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How to Hold A Pop-Up Art Show

Lots of artists, especially emerging artists, are always on the lookout for new ways to gain exposure for their work and to exhibit and sell their creations. One great solution is to organize a pop-up art show. This can be as simple as setting up a folding table somewhere to display a couple of small works of art for a few hours, or as substantial as taking over an empty retail space to exhibit a significant collection of pieces for weeks or even months. Either way, the label of “pop-up” shouldn’t be misconstrued as spontaneous or easy. A successful pop-up, like any type of art event, requires a fair amount of planning and promotion. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Creating a Vision

Perhaps a good place to start is to decide how big of an event you want to do. It’s probably a good idea to start with a one-day event that requires only a small space and minimal set-up. If you like it and it works well for you, then consider hosting a longer event lasting days, weeks, or even a month in which you exhibit 20 or more works of art.

Finding a Venue

Your vision will dictate what kind of space you go after, but you’ll want to target spaces that get good foot traffic. Ask friends and family to help you connect with people who might be able to offer a small space, such as a “store within a store,” if that’s what you’re after. (I once saw an artist with a pop-up table set up inside a cookware store, which she was able to secure because her daughter knew the owner.) For larger spaces, such as an empty storefront, retail store, or other vacant space, you’ll probably need to contact the leasing agent. In addition to negotiating the best possible rent, you’ll want to ask about things like security and insurance. And when you close the deal, get it all in writing so there’s no confusion if something goes wrong.

Scheduling Your Pop-Up

Although you can hold a pop-up pretty much any time of year, it’s not a bad idea to consult a local events calendar before setting your date. There could be other events going on, such as a street fair or festival, that will help bring more foot traffic to your art sale. It’s also nice to time your event to coincide with a gift-giving holiday, such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas.

Reflecting Your Brand

Given that this is a temporary deal, your displays don’t have to be fancy. However, the space does have to be clean, inviting, and well-lit so that visitors feel comfortable spending time looking at your work. Beyond that, look for ways to give people clues about your brand. In fact, you might want to keep your brand in mind when you’re selecting the venue. (I went to one pop-up in a retail store that had been stripped down for remodeling, leaving a lot of exposed brick and pipes. It was the perfect setting for the urban, contemporary, nonrepresentational art on display.)

Promoting Your Pop-Up

The key to success is going to be a lot of advance promotion, so use every possible means to get the word out. About six weeks before the event, you’ll want to send press releases to all of the local media outlets, and be sure to post your event on all online event calendars for your area. Then, about four weeks in advance and continuing right through to the opening, invite everyone you know to attend the event by posting it on social media, sending out e-newsletters and/or e-mail blasts, and mailing out postcards to your snail-mail list. You can also let people in the vicinity know about your art sale by putting out flyers and postcards in the week or two leading up to the event. For a longer-running pop-up, you’ll also want to have some kind of sign made, including the dates, that you can set out a few days ahead of time. Above all, encourage your friends to bring their friends to your pop-up so you can reach far more people beyond your immediate circle.

Seeking Help

Depending on the scope of your pop-up, you may need help from a few friends. In addition to set up and tear down, you might also need assistance with an opening reception/party and with “gallery sitting” on days when you can’t be there.

Launching Your Pop-Up

Okay, you’re ready to pull the trigger and hold your pop-up! Be prepared for making sales by getting some kind of gadget to charge credit cards through your smartphone, and know what your other sales policies will be. (Here’s a link to a list of decisions you should make in advance.) If it’s a longer event, consider holding an opening with all the trimmings. And of course, keep your guestbook handy so you can collect more contact info for your mailing/e-mail mailing lists and grow your network.

If you’ve had any experience with staging a pop-up sale, we’d all love to hear from you! What works, and what would you have done differently? Let’s connect!

P.S. From beginners to pros, all artists are invited to sign up for my FREE weekly e-newsletter, which will give you plenty of tips like these and more. Click on the blue triangle above to subscribe!


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