Episode 152 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Last Question

The Last Question

Then came the very last proposal and question. I told the curator that we wanted to do a large-scale exhibition with sculptures as well as sets that enable the viewer to enter into the space and have a new experience. While I was saying all this, I was enthusiastic and excited about what I was saying, and I also kept my thoughts and ideas brief, under three minutes each, usually less. After describing the last idea, which I was most excited about because of the scale and size of it, she knew what I would ask next and said, “Oh, Shamim might like that project and the museum has a large, six-thousand-square-foot space that could accommodate that.” Of course I was thrilled at this suggestion, and I said, “Yes, that sounds perfect,” to which she replied, “I could just tell her [Shamim, the curator], or do you want to send me something?” This was an interesting point in the conversation and very telling about how I presented all this. She was saying she had enough information to pass on this idea to another curator without having any more information from me. That meant that my pitch to her was succinct enough that she could remember it. That is one of the keys to getting quick results. Be clear, be compelling, and also make it short enough to remember. My answer to her was that I would send her an email when I got home about the show that she could pass on to the curator.

Following Up

Before I explain what I sent to her when I got home, let’s look at the big picture. If I had started right off with something direct, like, “I want to meet X, can you help me to meet her?” or if I had started right off with the big project, I may not have gotten the results I was after. But by starting small and being brief, I not only worked my way up, but the situation also became more relaxed as we became more comfortable with each other. When I got home, I wanted to send her something that she would then pass on to the curator I was interested in. Rather than send her links to images or a website or anything else, I sent her a simple text. I made two separate texts. The first I called “Brief Summary of the Praxis Project,” and in one paragraph, I described what it was. I wrote that paragraph as if it were a listing in the newspaper. By that, I mean I wrote it in third person and I described it in a way that made it sound like something interesting to go see.

That is the challenge that journalists have when summing up shows for the listing section. How do you make a listing seem compelling enough to make someone want to go there? In this case, I was fairly straightforward and just described it as though it were already happening. I titled this short text “Brief Summary of Exhibition.”

It read like this: “The artistic collaborative of Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo creates a sculptural installation so large you can walk into what feels like a Felliniesque set, complete with sculptural elements and a movie. The result is like a surrealistic amusement park for adults.” That was the brief description. Then below that I added another description that I titled “Extended Summary of Exhibition.” In that summary, I added more details to make it exciting, but never got too specific, partially because it hadn’t been done yet, and I wasn’t sure what we would do exactly.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 151 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Prepare for the Meeting

Prepare for the Meeting

When we had our meeting with the curator, my wife and I prepared ourselves by coming up with three exhibits we would like to have—that is, three different ideas, on different scales. One was small, one was a bit bigger, and the third idea was huge, and that is the one we wanted to do most with one of the top curators there at the time. This is a strategy you could adopt no matter what your medium is. If you are a painter, and you want to have an exhibit, think of three different ways to exhibit your work. For example, you could hang one painting only that is large and stands on its own. Your second idea could be to hang three to five paintings that are based on a theme, perhaps a theme of color or other elements. Your third idea might be to have a show of twelve paintings that need a room of their own, because they tell a story or are a meditative series or have an idea behind all of them. That is what my wife and I did when we met the curator. The first thing she asked was, “So what are you working on?” We had our answers to that question prepared. We began by saying that there was a small project involving a few new works that we needed a space for.

Asking the Question

And when I finished talking about it, I ended by saying, “Do you know of a venue where a show like that would be appropriate?” She paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, you should try X, they are wonderful people there, and this might fit.” You see what happened? I did not ask her for a show, I paused, and I asked her if she knew of a venue to show this work. If you do not ask a question, you won’t get an answer. Also, by asking her if she knows of a place outside of the museum we are in, I do not back her into a corner, and she can tell me what she knows. This is a very important point because if I had just asked her if I can I have the show here at the Whitney Museum, that would create an awkward situation, because for one, she might not be in a position to give me a show, and two, even if she were, that is a bit too direct in my book and runs the risk of making her feel pressured. On the other hand, to ask her advice opens the door to any connections she might have in a comfortable way.

