Tips on Submitting Work

Most visual artists would like to exhibit their work. North Carolina is fortunate to have a number of venues across the state, but finding appropriate spaces for your work and persuading them to show it can be daunting. Many guilds and artist organizations offer opportunities for their members to exhibit. Other spaces organize juried shows to attract work from a certain region or address a theme or range of media (see Artist Opportunities). Some visual arts organizations issue calls for slides annually or at defined intervals to determine candidates for their upcoming schedule of exhibitions. These opportunities are usually publicized on their web sites, with preferred methods for submission spelled out.

Most organizations, however, have a less formalized procedure for considering work. If you plan to submit unsolicited images to a museum or gallery for review, consider the following:

  • Research the organizations you want to approach. Visit the gallery, or at least the web site, so you know the kinds of exhibitions they mount. Craft museums are probably not interested in pastels; galleries devoted to nature art may not be drawn to installations. The more you know, the better able you'll be to make an effective presentation.
  • If possible, find the appropriate contact (the curator, program director, or executive director) for your submission. If the gallery's procedures for slide review are not posted on its web site, call or e-mail the curator. He or she is usually happy to provide guidance because it saves time in the long run.
  • Always ask before submitting digital images by email. While some may welcome this approach, other curators may not be open to email submissions; they may prefer the work on CDs. Curators, like the rest of us, have different comfort levels with technology. You are best served by presenting your materials in the form that will be most convenient for your recipient.
  • Do not expect a quick reply. If you do, you will likely be disappointed. Mark your calendar a month to six weeks out and contact them then, politely, to ask when you might expect to hear from them.
  • Always include a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE) if you are mailing materials you want returned. This does not guarantee you will get your materials back, but it increases the probability. A stamped return post card gives the gallery an easy way to acknowledge receipt of your package.

Finally, and somewhat redundantly, always be polite. More than just securing an exhibition opportunity, you are trying to build a relationship. The odds are that, with any given submission to a gallery, it won't result immediately, or perhaps ever, in a show for you there. But you have succeeded in presenting your work and yourself to the curator; he or she should now be on your mail and e-mail list for news about shows you're having at other spaces. And curators do talk to one another. The overture you make to one gallery may lead to an opportunity at another, unexpected venue. A rejection is only personal or final if you take it that way. It may in fact be the beginning of something quite positive.