By now if you’ve followed the rest of this series you’ll have gathered a list of people to invite to your exhibition in your Portable Mini Art Portfolio. It’s time to get a plan together about how you are going to contact the people on your list again.

Don’t just rely on advertising or press coverage thinking that the people you have showed your art to will automatically just turn up. Unless you are already very famous then people will just tend to stay at home, even if you get excellent press in the local paper. There’s nothing more depressing for artists than an opening night devoid of people. The second most depressing thing is an opening night full of people who drink all your alcohol and don’t buy your art, so try and ensure the people you invite do actually have the means to buy it if they like it.

It’s nearly time leave the safety of your cosy studio, get out into the world and talk to people all over again, but before you start:

Art Exhibition Invitation Cards

Get some DL sized exhibition invitation cards professionally printed; enough to cover your invitation list, plus some extras to give out in the immediate lead up to the exhibition.

Money saving tip!

Full colour glossy invitation cards can be very expensive to produce unless you know who to source them from, but here is my tip:

There are businesses out there that specialise in creating exhibition invitation cards for galleries. Go to your local art gallery and ask them who they get theirs designed and printed by. Quite often they will have already sourced a good cheap supplier who does batch runs for all the galleries in the area every month. Because they batch the print run up, it keeps the costs low. This does mean however that you will have to do some forward planning to make sure you meet the printers batch run deadline.

If you are having a relatively small exhibition, your local copy shop may be able to just print up some colour invitations on card. The unit cost of these invitations will be higher, and the result not quite as nice as an offset print job, but you may be able to get them quicker and for a lower total cost.

Its time to make a list:

Go through your list of potential exhibition invitees and figure out how you are going to contact each person – options could be:

  • Just drop by
  • Phone them up
  • Pop an invite in the post
  • Send a personal note
  • Email them
  • Arrange an appointment for a specific chat
  • etc…

For example:

  • If your potential invitee is a local business owner then make a point of just popping by and personally handing them your inivtation.
  • If the person is somebody who you just chatted to in the supermarket and you don’t know them well, pop an invite in the post and attach a small personal hand-written note, reminding them of where you met, and how much you’d like them to come along. The personal touch matters!
  • If your exhibition guest is an influential friend, give them a call and arrange to drop by with an invitation and have a nice chat with them. Encourage them to also bring along their other influential friends.
  • You get the idea…

The key is to target your approach. Different people require different approaches. If you do this well then people will feel quite honoured that you remembered them enough to invite them to your exhibition. You’ll need to be doing all of this at around two to three weeks before the exhibition.

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Dont be afraid to ask

Don’t be afraid to actually ask your invitees if they will be coming. Handing over an invite and just expecting they will turn up is not enough. Get a commitment if you can, and note it on your contact list for special reminder and follow-up if required.

An email reminder

A couple of days before the exhibition send out an email to all of your invitees, even if you’ve given them an invitation card. Personalise it if you can. Don’t just broadcast a generic email to everyone, it looks spammy. If your list is so large that it will be hard to personally email each person one by one, then consider using an email list management system such as Aweber or Continous Contact. These systems allow you to send out mass emails, but personalised with the invitees name so that it looks as if you sent it yourself.

Coordinate your advertising

If you are advertising your exhibition in your local newspaper then time the advertisement to start a couple of weeks before the exhibition, and immediately before the weekend of the exhibtion. This way people the people you invited will be constantly reminded. Paid advertising can be expensive, but a run of three well designed adverts, well placed, 2 weeks out, 1 week out, and a couple of days before can boost attendance both from your invitation list and others who come along out of interest.

Coordinating the Press

A nice big story written actually written by a journalist can boost attendance substantially if it hits the news stands right around the time of your show. Somehow it confers a kind of importance on the event and more desirable to attend. It makes you just a little bit famous. People like to be around famous people. The amount of time you should allow when sending your press release varies with the kind of publication you are targetting:

  • Glossy large distribution magazines: 3-6 months
  • Local magazines: 1-2 months
  • Local newspapers: around 2 weeks to 1 month.

It’s probably worth checking with your target media outlets for recommended submission and printing dates as they can vary.

Don’t forget the Gossip Pages

One area which some artists overlook in their art exhibition promotions is the newspaper gossip pages; where someone writes about all the goings on in the local town, usually in a whitty and jovial manner. People love reading these, and seem to think that in order to get in the gossip pages you are probably already important and a little bit famous. If you’ve got an interesting angle on your exhibition then it’s worth submitting it to your local gossip columnist. They’ll usually write their own amusing take on what you are up to and print the date and time of your exhibition. Strike up a good relationship with your gossip columnist by supplying good copy with plenty of angle. I’ve found that even when the regular journalists ignore me that the gossip columnist is pretty much guaranteed to print something that people will read and remember.

A job well done

If you do all of the above well, then you can rest assured that people will turn up to your exhibition opening night. By asking people directly if they will attend then you’ll also have a good idea of the minimum number of people who will turn up. Oh and one last tip…try to avoid setting the opening night of your exhibition on a night when something else important is happening in town. Don’t make your audience have to choose between the football finals and your show!