My art business learning process: Finding a place to show my art

This post is for you if you want to be able to share your art with the world but you don’t know how or where to start. 

A couple of years ago, the idea of actually showing my work in a real physical art show seemed wildly intimidating and overwhelming. But as I’ve gradually learned, there are actually lots and lots of places that love to hang up art by local artists. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

This is a non-exhaustive list of places in my community (Somerville, Medford, Cambridge, etc) that (at least sometimes) allow artists to show their work with a really low bar for entry. There are probably lots of places that I’ve missed! And if you live somewhere else, the specifics will be different but I’m guessing many of the general principles still apply. Also, required disclaimer: due to covid-19 many of these programs may be on hold or slowed down but hopefully are still happening in some form.

Before you contact any of these places, you’ll need to have some way of showing them a sample of your work. A website, Instagram account, or even a public Facebook page that is dedicated to sharing your art is ideal. Business cards or postcards with that info are also great to have, but not necessary.

Coffee shops and other businesses

My first art show was at a coffee shop where I had been a frequent customer. I knew that they displayed work by local artists, changing it up every month, and the staff knew me. That made it an easy conversation to let them know I had art I’d be interested in displaying my work the next time they had an open art slot in the calendar. 

My first ever solo art show at Mystic Coffee Roaster in Medford.

Pay attention to coffee shops, hair salons, and other businesses in your neighborhood. Do they display art on the walls? Does the art change from time to time? If so, odds are that they are always looking for more art to display once the current show is done. I have tried walking in and giving my business card to the cashier and letting them know I’m interested, as well as looking up their website and emailing the business. It doesn’t always work, but it never hurts to ask. Keep in mind that even if they are willing to display your art, it might be months before they have an opening in their schedule, so be patient.

Public libraries

The Somerville Public Library has an “Artist of the Month” program that I participated in a couple of years ago. There’s an application process for that–you need to have samples of your work and an artist statement. The program is still going on (at least, when the libraries aren’t all closed because of covid-19). I have seen other calls for art at various other towns’ libraries. Sometimes they are group shows rather than solo, and often they are limited to residents of that town. But it is always worth checking out your local library to see what they have.

Other community organizations

The Cambridge YWCA also had an artist of the month program which I participated in a couple of years ago. Part of the application process was agreeing to contribute 10% of any art sales to the YWCA. But I was really happy to do that since they are a great organization working for racial justice and it’s definitely worth it to have an opportunity to display my art.

My art on display at the Cambridge YWCA in 2018

The Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville also has rotating exhibitions in their cafe area–I had a show there last year! It’s another great community organization that has lots of programs for artists. You have to email them and show samples of your work to apply, and they do take a 20% commission of any sales.

Artist Associations

I wrote a whole separate blog post about artist associations and what a great resource they are, but for me by far the most useful thing about artist associations is getting to display my work once or twice a year, and in more of a gallery setting (rather than a coffee shop).

Most of these venues will allow you to host an opening reception in their space, where you can bring in food or snacks and invite friends and potential customers to celebrate your work (and hopefully buy some of it!). Some of the places also provide or contribute food and advertising for the event.

I’d love to hear from other emerging artists–are there other venues, businesses, or non profit organizations that have been helpful for you as you began to show your work in real life?

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