Over 2008 I wrote weekly for ComicsVillage.com, during a very exciting time in the UK comix scene..
My columns are concerned with four aspects surrounding comics – social community, economic factors, festival and exhibition coverage and modes of distribution.
Running through August I oversaw an exhibition of the works of ten cartoonists at The Oxford Jam Factory Gallery Bar and Restaurant. With little experience in arts management and administration, I just dived in there and had a go. And it worked, and it failed, and we set examples and there are lessons to be learnt.
Friendships and professionalism are ill-suited for me to expound on the lessons I’m going to impart with examples. Particularly as the experience left me with almost as much bitterness as pride and warm glow. So treat this as a checklist, and adjust in tone relating to the number of exhibitors.
1. You should probably visit the venue a handful of times as a punter.
2. Talk to other exhibiting artists about how the gallery has treated them. Has the show been properly publicised with artists requirements met ?
3. Find out all you can about the gallery. Footfall, clientele, cost of exhibiting and how to apply. Arrange a proper professional business appointment with the gallery owner to do this, and take notes. Take lots of notes. In shorthand. Work those scribbles speeding. Keenest ear, write it all. Bring a colleague so the question-answer-dictation flow can be kept strong. How much does the venue cost and when is the money due? How much commission is to be paid per sale? When are applications due by, and what are the criteria? How tailored would the gallery be to sell mini-comics as well as originals and prints ? Do they have a web sale operation that you could tap into ? Can a full breakdown of items sold be provided so that artists individual accounting can be sorted after the group and gallery’s immmediate business has concluded ? Will the venue be used for anything else which might interfere with the space of certain artworks?
4. When you’re at the stage were it looks like a viable project, insist or demand on full documentation – a written agreement from the gallery about their responsibilites, and any compensation if they fail to deliver on their claims. Also, and this is more important, a written contract, one which details all of the fees and charges the gallery and sales there will impose upon you/your group. In addition to rent space, the big nasty VAT. My recent experiences incurred a hidden 17.5% VAT charge on sales. No laughing matter when placed atop venue space and a 30% commission. Do not rely on a gentleman’s agreement, get it in writing in advance. Also, what will the gallery impose on your selling ?
Enlisting Artists for a Group Show
With smaller venues and long-running shows its important to take into account these pointers,
5. Planning locally ? Think locally.
Local artists should always be given priority. Theyre more inclined to be able to plug in to supporting the facility’s offerings, such as on-site workshops, and ensuring the smooth running of what should never be a one-person operation (not voluntary at least) If the group is spread over areas, regionally clustered sub-groups need and should co-operate and look after one another.
6. The old adage of ‘its who you know’ comes into its fore here. Enlist your friends and those you see regularly. Go with people you can trust.
7. Inform your selection from the outset about the full details of the information you’ve gathered and what their responsibilities will be. Sharing details such as space allocated, advance planning and notification will allow the eventually assembled group plenty of parameters of movement. Construct an electronic information pack and make sure everyone understands the basic requirements of coming on board before the matter is settled.
8. Gather secondary information from your artists. Will they be available at the venue on the opening and closing days to fulfill their obligations ? Are there any holidays planned ? Other residencies or festivals or exams or work obligations theyre pinned to ? This is very important. Use your own judgement of course, but be prepared to be quite ruthless. Any problems must be dealt with as early as possible so that contigencies can be formulated. Collect phone numbers and preferred email addresses.
8andAhalf. Because I’ll be buggered if I bothered re-numbering, though this is IMportant. Again, it concerns the poobah VAT charge potential. If you have a VAT registered artist in the group, approach them about the possibility of putting the collective under their name. If they are willing to do this, they’ll be eligible for claiming all that back afterwards.
9. Even if the event is intended as a group endeavour, were weak spots appear, it assumes the form of a heirarchy. Certain individuals may be susceptible to ‘carrying the bag’ more than others. Don’t stand for it, put the foot down if needs be, and don’t stand for it.
10. Ensure that gallery fees are paid in advance, preferrably on the day of opening. Some galleries are fine being paid 14 days after the shows close. However with a group of individuals each paying a small amount, but one total bill to be met theres little room for hold ups. Its worth contacting the gallery for a bank account name, sort code and account number. In this way non-local artists can at least meet their financial obligations without having to be in the vicinity. Remember though to ensure artists confirm to you that they have made a transaction this way.
