The 5 types of DIY art galleries you can throw without going broke.
I remember walking downtown (in Pittsburgh so dahn-tawhn) and literally thinking, why is it so hard for artists to get their work shown in a gallery? Let alone pay for the exhibition fees, and the time you need to prep or paint each piece to make a solid collection. And then you have to see if you are even accepted by the location. So. Much. Stuff.
And I don’t know about you but when too many things are going on at the same time, I literally can not.
Then I find this awesome visual artist Shantell Martin. Her style is so unique and captured me immediately. I watched a few of her speaking videos and something she said really hit me.
Create your own opportunities. Set up your own gallery instead of waiting for someone to give you one.
It hit me so hard that I had to email her to say thank you for inspiring me.
Then I find another artist Eunice Kindred who made an entire video on her journey to showcasing her art in her first solo exhibition. Literally inspiration over 9000 y’all. Naturally I emailed her too.
These artists were out here making moves and creating their own opportunities as best as they could and it was working.
Since then I started making my own opportunities and basically became proactive in my art and putting it out there myself. Instead of worry about high-class galleries I’m more focused on vibing with my underground art community in Pittsburgh.
By the way I don’t know how much you know about Pittsburgh but we are a very artsy city and the steel mills aren’t a thing anymore here. Just so you know. Come visit some time!
So now in the present day, we have you the budding freelance artist just trying to make it in the art game. If you’re just starting out but have the urge to showcase your work and have a small budget then this post is just for you.
SO YES, YOU CAN REALLY PULL THIS OFF AND NOT BE SUPER BROKE AFTERWARDS
I mean, they’re already killing me with the $20 paint brushes and the artist grade watercolors…
A’ight I feel you so how do we pull this off?
Welp, I’m glad you asked!
You can host your own gallery by using the resources & connections you already have. Sure you can look for whole new locations, and whole new people and whole new things but don’t count out what you have right now.
And don’t let money turn you away from something that can truly be amazing for your art career and just life in general. That my friend is called a poverty mindset which can get in the way of you investing for your future.
So with all that said, what exactly IS your budget? How much money can you set aside to make this thing happen? I’ll help you figure it out by supplying you with this nifty expense worksheet that you can print or download.
I’ve put in some general tabs but feel free to make it your own. Once you have an idea of what certain costs are it will be easier to plan your budget and create ways to cut-down costs.
What do I need to put it together?
Throwing a gallery is a lot like throwing a party. So here’s my personal list of things that I like to make sure I have when I want to throw a gallery:
Incentive for coming
BONUS : If you want to make money from this make sure you have a PAYPAL or SQUARE reader for your mobile device. You can even take payments without the internet connection. It will charge the payment once it is connected to wifi again.
How do I book a venue for my gallery?
Generally, if you see a place that you think suits your art, just ask for the manager in charge. Explain what you would like to do there and mention a benefit that they would get from having you showcase there. Make sure you have your business cards and a sample of your art so that people can contact you.
How should my gallery look & feel?
You set the mood to however you need it to feel for your art. Add elements that enhance your artwork like fake floral plants, LED lights, maybe a color theme. The gallery should be one big story and everything including the people compliment your night (or day).
You can tie in any surrounding holidays, pop culture, politic issues or simply a common ground that people can relate to.
When you define what your goal is for your gallery or the take-away message it will be easier to know how the overall look & feel should be.
Not every gallery is in a “fancy” downtown exhibit. Unless you want to do that, oh you fancy huh? But in all realness, you can host a gallery literally anywhere that allows it , so make it your own. Here are those 5 places that are pretty affordable for gallery space:
1| open up your space
Literally the place right under your nose! You’re probably thinking why did I not do this sooner! Or you’re giving me major side eye like, girl my living space is not gallery rea-ty.
Think about it: If the purpose of your gallery is to show your latest collection to your friends, family and maybe a few +1 invites then why not just host it at your place?
So maybe you don’t like your place. But your friend’s place is fire and would be a perfect fit for your art style. Let’s roll with that.
Obviously, talk it over with your friend first and get permission to borrow their place. Mind your manners.
Make it into a BYOB gallery/party, make your Spotify playlist and order catering for the night. If you have a back door that people can enter through it will help keep traffic in the room and not the rest of your house.
Set the mood you want your art to have for the night and make it into a experience. Add a takeaway for your event so that your gallery-goers have a memorable night. This could be anything from an look book of all the pieces that will be displayed or a free print of an art piece.
2| A mom & pop shop
You know your mom’s friend that owns a hair salon or your co-worker who owns that brewery/bar? Talk to those people and let them know that you’re looking for space!
Even if someone doesn’t immediately pop into mind, someone you know, knows a person with a shop that they can introduce you to.
You can test the waters and make a post on Facebook (or what you kids use these days)and let everyone know you’re looking for a venue space. Be ready for the comments or DM’s you get and give them an idea of what you’re looking to do.
3| A COMMUNITY CENTER
A community center is a nice space because it’s a location people will know and they’re big usually. You may need to have racks, easels, or grid panels to hang your art on if they don’t allow you to hang art directly on the wall.
Ask how much it is to rent the space per hour and add it into your expense sheet so that you stay on budget or if any adjustments need to be made. Check into what they’re guidelines are for music and live entertainment as well.
4| a hole in the wall
You know those hidden gem cafes that have brunch and mimosas in the city? They're perfect if you want your show to have more of a urban and close knit feel.
This can work really well depending on what part of the city you use. Especially if it’s a creative hub. Yes, the stereotype of creatives and working people loving coffee is a real thing. Use it to your advantage.
You’ll have the people that you invited + the people who are regulars. It’s a nice opportunity for you to network, collab or sell your art.
5| A COLLEGE CAMPUS
If you’re currently IN college right now or an alumni then this should work pretty well for you. Talk to administration or check their website on who to speak with and ask if there is available space where you can use room or hall.
Make sure to pick the right time of the year for college students if they are your audience. You can pick a day to visit the campus to get an idea of the how traffic flows on campus. Some campuses do holiday shop sales as well so this would be another opportunity to get yourself affordable space.
Q: What would your gallery look like?
Let me know in the comments below
Trenita Finney is a Pittsburgh-based creative entrepreneur, artist and the Founder of Trenita Made it! She is most recognized for her vibrant watercolor works of women of color and photo-realistic portraits of inspirational musicians. As the creator of Trenita Made it! she promotes wellness + career development for artists + women of color through her youtube, podcast, Instagram, Pinterest and lifestyle illustrations + products.
Trenita has launched The Syllestial Collection VOL.1, an illustration book showcasing a collection of three years worth of illustrations during college. Trenita and her artwork have been featured in Raw Artist Pittsburgh, Redfish Bowl Art Festival, The Pittsburgh Comicon, Steel City Comicon and Layer Cake Festival. Follow on Instagram for the latest art creations.