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Fragiletender - Kirsty's Guide to Exhibition Applications

Fragile Tender
Date: 2006-08-02 00:12
Subject: Kirsty's Guide to Exhibition Applications
Security: Public
Tags:applications, curating
After processing 60 proposals today, I feel that I am in a good position to write 'Kirsty's Guide To Exhibition Applications'. Please note, these are just my own opinions and whilst most of it is good advice, some curators and galleries may have different criteria, so if in doubt, check with them.

1) Don't be stupid: read the brief properly and do what it says. If it says 10 slides max, don't send 20. if it says 'artist's statement' then include an artist's statement. It if says 'no email applications' then don't send your stuff by email. If it says 'prints or slides' don't send your images on CD. And if it says knitting, don't send bloody crochet!

2) If you're not sure that your work fits the brief then phone or email to check - a good curator or gallery shouldn't object. That said, sometimes it can be worth taking a chance and sending your work even if you think it's a bit of a stretch - if I like their work but it isn't right for that particular show, I'll keep details of artists and often end up offering them a different show at a later date.

3) Don't be cryptic in your artist's statement, I don't give a shit which French philosophers you've been reading - save your art bullshit for the public or your art tutors. I want to know what you made, what it looks like, what it's made from and why you made it in understandable language. If in doubt, give your proposal to a non-art person and ask them if it makes sense. If they say it doesn't, then rewrite it until it does.

Yes, you can include some 'artspeak', but bear in mind that some of the people looking at your proposal might not be 'art people' at all - they might be exhibition sponsors, building administrators, members of the local council, architects, surveyors, health and safety officials or the curator's boyfriend! For example, if you're applying to a show hosted by a school, your application will certainly be read by the organiser (who may or may not have much art experience) but it might also be read by teachers, school governors, parents, kids, the school secretary, the janitor and the dinner ladies! You need to be understood by all these people. The general public already thinks that artists are wankers, don't add to that impression by writing in jargon.

4) Make it absolutely clear what you're proposing. If the work is a performance piece, will you be showing photographic or video documentation or do you want to come and actually perform in the gallery? If you're including other work as examples of what you do but you're not proposing to show that work, make that obvious. If the work is complex, either in concept or in execution, then make sure you explain it very, very clearly (see also point 3).

5) Be concise - don't ramble on for pages and pages about your art. Unless specified, an artist's statement shouldn't be any longer than one to two sides of A4. Any longer and it'll only get skimmed and the curator will get irritated trying to pick out the important bits. Remember, your application is is not the only one they have to plough through.

6) Include technical information about your work, especially the dimensions and what it's made from. Don't assume that the curator will be able to work it out just from looking at the images. It might be obvious to you but you already know what it's made from and how big it is - it's not always quite so obvious to others. You'll be saving the curator time and effort if they don't have to chase you for this basic information and consequently they'll be much happier with you.

7) Include relevant installation/health and safety details - i.e. 'this looks very fragile but is actually quite robust' or 'this is very heavy' or 'although this is a large piece, it can be easily dismantled to get it through the doors'. Unless requested you don't have to provide a long list of detailed instructions (after all, you haven't actually been selected yet!) but a little bit of common sense always goes down well. Thinking about these issues marks you out as a considerate professional who understands the realities of installing shows and is aware of the responsibilities and concerns of galleries and curators.

8) Images are obviously crucial and they need to be good. If you only get one thing right, make it this one. Photographs need to be clear, in focus, well lit and show the piece to its best advantage. At an absolute minimum you should include one overall shot, showing the whole of the piece, as well as a close-up showing relevant detail. If the piece needs particular lighting include a shot of how it looks in that lighting as well as a shot in regular lighting. Sending only close-ups is absolutely infuriating and likely to get you thrown straight on the reject pile.

9) Be neat. Ideally I prefer CV's and statements to be typed and I want everything to be nicely packaged in a folder of some kind. It doesn't have to be super professional; I won't reject great art just because it's not nicely presented but it does give me an overall impression of how organised the artist is likely to be. Above all, I do not want to open an envelope and have slides, photos and lots of bits of paper fall out all over the place - this always irritates me and is likely to prejudice me against the work. I once lost someone's slide because she'd packaged them in the wrong size slide folder and when I opened the application, they all flew out and one of them fell down a gap between my floorboards. If you can't be bothered to package things properly then I'm likely to assume (often correctly) that you'll be a disorganised PITA to curate. Your work will have to be pretty damn good to outweigh that initial bad impression. At the very least, staple or paper clip things together.

