Saturday, November 20, 2010

How to plan an art exhibition: To do/Check List

Are you thinking of having your own solo show, and want a guide to help you plan your timeline? I have compiled a sequence of tasks to be completed and when from my experience from working as a committee member in an artist run initiative, student exhibition participation and my first solo exhibition experience.


Generally most exhibitions are planed between 1 to 2 years depending on the Gallery location. Some exhibitions can be executed in a short timeframe of 6-12months or less. This timeline for planning an exhibition is based on approximately a 12month timeframe with room for flexibility. I am using the example of my own first small solo exhibition.

Countdown to exhibition…

12months plus to go 
   Start establishing your idea and theme. Do this by brainstorming or mind mapping. 
   Research your ideas. Create Thumbnail sketches. 
   Research potential galleries 
   Research potential funding sources 
   Draft up a budget (source quotes for; gallery hire space, materials, photography,  invitations, postage, catering, courier/delivery if required 
   Apply for gallery space 
   Apply for funding

12months to go 
   Further research, investigation and exploration of ideas. 
   Start sourcing materials (i.e. canvases, paints). 
   Begin painting if you are ready. Even if it is just priming (Gesso) the canvas ready

9months to go 
   Start working on paintings if you haven’t already done so. Have 2-3 being worked on at the same time so while one is drying another one could be worked on.

3months to go 
   Design and draft invitations
o   Have a general idea of invitation design. Consult a graphic designer if required to draft up invitation designs. Or if you’re doing it yourself, start thinking about it.

2months to go 
   Finalise invitation ready for printers 
   Start sourcing contacts for mailout if you haven’t already. It is a big job.
o   Tip: Create an Excel spreadsheet as you can merge your information into Word later and print no fuss on sticky labels. This helps save heaps of time and you don’t get hand cramps then!

6weeks to go 
   Send invite to printers. Allow 2-3weeks buffer for corrections and changes, the printing process and their level of busyness 
   Write an artist statement 
   Update your website with information on your upcoming exhibition

4weeks to go 
   Complete final touch ups and changes to artwork. Start varnishing completed paintings if you haven’t already done so. 
   Start drafting artwork details for price list 
   Start writing exhibition statements (brief blurbs on each artwork about inspiration, technique, subject matter etc) if required

3weeks to go 
   Organise catering.
o   Depending on your launch date (if it is the date of the install or a week later as typically the case) allow for 4weeks notice to caterer of; budget, food requests, estimated number of attendance, time etc. 

Package invitations for mailout. Add invite, business card.

2weeks to go 
   Ideally be finished painting. Get artworks ready to hang 
   Update your website and other online social networking sites with photos of your artwork and information about the exhibition.

1week to go 
   Email contacts and media with invitations and artist statement of upcoming exhibition opening and launch 
   Post mail out of invitation in time for launch (usually 2weeks before launch, however 3-4weeks depending on your art scene) 
   Get installation bag ready (artist statement, exhibition statement, price list, extra picture hanging equipment for emergencies) 
   Touch base with caterers. Pay deposit or complete payment


Week 1 
   Get launch night bag ready (DL price lists, extra invitations, business cards, receipt book, pen, guestbook) 
   Send reminder emails of upcoming launch -1 week away.



Download the above information from this document exhibition timeline countdown 

Click the image below to see a visual chart of the exhibition process timeline

This table highlights possible timeframes to complete tasks as outlines above.  

  • Aim to be finished 2-4weeks prior to your installation when planning your timeline. Take into consideration school Holidays if you have kids, Visitors visiting if your live far way, Illness is your susceptible to getting colds and flu’s and bed ridden
  • Try to have a plan B. For instance, if you catering venue should close down who would be next in mind. If your art space losses it’s funding, could you still go ahead with the exhibition and where could you have it?
  • Start collecting your contacts as your progress through the exhibition to help ease the burden of searching for them in one goes. It is a big job.  Add people from art organisations, fellow artists, if you’re a past student at institutions, family and friends, newspapers.  
  • Marketing is crucial. Advertise and promote your upcoming exhibition every where as you reach a wide audience and hopefully get those people attending your exhibition.
    • Look for FREE event listings online.
    • Contact your local art organisations you’re a member of to publish in their e-bulletins and e-newsletters
  • Keep your invitations and business cards on you always to hand out. You never know when it is a good opportunity to network.  

Here are some useful links I have come across in my searches:
Exhibition Development Timeline
Exhibition Planning Fact Sheet by ABAF
How to set up and run a successful artshow by Glen Wooten.
Artists Exhibition Kit by Brimbank
Exhibition Kit by Gigantic Art Space
Exhibition Timeline by Artinsight


  1. Greetings from Nigeria!

    This piece of information was really useful. thank you.
    keep it up!

  2. Hi Chrissy! Thank you a lot for this great countdown. I will adapt it to my own needs but this is a very helpful starting point (well actually more like 3/4 of the way)!

  3. Awesome awesome awesome. Thank you so much for the info on how to hold an exhibition. I've been looking for a checklist for a while and am really happy to find this one. Thanks again.

  4. Thank you for this very helpful information and for your time!


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