Friday, February 8, 2013

What I learned at ACTS

This year was my first time participating in the Gallery @ ACTS (part of the Atlantic Craft Trade Show).  It was a hasty decision, and one I'm so glad to have made.  The jewellery I most enjoy making are the one-of-a-kind pieces, and that's what Gallery @ ACTS is tailored towards.  The art that was exhibited alongside my work in the gallery was incredible!  I have a whole new plan for the type of pieces I will bring next year.  The phrase "upping my game" springs to mind!

Essentially ACTS is a three day event, but with all the information that was packed into the weekend it felt like we were there much longer, (in a good way).  I traveled with other emerging craftspeople from Newfoundland, and it was great to have the moral support of other "newbies" at the show.

There were presentations from each gallery rep that came to the show, and we had scheduled 15-minute interviews with most of them (based on a prioritized list that had been sent out before we arrived).  Some galleries represented clay and glass artists primarily, while others were more mixed media, paintings, or jewellery galleries.  I learned so much, I thought I would summarize here a bit of the information I gleaned:
  • There is no single correct way to assemble a portfolio.  It really must be tailored to your specific audience.  Most everyone wanted to see the emphasis on current work, rather than an overview of how the work has evolved.  There seemed to be different opinions, however, on the order of the images.  I had learned to list them in chronological order, but I think some reps would have preferred to see them arranged according to theme.  I can see how that would give a more cohesive appearance to the collection of images.
  • Every gallery likes to be approached in a different way.  While none of them want you to arrive unannounced with your portfolio and/or samples of your work, they varied in what approach they did prefer.  Some reps liked a preliminary phone call requesting an appointment, while others appreciated just an introductory email with a link to a website.  One big no-no was to send unsolicited large files of images.  Obviously it is important to make sure you've researched the gallery ahead of time to ensure your work is appropriate to their mandate.  It is crucial that the gallery feel that you have sought them out with purpose and intent.
  • Talk to everyone!  At an event like Gallery @ ACTS, the visiting gallery reps understood (for the most part), that some of us are new to this process of finding suitable exhibition opportunities, so I spoke to reps even though they did not necessarily carry jewellery in their galleries.  They had valuable insights that are often transferable between disciplines.  Don't take time away from other artists, however, who do work in the medium they feature, as the weekend is short.  Be clear that you're not expecting that your work will be the first that they'll decide to carry in a medium that they simply don't exhibit.  (It can also help to ease the nerves, when you are able to have a casual chat with a gallery rep, knowing that the discussion doesn't hinge on the potential of having them represent you or not!)  
  • Listen, and make notes.  You may think you'll remember who said what, but it does become overwhelming to remember it all.  It seems only respectful to the reps who have taken the time to travel to the show and to give presentations, to not ask the same questions they've already answered a dozen times.
  • Be honest.  The gallery reps are human too, and as intimidating as it may seem to forge that relationship, it was my feeling that they'd much sooner openly discuss the areas in which you may feel uncertain, as well as the inspirations that you're really excited about.  An arrogance over your own artistic merit doesn't hold much water if you're not able to sell your work.  (Assuming of course, because you're seeking out gallery reps, that selling your work is your goal.)
I think I'll wrap this up here.  The weekend was unforgettable, and even the weather delays were fortuitous since they enabled us to visit some gallery exhibitions in the Halifax area that we would otherwise have missed.  The whole experience has lit a fire under me, and I'm eagerly anticipating next year's event.  I'd welcome anyone's feedback on their own experiences approaching galleries and finding exhibition opportunities, if you want to share.

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