After she told my wife and me of a few places, we told her about another idea. Now remember, we had thought about all this in advance, and we are not showing her images, just telling her about three ideas for exhibits. Then we move on to tell her about another idea, and ask her the same question after we finish: “Do you know what might be a good venue for that?” She tells us of another place, and I take notes by hand at the table where we are sitting.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 150 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Getting a Solo Show at the Whitney Museum

Chapter 8

Getting a Solo Show at the Whitney Museum

This is the story of how I got a solo show at the Whitney Museum of Art simply by asking. And in the end, they called it a “commission by the museum,” which sounded even better. The story begins with my wife and I wanting to have a show at the museum. We have always done all our work together, calling our collaboration “Praxis.” We felt that we wanted to do something that was on a large scale, was sculptural, and also had video involved. We discussed many ideas between ourselves and decided we wanted to do an installation where we created large sculptures that created the effect of entering a fantasy space. Our idea was that we wanted people to feel like they were walking into a movie, that is, to imagine walking through a movie screen and entering into that fiction. The idea was not really formed completely, but we wanted to try and secure the show with what we had (an idea).

The Beginning

The first step was to decide who we were going to write to and what we would say. At the time, there was a curator there named Shamim Momin, who is still one of the top curators in the world. We wanted to have a show with her, and though we did not know her, or anyone at the museum for that matter, we decided to make a time to meet someone from the museum. We went to the museum’s website and began looking at who was curating there. Of course there were several curators, and we didn’t know any of them. We decided to write to a curator who was new there. The reason we did that is because we thought the likelihood of getting a meeting with the top curator was slim. She is someone everyone wants to meet, and finding another way to her was our strategy. We emailed the new curator and said quite directly that we wanted to meet her for tea in the museum café. That is our particular method that you can use. First find a curator who is not so busy that they can’t have a meeting with you. This could even be someone from the educational department of the museum even, but find somebody who is not famous or very busy. The reason for this is that if they are interested in you, then they will pass your name along to the curator that you do want to talk to.

The Meeting

Getting back to our story, we wrote to the curator of events, who was new, and asked her for a meeting. The reason we always ask for meetings in the museum café is because it makes it very easy and it is hard to say no to. The letter was direct and clear, and we asked for a fifteen-minute meeting over tea. She accepted and we got a babysitter for our son and went to the museum. We did not bring a portfolio, a computer, or any images at all. The reason is that when two or more people are looking at images, they are not talking to each other, and in my experience, that is what counts, the talking, the relationship. Typically when an artist shows a curator their work, it is awkward. They look at images, maybe you explain a bit of what you were doing, and the curator says politely, “Thank you, please send me updates of your progress.” And that is the kiss of death because it is a conversation ender, and your meeting is over. Instead, be prepared with explanations and questions.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 149 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Your Own Event

Your Own Event

Now let’s look at what she has done and how you could do some- thing similar. To begin with, something gripped her, emotionally, about what was happening in the news. Something inside her was moved to make a difference. That was the starting point and that is the gem that you want to possess. To be inspired! For myself, I find that reading the newspaper daily often gives me inspiration in the strangest places. Sometimes I find it in the obituaries where I read about someone’s amazing life accomplishments; other times I find it in the real estate section where there are often short profiles about the people who are renting some fabulous place. It can pop up almost anywhere. The important thing is to be searching, to be curious, and to be on the  lookout.

I found it in an odd place recently. I was in the library with my nine-year-old son, and as he looked around, I found myself in the “junior readers’” section and I began browsing biographies of famous people meant for young readers. I picked up a biography of Bob Geldof, the musician who was once in the Boomtown Rats. It was an easy read, fairly short, with lots of pictures in it. After reading what he did, I was amazed and energized. He was watching BBC News in London and saw all the famine in Africa, and not unlike the previous example of the artist wanting to save a forest, he wanted to help in Africa. Was it really that simple? Yes. As the story goes, he wanted to help and decided to bring many well-known musicians together to make a song. He began making calls, asking other people if they would like to help him, and then he cowrote the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It was a huge success, and he raised millions of dollars, was knighted, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize!

