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5 Practical Tips to Get Your First Gallery Show

February 2, 2011

Does this sound like you?

  • You’ve been working on your art for a couple of years.
  • You have accumulated a body of work, or about 12 pieces based on a related theme.
  • You have a fairly good understanding of where you’re coming from and what you’re wanting to accomplish with your work.

If so, you may be ready for your own art show, but what’s the next step?

Don’t be too intimidated by a lack of experience or education to put yourself out there and apply for shows. Galleries look for good art; your CV isn’t the be all and end all. Spring is when many galleries have their submission deadlines, so don’t miss out! Here are some tips to help you take that next big step.

1. Research

Find out what galleries there are in your area, but don’t limit yourself to one location. Expand your search and see what is available elsewhere. Galleries often focus on bringing in talent from out of town, making it easier to get your first show in a city you don’t live in.

Stay away from the more established galleries and look for not-for-profit galleries and artist-run centres. These are generally more open-minded in regards to what they show. Read the gallery’s mandate to find out if they are more interested in showing emerging artists (like yourself) or mid-career and established artists. Also, check out this 411 on Non-Profit Galleries.

2. Work in Bulk

Honestly, it takes just as much effort to submit 10 applications as it does to submit one. The hardest part is drafting  your artist statement, your CV and your cover letter. Once that’s done, you might as well submit it to as many galleries as you can find.

I take an assembly line approach to my proposals. I take my time putting together all of my information and collecting everything I need. When that is done, I print them all, assemble them all, package them all and take them all down to the post office. If you’re going to do the work, you might as well get the most bang for your buck!

3. Quantity

On a related note, send out lots of submissions. Getting an art show is often a numbers game. The more proposals you send out, the more chances you have. As long as you make sure each gallery  is a potential good match for your work, you can’t go wrong. Which brings us to…

4. Rejection

Don’t take it personally. Rejection letters should be a badge of pride, not shame. Rejection means you’re putting yourself out there, you’re taking risks and you’re putting yourself in the position to benefit from those risks. People who aren’t getting rejection letters aren’t applying for shows!

Your first rejection letter will likely be the hardest. The more you get, the easier it is to take. That’s another benefit of sending out lots of proposals. If you only send out one, all your hopes are riding on a single possibility. If it doesn’t pan out, it’s that much more disappointing.

Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back!

5. Keep Your Head on Straight

When you start applying for shows, it’s going to be important to stay organized. This is when you need to engage your business brain instead of your art brain.

I recomend keeping clear records of all the galleries you’ve applied to, when you applied, the body of work you submitted, and what the response was. This will help you when you put together proposals in the following years. You’ll know which galleries to submit to again, and which to avoid. As you come across new galleries, add them to your list for next time.

Keep your computer files organized as well. Once you’ve been doing proposals for a couple of years, you are going to need to keep your artist statements, image lists and everything else from getting mixed up.


If you have a well-executed body of work that you can back up with a good artist statement, there’s really no reason you couldn’t get a show in a gallery. You just need to pick the right venue for your work and put yourself out there. It won’t happen if you don’t try!

If you’re ready to take the plunge, check out my checklist for getting your art in a gallery.


From → Art General

  1. Thanks for the tips! This is some good stuff!

    I’ve also had friends recommend me to a gallery or show or give me a tip of which galleries would be interested in my type of work. Sometimes a group of artists at a school or community center can help each other out like that.

    I’ve also had reasonably good luck in getting into galleries or shows by assessing if the gallery is selling art similar to my own, and the prices in the gallery are not too high or low (compared to what I’d be wanting for my own work). I’d then call ahead of time, make an appointment, and then show my work. They either said yes or no.

    The nice thing about shows and galleries is that (in my experience) they don’t usually care about your background or whether you have a degree or not. Either they like your work, or they don’t.

    • Hey Mariposa! You’re right, referrals are very important. Like they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

  2. Excellent advice. My weakness is the rejection part but Im working on it. 🙂

  3. My friend and work colleague in the consultancy company we work for started out on his artistic career when our company moved to new offices and the Directors asked the staff for any art work we could contribute to the large area of bare walls, which would be judged by the staff framed and exhibited.

    My friend was hugely encouraged by the great repsonse from the staff to his work that he also then spoke to other local businesses and maneged to get his pictures exhibited in coffee shops and the local council cinema foyer.

    It was at this time that he discovered that people would buy his art, and now he is only working part-time and loving the time he has to continue his passion. He would have found your post useful I am sure, but he is now exhibiting in galleries and takes the whole gallery!

    I would encourage anyone with artistic inclinations to follow the advice here, and make yourself known. It might be hard at first to quite believe that people will want to see and experience your art, but if it is good they will, and you owe it to them and yourself not to keep it to yourself, and your life wil be much more fulfilled once you gain the acclaim you deserve, through exhibiting – and contributing to the art world.

  4. “Don’t take it personally. Rejection letters should be a badge of pride, not shame. Rejection means you’re putting yourself out there, you’re taking risks and you’re putting yourself in the position to benefit from those risks. People who aren’t getting rejection letters aren’t applying for shows!”

    I couldn’t agree more with that statement and mindset! I don’t remember where I heard it, but I began making it a point to keep in the back of my mind something similar… “If you haven’t reached success yet, it’s because you haven’t failed enough yet”.

    It gets tough but you have to keep going.

    A couple things I’ve found here locally that may help others…

    Look into local establishments who accept local artists work. Places like restaurants or “artsy” type shops, there are probably more around then you might think. I’ve been doing this lately and actually have had 2 inquiries to the shop owner from walk ins who wanted to buy the prints.

    Try putting together a little package for the galleries you’re interested in. I’ve been doing some real nice “brochure” type material with photos of some of my work with some creative quotes or sayings related to each. In it I also include a homemade dvd with a cool little video. it’s very short, includes images of my work and then I try to sell myself for a few minutes and try to create a connection. I’ve found 3 minutes is just about right, not too long, but just enough to get what you might want seen.

    Anyway, great article. Never give up!

  5. One of my art mentors always reminds me to treat art just like any other business which helps me keep “that beauty is in the eye of the beholder” in perspective so as not to waste time and resources,

    Thanks for the tips.

  6. I like the advice of doing multiple applications in a row – sure helps to get more out the door. I’m trying to channel my inner Steve Jobs – “real artists ship”

  7. Thanks for great tips. I agree, getting rejections isn’t failure at all – it’s just part of the process and far better than the alternative – where you hold back because you’re worried about the rejection. Go for it!

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