11. On workshops, tutorials, artists-in-residence. Talk to the group about these and get confirmations. Getting this set-up early will allow it to be factored into any pre-publicity and opening night announcements.
12. One or two of the artists in the group may be called upon to create a publicity image.This should be decided upon by the group as early as possible. The finalised image should be ready to be sent to the gallery two and a half to three months in advance to allow for changes.
13. It may not be necessarry to inform the public too far in advance of the exhibit. However a week before, flyers should have been well printed and posters should be in sandwich bars. If a gallery includes promotion as part of the deal, do make sure to supplement their efforts using local blogs and events listings, as well as talking to local press contacts. In our work in this area as well as the usual comics resource sites (Bugpowder, Forbidden Planet, Downthetubes and Paul Gravett’s Events Listing), I announced it on my own blog, and on Oxford’s dreamingspires community) Deirdre Ruane prepared an official press release with contact details for community arts contacts and Oxford’s DailyInfo sites. I’d also made a listing on Eventful.com, which has an option to put it around five other events sites.
14. By now frames should have been acquired very cheaply at charity shops or Wilkinsons. Hold onto the little corner edges. They can be mounted onto the wall and used to hold MOO cards or other small contact cards in. Begin your art selection process well in advance, and do not, do not leave the framing until the night before. There are revisions.
15. Make sure all artists are aware of their obligations on the opening day and that all tools required (hammers, nails, spirit levels, frames) are in the vicinity.
16. Any artwork posted in should be done so with the address double-checked, sent recorded delivery. However this detached approach is not recommended as it disengages from group participation and is an unequal distribution of labour.
17. All artists should arrive on time, not two or four hours late. However if they fail to meet schedule, don’t panic! If theres a floor plan, stick with it. If not, adopt a mercenary first come, first served get on with the job mentality. Another upside of having stragglers is that not everyone is clamouring for a small supply of tools at once,
18. Ensure that all artwork is properly labelled, with pre-prepared accompanying price label to a list for its immediacy. The gallery may provide stickers, but as with publicity, don’t wait about, and take the initiative. Make sure pricing instructions are clear. If a piece is not for sale as hung, mark as such. If prints are available, likewise. Make it clear to the gallery as to whether a sold item can be picked up immediately or should be left until the end of the exhibition. Punters should be aware of this also, tell. How much are you pricing your work at? I’d suggest enough that in total it’ll cover your costs four or five times over. Jeremy Dennis suggests, “Price it as much as you’re prepared to let it go for”.
19. Get very very drunk and or enjoying yourself on opening night. Although theres correlations between violence and exuberance you may have worked hard, done a difficult job and you should treat yourself to leaving the stress in history. Besides its much more fun than masturbation and better to talk about. We also had a visitors book and a few cheapo sketch blocks for both artists and visitors to play on.
Sometime after the Morning After The Morning After
19. Workshops, tutorials and artist-in-residence sessions are great for keeping the event live. They can act as an adoptable alternative to opening night, and help to grow the contacts made then. In terms of public awareness, it helps to ensure marker points, rather than just being ‘an exhibition thats running’. Something is happening, and happenings shouldnt run out of sight. Give some serious thought to what you are doing as an artist and utilise the venue to tie into this. A work-in-progress, for example, might be drawn on site, with pages from the booklet exhibited while you go along.
20. Continue to plan in advance. Don’t let a lack of response from one or two folk fuck up everyone else’s plans of having a good time. Jettison dependency on stragglers and move forward with whatever you can.
21. As with before artists should be available for takedown procedure. Its unfair to ask too much of the work to be carried by a minority. Best to find out what this entails. Does spaces were arts once hung have to be pollyfilled and painted over ? Who provides the materials and brushes?
22. Theres a likelihood that the gallery may not be able to provide a full accounting until the day after closedown. Expect this as a plausible delay in payment. Matters between gallery and exhibitors shoulld not remain unsettled longer than 14 days.
23. The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given in creating comics, the only thing you need- “Just Do It!”. Here I’d suggest ‘Just do it. Do it very carefully, professionally and in advance. Don’t do more than you need to. Comics are never a one-man show.
– Andrew Luke