Many of us have done it, most of us have considered it, some of us have just dreamt about it: mounting a solo show. This is the 8th in a series of posts about the nuts, bolts, dos, don'ts, lessons learned, opportunities missed, psychological trauma and euphoria of mounting a solo show; the why, where, when, what, who and how.
THE HOW, Part 3 - Receptions (Work it!)
Your opening reception will most likely be where you make the majority of your sales - either right there at the opening, or later, as potential buyers have time to ponder what they saw at the opening. Getting folks there is half the battle, and you've done the work of advertising the opening (see blog posts 6 and 7 in this series). So you want to make sure you've also done the work of setting up and working a successful reception.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
One of the most important things you can do is time your reception correctly. 2 hours is the maximum length of time you should hold your reception. If it goes for longer than that, you will get people straggling in all night long and you will never feel that you have gotten a crowd there. And a crowd is important, as it creates an atmosphere of importance to your event. In addition, especially if the event is held on a Saturday, people generally will plan to do something else that night, so you don't want them to feel they are tied up too long. 6:00 to 8:00 is an ideal time. People can get there from work and/or still feel they can go to dinner afterward.
WHAT TO SERVE
What you serve may well be dictated by your venue. If your show is at a restaurant, cafe or coffee shop, you will most likely be paying the venue to provide the food and drink. Most people attending an art opening will expect to have wine available, and I can't stress enough the importance of having wine - it adds to the festive atmosphere and creates an aura of professionalism and sophistication at your event. You don't want your guests to feel as though they are at a student art show. If food and drink are not provided by your venue, and you will be providing it, you need not put out an elaborate spread. In fact, I recommend you do not. You are not providing a meal, and guests will not expect it. Fancy, elaborate, overly abundant or quirky themed food will take away from your art. You want people looking at your work, not spending all their time gathered around the food table.
A simple platter of cheese, crackers and grapes, and perhaps another of bite-sized sweets will be sufficient. Do not provide plates, as this encourages people to focus on loading up and going back for food - and do make sure all your food is bite-sized so no forks are required - just napkins. I recommend having both the bar and food on one table - and with just one or two platters, this is totally do-able on a 6-foot table.
If your venue will not be providing a bartender, arrange to have one there - hire a college student or press a friend into service. Again, this adds an element of sophistication to the event. Since you will just be serving wine and soft drinks - and perhaps beer - the bartender job is an easy one, limited to opening bottles and pouring.
There is debate about whether to serve just white wine, or to serve both white and red at art receptions. Many galleries, especially if they are carpeted, prohibit red wine because of staining. It is totally up to you and your venue whether to include both red and white, and whether to include beer. I have one friend who is always relieved to see beer at Gallery Underground's receptions - providing beer to a non-wine-drinker just might make you a friend and customer!
Of course, always be sure to provide water or sparkling water for those patrons who do not drink alcohol. And unless you want all your profits to go into wine, be sure to use small (9 oz) plastic glasses and instruct your bartender to limit the size of the pours. You also don't want tipsy patrons crashing into your artwork!
WHAT TO WEAR
This most likely goes without saying, but you want your opening to be elegant, and you want to project an air of professionalism. You are an artist, so of course people won't necessarily expect you to dress like a banker - BUT, you do not want to be in sloppy, overly casual clothing either. You want to project the attitude that you take your work seriously and that they should to - and your clothing should reflect this, so by all means, dress up - this is your big moment! And you will most likely find that your guests will be dressed up for your opening as well.
For more information about having a solo show at Gallery Underground, please visit our website: http://www.galleryunderground.org/about/show-opportunities/.
Sandi Parker is an artist who works in both traditional oils and abstract acrylics. She is the Co-Director of Gallery Underground and has mounted 3 successful solo shows: in 2007, 2010 and 2016.