Interaction with Exhibition Venues

Communication (with galleries and other professional relationships)

When running your own business, or teaching, or use email for any reason, it is vital that you respond in a timely manner. Unfortunately, timely often means within 24 hours. It is best practice to acknowledge emails as soon as you receive them, or at least within one business day. If you cannot respond in the depth that the email needs, write a brief note acknowledging the receipt of the email and explain that you will get to it as soon as you can: “Hi John, I got your email  regarding xxx this morning. Your question deserves some time and I will get back to you this evening, (or tomorrow or by the end of the week) with a response.”

If you do not check you emails that often, or find that you struggle with writing emails, here are couple thing you can do to make people emailing you feel better. First, set up a vacation responder on your email which automatically responds to every email. You can write something like “Thank you for your email, I devote Tuesdays and Fridays to correspondence. I will respond to your email as soon as I can.” If you do go out of town and have limited access to email, set your vacation responder to indicate that you will be “out of the office until…”

Or, you can list your “business hours” in the signature section of your email.

Thank you notes

Whether you have had an interview, been a visiting artist, had a show or received a grant, it is best practice to send a thank you note. This is particularly important with interviews. You can send physical cards or you can send an email card (here are a couple of services for this: Greenvelope, American Greetings, smile box) . These notes build a lot of capital. Acknowledging that someone spent time with you goes a long way.

*As a personal aside, I just received a thank you note from a former student who had asked me for a letter of recommendation. She gave me an update that she was awarded the internship that she applied for. This news was so great to receive. These notes keep lines of communication open between you and your references and they go far. If someone has gone out on a limb for you in this way, it is a great idea to keep that relationship alive and keep those people posted!

who does what and how; ethics of installation

Once you have been invited to have an exhibition, it is vital that you stay in careful contact with the gallery. Pay attention to their deadlines! You show respect for the gallery when you get requested information to them when they ask for it. Make a calendar and keep it. I have a separate google calendar just for exhibitions on which I set reminders so that I do not miss a deadline. Don’t make the gallery send you reminders. Most galleries that exhibit emerging artists’ work tend to be understaffed so the easier you make it for the gallery, the more time they will have to promote your exhibition!

When you receive the exhibition contract from the gallery, be sure you read through the whole thing. Find out who will pay for shipping, what they will do in terms of PR/ Marketing your exhibition, and who is responsible for installing your exhibition. Make sure you get your work to the gallery in the window of time that they ask for. It is equally difficult for galleries to receive work too early as it is to receive the work too late. Many galleries do not have that much room for storage, and many galleries do one show right on top of the next, with a very narrow window of time between exhibitions.

If you and the gallery have decided that you will install your own exhibition, be respectful of the gallery’s open hours. Many times, the gallery has security and cannot leave you alone in their space. If a staff member has to be present for you while you are installing, be respectful of their time.

Find out what types of tools the gallery has available for installation (drills, hardware, levels, tape measures, ladders etc.) If your work has unusual installation needs (hanging from the ceiling), be sure you communicate this with them and find out if it is possible with their space.

It is a great idea to get a floor plan from the gallery so that you can visualize the space before you arrive. Even if you are not installing the work, this will help you to make work that fits in the exhibition space. I recently had a drawing arrive to the gallery that barely fit on our longest wall.

If you make very large work, find out what type/size door the gallery has. Also find out if there are stairs you need to go up and down in order to get into the gallery.

If you are installing and taking your work down, make sure you leave the space better than you found it. If you painted the walls a different color, make arrangement to have it painted back. If you make holes in the wall, be sure you repair them etc.

Preparing and installing the exhibition:  Preparing and installing an exhibitions takes practice. Set yourself up for success! There is an art to curating a space. My best advice is to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to learn while you are here: Sharon McConnell’s Exhibition Design class, an internship at Cohen Center Gallery (accepting applications now!), working at the Turner Gallery or in Fosdick-Nelson or work study in the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum will each provide you with very practical skills. There is even a minor in arts administration here at Alfred. Whether you want to work in a gallery or not in the future, you will learn a ton about how to install, handle, pack and ship, light exhibitions and more. These types of experiences are so valuable to your understanding of how work is displayed and viewed. Perhaps this is why SOAD provides to many opportunities for students here in Alfred.


