What are the main costs to organize an art exhibition?

Some of it depends on if you are the artist, organizer, or gallery owner/director.

  • Artist: Usually framing is most expensive. (Even if you do it yourself and get frames on the net.)
  • Artist: Shipping and transportation. Even if it is in the same city and you use a good inexpensive shipper it can cost about 100 and hour, usually around 400–500. I use this shipper when going cross country:
  • Artist and Gallery: Printing a catalog. Between $600–$3000
  • Artist and Gallery: shared or independently The cost of the space, sometimes not applicable.
  • Gallery: Catering the reception. $500- crazy high amounts.
  • Gallery: BOOZE at receptions $$$$$
  • Gallery: Staff at the reception.
  • Artist and or Gallery: Sending out invites and marketing. This could be postcards (very ineffective cost wise) benefit is low. Advertising in papers and magazines. (Believe it or not very not cost effective.) Facebook is best but advertising can cost. Tumblr, Facebook groups, blogs etc. Staff to do that stuff.
  • Artist and or Gallery: Painting and hanging costs for labors, paint, brushed, dropcloths, ladders, etc.
  • Gallery: Lighting? Bulbs are expensive.
  • Gallery: Schmoozing artists at meals, coffee, after party?

I used to run a community college art gallery but more relevant is my experience as an artist:

Here’s some text from an older post that describes my money experiences with exhibiting work:

Whenever I’ve had a gallery show I have ended up spending almost all of the money that I made from sales in that gallery on: shipping the art, helping with gallery promotions (catalogs, postcards, and travel expenses.) I am leaving out the costs of actually MAKING the art such as supplies and time. In each instance I usually sold between 2 to 7 works and sometimes these pieces went for as much as $5000. So my art was not cheap and sometimes on a show I would sell around $10-$15,000 worth of work.

Sounds good doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. The breakdown is: the gallery take is 50% on each sale, which is standard. I don’t begrudge the gallery because they pay overhead expenses and are also investing in me. That would leave me with around $7000. Shipping art to a gallery—especially out-of-state—can cost as much as $1000-$2000. So now I’m down to about $4000 in my pocket. Next, if it’s out of town, factor in airfare and hotels. I think you get the point. Plus, at the end of the year, I get hit with taxes on the original amount.

So, even though it looked like I was a successful, selling artist, I was only really pocketing at the most (and this includes studio sales) around $8000 at the end of the year. At the time, I was lucky I had a tenured teaching position at a community college, making $110,000 a year. In fact, I used my art career as a write-off at the end of every year to decrease the taxes I pay. My wife and I are not big spenders and I managed to put aside some money for retirement which I wasn’t going to touch until I was 62 or 63. By selling work online for the last five years or so, I was able to figure out our finances and “retire” at 52 and I can afford to paint full time.

I want to bring up one notable exception. It took me about five years, but I completed a graphic novel and each one of the panels was a separate watercolor. Just after I retired, Will Wilson, director of a community gallery in Tracy California, offered me a show. The show included a stipend as well as extra money for painting a mural and they took care of most of the other costs—including a hotel if I wanted. So I walked away from that show with a considerable profit. Thank you William Wilson!

Read the rest of the blog post here (also has a video):
How to Identify Different Exhibition Venues Part 1 Museums and Art Centers

I have a course on marketing art and running galleries that I used to teach at Ohlone College when I ran the gallery there. Here’s a link to the on-line version of the class I used to teach.
Art and Art History Academy

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