SO, before we get any more blubbery and sentimental, here are some (potentially helpful) tips/ shameful anecdotes we picked up along the way:
Share your idea/proposal with possible venues and artists. The first hurdle of beginning a project can be an incredibly daunting and huge prospect to overcome – remember that if your idea is lovingly cultivated with the right intentions, then people will follow, even if you are bullshitting!
Don’t compromise on quality for quantity – have a valid reason for every piece of artwork included (and not just because they are your friend or have a large social media following)
Emails, emails and more emails. Once you’ve established connections, setting timescales for each stage of the planning process and making sure your artists are aware (and stick) to them is key. Don’t be afraid to bug the hell out of people in the name of organisation! If you’re working within a team, creating a joint email account saves endless forwarding and screenshotting in attempt to coordinate your numerous studio visits/press releases/contacts with local councils etc.
Why would you want to think about economics when you could be thinking about site-specific tapestries and poster fonts? Because without it you are fucked. (With it you are still fucked but at least not so surprised as to when your bank balance sinks.) Make a very detailed budget – you won’t stick to it, and it’ll exceed any horrific total you make, but make one nevertheless. As a self-endorsed, start-up venture, we pumped a fair amount of our own hard-earned money into this project (although we were very fortunate to be granted an amount from our student union initiative fund) and so we also had to be creative about begging/borrowing/stealing as many extra pennies as we could. Which brings us onto no.5:
FUNDRAISING. Our originally conceived plans of a nice’n’proper film screening and a fancy dinner party bombed (fun to plan with rose-tinted spectacles but paying for film rights/ restaurant space to justify ticket charging would cost far more than the events would make and distract from more important things, i.e. the actual exhibition!) Don’t be afraid to DIY it – we hosted a marvelous Dizzy Dali Dinner complete with Surrealist-themed food and characters in my parent’s kitchen (!!) and asked for an estimated donation in return for a three-course meal and an eve of frivolities.
Don’t be too proud and attempt to take on everything single-handedly – friends and family were all too willing to aid us in any way they could (like attending the aforementioned dinner). Hopefully, later down the line, you won’t be using your Mum’s car as sculpture transport, your Dad as a technician, your sister as bar staff and your friends as gaffa-tapers/poster-put-uppers/general-life-savers. But for now, welcome all and any of this with open arms. It is a learning curve, and any help, be it in the form of shoulders to cry on, cigarettes or in cutting on costs, was monumentally beneficial.
THANK all of the above people (twice!)
We hate to admit it, but that ol’ horrid, vapid Instagram and other social network platforms are imperative in getting a crowd in and building ‘hype’ (yuck). In posting frequently and getting an excited following we managed to wrangle an Instagram takeover with the glorious banshee magazine…but don’t over-do it, there is nothing worse than a social media spam and what is the point in having a REAL LIFE exhibition at all if it’s already up on your Instagram feed.
Some of those ‘health and safety’ death pits are worth the struggle (some aren’t). Ensuring you have a license to hold an event/sell alcohol is a bit of a paper-work headache but exceedingly worth it. Getting fined and closed down by the council would not be the best way to embark upon an exhibition career. However, no matter how much your boring gut tells you how problematic it would be to put a human (Giovanni Vetere the performance artist) in a giant glass tank of water on the first floor of an old, crumbling house – do it anyway. (But breath a sigh of relief when the artist decides to leave out the live goldfish.)
Do a 99p store haul. Try not to spend those carefully-funded pennies on 3D posters of animals and religious iconography, but do buy screws and latex gloves and tape measures!
Things that CAN go wrong, probably WILL go wrong. Of course, this is overstating the obvious, but we had a pretty smooth road until a lighting cancellation catalysed a string of last-minute catastrophes. And If you’re anything like us, it will happen all at once, i.e. 20 mins before visitors started piling in: the pipe of the water tank was dislodged and water was gushing through the ceiling, a fuse blew, labels kept falling off the walls,… you get the picture. Miraculously we pulled it together. Try to keep a cool head, buckle down and solve the problem (and invest in some buckets).
Try and schedule some breathing time if you’ve got your install on the same day as the opening. And by ‘breathing time’ we mean at least twenty minutes to shove a dress, some deodorant and some lippy on before the show starts. We were still both frantically getting dressed in the tiny loo by the time people arrived. Not the best tactic for levels of calm nor eyeshadow precision.
Documentation, documentation, documentation! Months and months of hard work fly by in the space of a few days and before you know it your baby is gone. Taking hundreds of images and videos of opening night and installation is key for the reflective process when starting your next venture. (They’re also handy to flick through when you’re suffering from those post-exhibition blues.) Get various people to join you in the plight of manic photography, luckily we had 14 artists and snap-happy friends + managing to bribe/persuade/hire a photography student/professional to get some good-quality images goes a long way; make sure you brief them on exactly what you are looking for beforehand to ensure you end up with a solid coverage of the whole show.
Have a tiny breather, reflect on how much older and wiser you feel, learn from your mistakes…. and then do it all again (but with hopefully better lippy/fewer water leakages!)