Find out if the gallery has insurance. If anything happens to your work while at the gallery, whether during installation or the exhibition, and they do not have insurance, you could lose that piece and not be compensated for it. Read your contract carefully and make sure that your work is covered under their policy.


41 thoughts on “Interaction with Exhibition Venues

  1. Things I learned:
    -Thank you notes after an interview, if I send a thank you note/card would it also be appropriate for me to follow up?
    -Admitting to not knowing the answer and receiving respect for the honesty, It makes sense.

    My own experience:
    – When setting up our show in Turner, having the layout and dimensions of the gallery space and working out a map of where the work would be displayed saved a lot of time and pain when setting up.

    • Good question!
      Sending a thank you and sending a follow up are separate things. You can absolutely do both.

      You should definitely send a thank you as soon as you can after an interview. Then, if you haven’t heard back in a week or so, you should follow up. That follow up looks as good as the thank you. Even if you don’t get the thing you are applying for, you are more likely to be remembered and that may lead to some good things down the road.

  2. Things I learned today:
    – Admitting to not knowing the complete answer to a question

    My own experience:
    – Ive had some experience communicating with galleries and some of these tips would have made it a lot smother for everyone.

  3. I learned that it is important to show respect for the gallery by keeping in good contact with them. Get requested information to them by the deadlines and stay professional about your connection. I haven’t had much interaction with galleries but they seem to pose a level of sincerity and authority about the artwork they present. I know now that this is because they must keep this sort of face in order to be respected by their artists

  4. I will make my thesis show next semester. It is very helpful that this article tells me how to communicate with the gallery and use the floor plan to visualize the space. It is important to know the size and the limitation of the space so that we can present our work well. I learn that plan everything early and carefully is important and it also reminds me to consider different potential problems when installing our work.

    The question is I will share the space with other students, we may have different lighting requirement. There is no curator to coordinate it. In this situation how to make a balance between the different required of the space and lighting?

  5. Sending a thank you note is a great point and I’m glad to have learned about the electronic ones which is greatly more enjoyable in how it feels like an actual thank you note.

    In terms of showing an exhibition…How do we reach out to these museums or galleries? I there a way to get our foot in the door that is as easy as just asking?

  6. I’ve always had a lot of questions regarding professional emailing habits,and this answered quite a few of them. As a person with designated email reply times, I especially appreciated learning about how to acknowledge emails in a manor that doesn’t saddle you up to replying fully to them then and there.

    I’v always wondered: Say you remember an important email you have to reply to or send late at night. Is it appropriate to send the email then, so long as you know not to expect a reply?

  7. Two things that have been briefly touched on this semester that this article reinstated, was the importance of a thank you card and responding to emails in a timely fashion. These are such small tasks that make a big impact on building relationships and a positive reputation.

    What are the different types of walls a gallery can have? What are the weakest and the strongest? Is there anything I should look out for?

  8. I learned that it is really important to discuss with the gallery what you are responsible for doing and paying for and what they will provide. My question is how soon after having an interview you should send a thank you letter? Is email preferable or is a letter better?

  9. Learned that automatic email response can be a useful tool for getting back to people. I’m not the greatest at getting back to people immediately so this will be a useful tool. Are there some things that galleries typically won’t do? i.e., would it be unreasonable to ask a gallery to repaint a wall to display a piece, or should I try and limit the installation requirements of my piece as much as possible?

  10. One thing I learned was to also ask for measurements of the gallery space. The floor plan will help you curate your show but if you can’t fit your pieces through the door, then it’s a disappointment and it doesn’t look like you are that serious about your relationship with the gallery. One question I have is if the gallery has insurance and a piece breaks the gallery will pay market value for the piece, similar to “you break it you buy it” policy? Or does that mean the insurance will help repair or replace the work?

  11. It is very important to read contracts carefully and figure out who is responsible for a piece if it breaks or is damaged. If a gallery is not willing to take on that responsibility should that be a red flag? Should I not send my artwork to them? Or is that a risk you just have to take?

