What was my crazy thought in 2013? “I’m going to have my first solo art show!” Naturally, the following idea was “Hey while you’re at it, make it a fundraiser for a good cause!” That was the beginning of my tumultuous journey into gallery scouting, late nights drawing, haphazard lessons in marketing, and chaotic event planning.
As a portrait artist and animal lover, I knew the show would focus on pet portraits. It seemed natural that the fundraiser should assist local animals in need. Luckily, here in Rochester NY we have Lollypop Farm. This humane society shelters homeless animals, provides veterinary care and helps them find good homes. Several emails and phone calls later, they agreed to let me put on a fundraiser for them.
With an art theme and a good cause urging me forward, the next question was location. Where would I have this fantastic show? As an up and coming artist, my name strikes neither awe nor even slight recognition in local gallery curators. Luckily, an amazing opportunity presented itself on Twitter. A community learning center, the Rochester Brainery, announced it was looking for local artists to have shows in their new space. Several phone calls, many emails, and a couple meetings later – I had a location and the room was perfect! Blank white walls and simple concrete floors made this the impeccable blank canvas for an art show by a relatively unknown artist.
At this point, I thought planning an art exhibition and fundraiser would be easy. (You have permission to laugh at my naiveté.) Sure I had to create a body of work for the show, design all the advertising material, promote the event, figure out food and entertainment, and function within a tight starving-artist budget. But hey, with a theme, a good cause and a great space, how hard could it be?
For the next 6 months, my sanity slowly dwindled away to madness. Rochester Brainery requested at least 20 pieces of art for the show, Lollypop Farm wanted to review anything that had their logo on it, and I was still trying to figure out a vendor for food. Because teachers at the Rochester Brainery use a projector to teach, one wall could not have artwork on it – so I needed to create a slideshow to avoid an awkward blank space. Soon every evening became a late night of desperate drawing and working my colored pencils down to pathetic nubs. I skipped meals to design posters, postcards, Facebook banners, and Instagram images. I read through contracts, reviewed local food providers, hunted down a photographer, and as for music…..wait, there should be music too?! What if no one even shows up?
I had displayed my work in shows before and knew there should be advertising, food, entertainment and fantastic art. But those events had always been organized by someone else. They made it look so easy. And with multiple artists contributing work, the walls were always full of wonderful art. I was trudging into a new realm of business and gaining a fresh appreciation for show organizers. During all this, the daily studio chores could not be ignored: work on commissions, run a photo competition on my Facebook page, write blogs, and go to my day job (I wasn’t kidding when I said “starving-artist budget”).
During this time of high-stress and desperation I learned some valuable lessons. First: Keep it simple! A playlist on a laptop with some great music can create a pleasant ambiance in a small space. Why order catering when you can get ready-made food from some local suppliers? No one will complain that the free food is not caviar. Second: Ask for help! Who needs to buy a ton of serving plates when they have an Italian mother with a basement full of party supplies? Matting and hanging art takes time and can be accomplished with the help of friends and family – they welcome payment in the form of pizza. Third: Have fun! Remember this is not the beginning or end of the world. No one else will really notice if the third drawing from the left is .3 degrees off from perfectly level. Really. Let. It. Go.
The night of the opening reception, all these months of hassle and stress faded away. For three hours straight I met new people, discussed art, admired family photos of pets, and even sold a few drawings. By the end of the evening I was tired, my throat was sore from laughing, and my feet throbbed from standing. It was glorious.
In hindsight, this entire experience was about more than just having a solo art show. It was about learning how to organize a major event and figuring out who I was as a professional drawer. It was an opportunity to learn the elegance of simplicity and the beauty of accepting help from friends and family. Hidden within the chaos and confusion, there exists joy in the unexpected opportunities to learn, adapt and grow as an artist, a business owner, and a person. Thank you crazy thought from 2013. Thank you.
Maybe your wondering, how could you order a beautiful drawing from this show? To help a great cause? To bring fine art into your home? Easy!
Special Thanks to Donna Boyle Photography for being the event photographer!