10) Be logical when laying things out. i.e. put your typed list of slide details next to the slides. When I'm looking through a proposal I don't want to have to go hunting for the information I need. My personal preference for layout is: a covering letter paper-clipped to a folder containing a proposal/artist's statement, then the images with their notes and then the CV at the end but this is just how I do my own applications, don't regard it as canonical.

11) Make it easy for the curator - label things clearly. This is especially important with slides, which might be removed and projected. Slides should include the slide number (if you've included a separate list of additional written details), your name, the title of the work, the date and the way up it goes (convention is a little dot in the bottom left hand corner). Other details such as materials and dimensions go on a numbered printed list. Include your name, address and contact details several times in your proposal. It doesn't need to be on absolutely everything but at the very least it should be on the covering letter and your CV. Again, I don't want to have to go hunting for it when I'm entering your details in a database or trying to phone you to confirm something. In particular, don't just send a CD/DVD with no covering letter or artist's statement, otherwise I have to boot up my computer and load the CD every single time I want to get your contact details or information about your work - believe me, this gets old really quickly.

12) Don't get too creative - if I've only asked for images in the brief then just send images. Don't send me a strange little model that doesn't explain anything at all about your work: I'll only spend a month tripping over it and being irritated every single time - not the best way to endear yourself to me. And I'm very generous, if the work's good enough I won't reject someone out of hand for not sticking to the submission guidelines but a lot of places WILL - don't give them an excuse.

13) If I ask for a CV for an exhibition, I don't care about previous jobs or hobbies, I want to see where and when you went to art college (if applicable), what your art experience is and, most importantly, which exhibitions you've shown in. Oh, and I'm not interested in referees but that's just me, don't assume it's the same for other art applications.

14) If you want your stuff back then include a SAE, even if the stupid curator (cough, cough) forgot to mention it in the ad. Otherwise your expensive slides, prints, DVDs and videos are liable to end up in someone else's bin. While the curator has an obligation to send your stuff back in a reasonably timely fashion, they are under absolutely no obligation to pay to send it back to you - it's your stuff and paying to have it returned is your responsibility. If you really don't want it back and haven't included a SAE for that reason, then say so in the covering letter.

15) Include a short polite covering letter making it clear who you are and what you're applying for - the curator may be doing more than one show at once.

Well, I think that's just about everything. The crucial lesson to take from all of these points is that you are trying to make it easy for the curator to say 'yes' to you. You need to be clear, concise, neat, understandable and above all, show your work to its best advantage. Don't just think about what it's like for you to put the application together, think about what it's going to be for them to read, look at and handle it.

Like I said, I'm nice and I will give you a fair crack at the whip regardless of whatever 'chaos in an envelope' you send to me but you'd be very wise to assume that other curators are a lot harsher than me. I'm a freelance curator and I only do one or two shows a year so I can afford to be generous with my time because I probably only see about 100 applications annually. But some galleries are looking at that number of applications every single month and they very quickly tire of looking at badly done ones.

Your baseline should always be:Don't make it any harder to be selected than it already is.
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User: xthread
Date: 2006-08-01 23:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
By the way, you have just summed up the salient elements of 'how-to-write-an-investment-proposal,' 'how-to-write-a-resume,' and most of 'how-to-write-a-business-plan.'
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Fragile Tender
User: fragiletender
Date: 2006-08-02 00:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, all these things are pretty much the same in their underlying principles just with slightly different criteria depending on the particular context. Plus different businesses have different jargon and codes that you might be expected to use. But other than that it's all the same game - selling something!
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User: minxdragon
Date: 2006-08-04 09:57 (UTC)
Subject: Very Helpful
Thankyou, this was an excellent summary of creating a proposal and couldn't have come at a better time! I was wondering if I was silly for sending in detail shots as well as full photos and if a folder was a bad Idea. I am going to bookmark this and use it for my next proposal.. I think it will work really well as a checklist for exhibition and grant proposals.
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Fragile Tender
User: fragiletender
Date: 2006-08-08 01:01 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Very Helpful
Thanks for the kind comments, I'm glad to have been helpful. Good luck with putting your proposal together - it does get easier every time you do it, I've found.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-08-07 20:34 (UTC)
Subject: just in time
Thanks for this very sensible and obviously professional guide - it came just at the right time for me as I am putting together my portfolio.
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Fragile Tender
User: fragiletender
Date: 2006-08-08 01:00 (UTC)
Subject: Re: just in time
I'm glad I was able to help, Evie.
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