  12. The biggest thing I learned, among many other things pertaining to installation etiquette, is what you as the artist can do to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Lots of small things that I wouldn’t normally think about.

    If my work isn’t covered on their insurance policy, what can I do to make sure I am insured?

  13. I don’t stay on top of my emails as well as I should so something i learned from reading this is setting aside business hours. this way i can try and view them and hopefully get into a habit of checking them within the same time frame .

    i didn’t even think about insurance for my work. if the gallery doesn’t offer insurance is there another way to go about getting some? is it even worth it if the gallery doesn’t offer this?

  14. As an artist who hangs work often, I found this reading helpful in articulating the many things you need to consider when working with a gallery. Things such as floor plans and tool supplies are something that is definitely essential to the work I’ve done in the past. The one part of this reading that is really new to me is gallery insurance. What do you do if the gallery doesn’t offer insurance?

  15. It makes so much sense that the galleries would appreciate the personal touches and signs of gratitude. I have also found when giving installation instructions that it is SUPER helpful to do a mock installation and photograph it or even documentation from a previous installation of the piece.

    How much participation is too far? Is it appropriate to give my phone number in case they have any questions? Am I allowed to ask them for installation images before the gallery presents the work?

    • Good questions. You should absolutely give a phone number, and it is your right- particularly in a solo show, to ask for installation images. Now, if you gave detailed installation instructions as you mentioned- you shouldn’t have to worry too much. Sending photos and videos of your work installed is so helpful.

      If you are in a group exhibition, you have to give it up a little more, because the curator is using your art to tell a story- thereby kind of making it a part of their art.

      Most galleries (if run well), will send out installation images to all their artists before the show opens anyway

  16. I have always had a lot of anxiety with the nonverbal, yet formal aspects of emailing, this reading made me learn the importance of this communication. Keeping in contact with who you are working is important and now I know a few ways to work around these anxieties.

    Should we write a new thank you card every time, or is this something like the mailing list where certain situations you send a pre written thank you letter and for others an individualized thank you letter?

    • I think you answered it. Yes- send a prewritten thank you letter for some, and for others send individualized cards. You will figure out your balance. One thing to do no matter what is to send thank you’s to galleries when you have a show, and thank you notes following job interviews. It’s also a good idea if you can, to send thank you notes to collectors who attend your exhibitions (when you know about them).

  17. I learned in this reading that being on time is important, not being early! Also keeping in touch with people is important. A thank you note can make the recipient feel special and keep the door open for more opportunities from them. I am now starting to think that I should reach out to some people from my community college and see how they’re doing.
    Question: How independent am I in terms of install and deinstall? Will there always be a gallery preparator to help me?

    • Independence in terms of install and de-install is entirely up to the relationship you have with the gallery. A good rule of thumb though is if you are a part of a group show, it is likely the gallery will be taking care of all that. It is important to provide detailed installation instructions. When it comes to solo exhibitions however, the gallery will often prefer it if you are there to help. The preparator/ gallery manager will likely take care of the heavy lift for this regardless.

  18. A thank you note was something I had not thought of before. It makes sense that keeping up correspondence will be good for future business and personal relations. For tools- do galleries usually have things like levels, drills etc for hanging purposes or should we have our own to be safe?

    • Great question! You should never assume. I would suggest asking whether the gallery has the specific tools you need. If you do not get a response, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I have a tool box with all the things I need to install my own work and generally bring that with me. I have seen a number of artists do the same.

  19. Good to hear that online email thank you notes are acceptible because I always intend to send a handwritten note and am often not sure where to send it.

    My question is about insurance. Is it important to define what constitutes “broken” work? I was just at the new glass now show and they talked about a piece that was selected where the mechanics stopped working and wondered who was at fault? Who in that case is a fault professionally? I suppose it depends on the circumstances but is it important to define those circumstances in a contract? Essentially assuming everything that can go wrong and assume the worst?

  20. I feel like the key element to this is staying responsible and accountable when dealing with any institution showing your art. Don’t miss deadlines and be on time when it comes to contacting people. This is basic stuff but once you get busy it can be harder to stay on top of, thats why calendars and extra reminders don’t hurt!

