While the Anvil’s Hot (Serious Self Promotion)

Every once in a while circumstances align and you’re presented with an opportunity that pushes you to the outer limits of your comfort zone.

You debate with yourself whether or not to leap into the unknown. The amateur part of your brain tries to search for excuses to NOT take advantage of the opportunity:

  • The timing could be better.
  • It requires money and physical effort.
  • It requires too much time to coordinate.
  • What if my idea fails?

The part of your brain that knows you’re a professional counter-argues:

  • The timing will never be better.
  • You have to invest to get a return.
  • Opportunities like this are few and far between.
  • What if my idea succeeds?

In October I had the opportunity to take a leap of faith.

I’d been feeling super cranky that I’d missed applying for the NYC Artist’s Core Grants over the summer that awarded many New York artists $5,000.00 to activate the arts sector by exhibiting artwork, either in an exhibition or by opening their studios to the public.

In early September I’d met several new contacts through the Spring/Break Art Show who asked how they could see my work. For a few weeks I mused about facilitating a private open studio on my own, without funding. I didn’t want these neophyte relationships to grow cold and fizzle out.

At the end of September my studio neighbor moved out and I thought, “This big, beautiful, almost 500sf studio would make an awesome pop-up gallery space!” I reached out to the studio manager and asked if I could use the space for a few weeks in October for a nominal fee, providing I left it ready for a new tenant to move in. He agreed.

Everything was aligning to make my self-funded “artist corps” event a possibility. I was excited but equally as anxious. Would it work? What if I invited people and they didn’t come?

The short answers: Yes, it worked, and yes, they came.

In fact, it worked so well that – given the opportunity – I will absolutely be doing it again.

Curious about hosting your own pop-up/studio tours? Here’s what I learned about scheduling private tours of my studio and a two-week pop-up exhibit.

Hosting Your Own Private Studio Tour/Pop-up Show

Empty space in your studio building? Consider offering the manager a small fee to use it for part of the month, with the caveat that you’ll fill holes and patch paint. I offered $500 for two weeks use of a 460 sf space that normally rents for $2,650/mo. The benefit of this is that your visitor gets the chance to see a series or several pieces of your work in a “show” setting, then tour your studio space – a rare event. Every visitor I had was impressed with this set-up and commented on how unique the opportunity was.

Invite visitors with personal emails. First I messaged curator contacts that I really wanted to see my work (reaching out up to 3 times!). I invited special guests ahead of time so they could book their preferred timeslot in advance of me announcing the tours on my mailing list. I had planned on a couple of social media posts after my mailing list announcement to fill up any booking gaps. Amazingly, I never reached the social media stage – with the exception of 2 curators who live outside NYC, everyone I invited scheduled an appointment for a visit!

Pitch your invite as an exclusive and limited event. I restricted attendance to the invitee plus one guest if they chose, and aimed to only book one tour per day.

Present yourself like a pro. Put together a binder with a CV, statement, some press reviews/articles, and an image list with thumbnail images (like a real gallery!)

Clean your studio if necessary, but don’t make it antiseptic. Tidy up, but don’t hide everything away. This is where the magic happens! Let visitors see a work or two in progress.

Offer the option of a virtual tour/visit for contacts that are far afield. Two of my tours were on Zoom. It’s kind of the way things are headed, so great practice for presenting yourself online.

Offer visitors refreshments. Tea or water (or wine if the tour is late enough in the day or evening)

Give visitors options for how they prefer to experience the pop-up. Do they want to view the work alone in peace, do they want to be led with some commentary, or do they want “the works” (juicy stories behind details and references in the pieces)

Be prepared to defend your work without being defensive. One important curator really poked into aspects of my work that could have been perceived as weak or problematic. It was a 3 hour visit that felt like a dissertation. I had a response for everything and when I was unclear on what they were asking, I asked him to clarify before answering. Don’t be intimidated and stand by your work, but make sure you can answer for everything.

Take the time to do a quick debrief after each visit. Write down some notes, i.e. how you felt it went, visitors reactions to work, what they seemed most interested in, what curators were “digging” for.

N.B. The more visits you do, the more eloquently you’ll begin to speak about your work. I did 16 visits in 14 days. The last one I gave felt stellar 😉 If you can, book a few “practice” studio visits before your important visit to practice.

Follow up with a short email. Thank your visitors for their time, interest, and feedback. If they’re not already on your mailing list, ask if you can add them.

Hosting my own pop-up event gave me a great return on investment – much more than I expected. It allowed me to exercise the parts of my practice that I avoid because they are at the limit of my comfort level – i.e. emailing curators for studio visits and talking about my work. I’m now more at ease doing both of these things. It was a wonderful way to build new connections and strengthen old ones that had become dormant during the pandemic.

I’m already planning a follow up event featuring a comprehensive showing of an ongoing 2-D series with some new work the next time an empty studio comes around 😉

4 Responses to “While the Anvil’s Hot (Serious Self Promotion)”

  1. Jody, thank you for this excellent advice – I always learn something from your newsletter!

  2. Way to go, Jody! I don’t envy you the 3 hour grilling by that one curator, but I think its very positive feedback about your work that he wanted to engage at that level. Good for you for being able to articulate and defend your creations.

  3. What great advice & I’m so proud of you for taking that leap of faith.
    YOU are an Inspiration !!!
    You are POWERFUL.