Ask Anthem: How do I get my foot in the door?

knock knock

Here’s a question I received recently via email that I think many of us can relate to: How do I get my foot in the door? While this message was sent from a visual artist, the advice I give relates to all persons seeking advancement for their work. Read on to see my response!

 

QUESTION: “Question for you. I know you aren’t a visual artist, but I have an amazing project I’m working on, and I want/need ideas how to pitch it. . . I am looking for a gallery or space to show these works some time in the new year.”

 

ANSWER: This is a great question. And here is your answer. If I may use a sort of analogy, showing your art somewhere — whether it’s visual or performance or any other genre — is a lot like asking someone if you can throw a party at their house. In essence, they (the program director or curator) would be hosting you. As such, the key, like in many situations, is in the quality of relationships you have with these individuals. Major emphasis on “individuals.” Often times, we are invited to show our work by the people at venues and institutions, not by the venues and institutions themselves.

So, the next natural question is: Where and with whom have you built such trust and mutual admiration? This is how you will find your gallery or space. Start meditating on your Rolodex and make a list of folks that you’ve kept in touch with, worked with, and could possibly partner with in this undertaking.

If you find yourself drawing a blank at this step, here are a few things that are probably going wrong in your process:

  • You need to think more widely about what it means to succeed in showing your work.

    It is easy to adopt what is considered by many to be a “legit” presentation space. However, in this age of DIY, the time-honored gatekeepers aren’t the only game in town anymore. A lot of great art (again, regardless of genre) is being delivered in unusual spaces and through an array non-traditional mediums. Use your imagination to think creatively about venues.

  • Remember that we each commonly have more than one community to draw strength from.

    Sure, there may be a dominant “scene” we hang around in but if you inspect your crowd(s) more closely, you’ll find you are backed by groups that collect around a long stretch of values and interests. For example, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sex, politics, social justice, food, health, sports, crafts, entertainment, profession, income, geography, and lots more. I frequently remind people, “Hey, there are over 7 billion people on planet Earth. Don’t tell me you can’t think of anyone to connect with.”

  • You must stay on the radar more regularly.

    How else might you ask someone for entry into their home? In other words, for a favor, a partnership or collaboration. Better to not be a stranger. We’ve all known people who magically show up only when they need something. Are we in a rush to invite them in? Do we hurry to answer their calls or emails? Nope. This is where two crucial action plans must come into play:

    1. Effective marketing and storytelling, and
    2. Consistent and thoughtful personal communications.

Following these steps over the stretch of your career — and not just as a hasty band-aid fix — I guarantee you won’t ever run out of people or places to engage with when it comes to opportunities to show your work. Good luck!

 

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And btw, I am a visual artist! It’s just not my main focus these days. However, I did earn my Interdisciplinary Studies BFA at historic San Francisco Art Institute and trained in an array of fields: Drawing, Painting, Photography, Conceptual Art, and Installation Art. In the early years of my post-college career, I’d shown my work in more than a few dozen arts, cultural and community spaces throughout the Bay Area. 😉

 
 
 

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