  21. Emailing is something I really need to think about more. Maintaining a schedule for responding, and stating when I take care of correspondence I think is a good idea. As for the exhibition set up I will definitely keep this in mind.

  22. I have always worried that it would annoy a recipient, especially in a professional context, to only acknowledge that I received an email that requires a longer response. I know that not answering even in a shorter way in a timely fashion reflects poorly on me, so it is a relief to know that an acknowledgment is acceptable when it is necessary.

  23. I should definitely work on my emails, especially with creating a standardized signature and automatic reply. I continuously put things like that off and should bite the bullet and actually do it. Whenever I see a standardized email signature, it screams professional. Using ~Jaqui isn’t enough anymore.

  24. As a former art installer I would also plead with my fellow artists to consider how your work is going to need to be handled, what installation requirements will the gallery need to know about, and how you can facilitate the correct handling of your work. A good set of installation directions can save everyone a nightmare experience.

  25. I definitely learned that keeping track of emails is important, especially with follow-ups and thank yous. Is there an easy/simple way to set up automatic responses, even if you aren’t “on leave?”

    Additionally, what tools would you consider necessary for gallery installation?

  26. One of the things I really need to do is gain experience in exhibition design. Working in a gallery is a very popular career option for practicing artists. I hope to take advantage of the opportunities offered at Alfred next semester.
    Personally, I dislike when people have automatic, I am out of the office emails. It is irritating to see one pop up when all I sent was a thank you. I’ll see that I have a message in my inbox just to find out it’s one of those automatic responses.

  27. When it comes to who does the PR and marketing for your exhibition, how often or under what conditions does it occur that the gallery takes care of that? Does it depend on the gallery or how well known you are?

  28. It seems interacting with venues is a fine balance of timeliness, communication, graciousness and assertiveness. I have interacted with a few organizations but never a gallery. I am sure the professional skills carry across venues.

  29. I learned that efficient communication with venues is really important because you can make sure they check all of your boxes and are a good place to show your work. And be appreciative of their work by sending thank you notes, a habit that I already practice.
    If you are trying to get a show at a venue that is a little bit sketchy, for example they don’t have insurance for your work or they are bad at communicating details about the space or marketing/PR, would it still be a good idea to show there when you are just starting out?

  30. I didnt know that it can also be harmful to send work to galleries too soon. I feel like that should be spoken about more, as it probably isn’t as thought of during the process. If you send someone a thank you note, should you expect to receive notice when they have gotten it, or is it typically to not hear anything from them afterward? Asking because I’ve never gotten a response from my thank you letters and just want to know if that is normal.

  31. I find email to be so overwhelming sometimes. I like the idea of just having a vacation reminder that let people know you will get back to them. Email also seems to get used in ways that it is not intended. email is an extension of mail. Thus an extension of long term communication. Are there other professional platforms that are set up more like a chat with the ability to send and receive documents securely? It seems that often email communication can turn into a long chain of hard to understand back and fourths, particular in a group email.

  32. I agree with Lukas about email being overwhelming and liking the idea of setting a message to tell people im only checking it a couple times a week.
    I had never heard of sending a thank you card after an interview but it was an interesting idea, who would you send it to, the person interviewing you or the actual organization you are interviewing with or too the person who got you the interview?

  33. So much here is helpful. I think it is really helpful to be reminded of being considerate of other people’s time. Since in some cases a member of a gallery might have to be present while you are installing your work, I could see how frustrating it would be to have an artist take forever. Sometimes I can get a bit frazzled when someone is around and watching me so it is a nice reminder that I should be prepared ahead of time so I do not waste another person’s time.
    I was wondering since email correspondence is so important, is there a certain email site that is better to use? For example, is gmail the best option or is there something better? I know that my Alfred account should be valid forever but I wonder if at some point should I stop using my college email professionally?

    • Great question about the email. I think you should migrate over to a gmail account. Or another Outloook account. Having is fine for now, but may confuse people going forward. Are you a student? Do you work there? etc. Keep your Alfred email anyway- but have it forwarded to your new address. Some websites will also allow you to make an email address that’s still using gmail probably, but named with your website.

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