy as possible for it to happen. Unless you are a “known” photographer, charge accordingly. Red dots make it all worthwhile. Finishing an exhibition without a sale is not very motivating…

What kinds of images tend to sell?

  • I have no idea. Really. I am always surprised by what sells.

12 Responses to “Tips on Managing an Exhibition”

  1. I am looking at doing an exhibition with others in Melbourne 2015 What are the best websites for hosting the exhibition we want people to be able to go to a site and see all the images nicely presented


  2. I noticed you said you had a website of the first year and haven’t since this has in the past for us been a headache because of the platform we used , this year we were thinking of using WP as a website


  3. I also noticed you said let people manage there own space, this might make the overall exhibition look messy ?? or id you not find this



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