His story is not unlike Susan’s in that after he got an idea, he began calling people. He was not a very famous or wealthy person. When you call people and tell them that you have a project that is raising money for a cause and you need help in a specific way, usually people are very happy to help. It is the opposite of reaching out to someone to ask if they like your art or will exhibit your work, because you are not asking for something that is self-serving like showing your art, and people have an easier time responding positively. You are asking them if they want to help, in a personal way, with a project you are doing to raise money for a social cause.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 148 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Starting Your Own Event

Starting Your Own Event

This is a way of creating a temporary stream of income that can be fun and as creative as you want it to be. The idea is that you decide what you are passionate about socially, like helping stray dogs, troubled children, a local charity, saving trees, or anything like that, that people could donate money to. Here is a story by an artist, Susan Brown, who got very inspired about saving a forest near her.

Here is the gist of what happened as she explained it:

Reading an article in the newspaper at night in bed about an old growth hundred-year-old forest in town that the community hoped to save from development and devastation, I was infused with the desire to do something, so I thought, “I can make a painting of the forest and offer it to raise money by having a raffle—to raise awareness as well as raise money. The painting would be an ambassador for the forest.” I could hardly sleep I was so excited. I called the Nature Conservancy-type organization that was trying to help acquire the land to preserve it. I went that day to their offices with samples of my work, met with the CEO, and got approval to parade the painting around the region with their endorsement. I called a dozen businesses, banks, etc., and they all said that yes, I could display the painting, and that they would collect the money. In less than forty-eight hours, everyone said yes, and I needed to make a painting! I was stunned in my enthusiasm to remember that I was making abstract paintings—I didn’t paint trees!—and I had promised a representational painting of the forest! So I went to the forest and meditated with the ancient trees and a vision and tagline came to me: “Leave the trees.” I took dozens of photographs and pasted them on the wall of my studio. I talked to the  trees  begging  them  to  help  me and inspire me to represent them. In the composition is a large “grandmother tree.”

I knew this was an important image for the painting and I was nervous about pulling it off. I asked the tree to guide me and went to work. I love to paint to music, and so I put a CD on. It ended so quickly. It seemed to last only a few minutes. I put on another CD. It was over in what seemed to be a few minutes, again. This happened for five CDs! I essentially went so deep into the moment that I lost all sense of time, and I had no memory of painting that tree! None! I only remembered changing the CDs. It was amazing. At the opening event for the culmination of the fund-raising (concerts, etc.), the forester who had to mark all of the trees for cutting, when looking at my painting, had an epiphany/communication that he said came from the grandmother tree. He started crying with joy and knew that he would not cut a single tree from the forest if he was hired to do so. Luckily, money was raised and the trees were not disturbed. The painting raised approximately $2,000, selling $10 tickets, and raised a lot of awareness about the local environment.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 147 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / A Muralist

A Muralist

Having someone who is your partner in business can be a big help. In the above example, I talked a bit about finding someone in another business that is sympathetic to yours and then marketing your services to their email list. This is a different take on creating a partner. One thing people need when building new homes is often murals in children’s rooms or someplace else. Stores and restaurants need them as well. Instead of going around to each store or finding clients one at a time, make a business partner out of someone who already knows those clients. If you put a small book together of what your art looks like and can make a nice presentation that you would be impressed by if you were a homeowner or store owner, that is the first step. After you make a decent book, either use the original or, better yet, go to a copy shop, have it color-copied and spiral-bound. Be sure to have all your information in there, like how to contact you for an estimate, etc.

Now begin making calls to local contractors and interior designers and tell them what you do; you are an artist and are available for murals and other artwork on the walls of clients’ homes. Tell them you want to work out a commission with them so that they get a percentage of anything sold. Ask for a meeting so you can discuss the details and show them your book. Once you get a few of these people to take your book and your card, they will do the hard work for you! If they have a client, they will show them your work. The important thing with relationships like this is to keep in touch. Let’s say you have three contractors and two interior designers who have taken your book and have said they would like to work together. Your book could be anywhere in their office and isn’t the top priority. However, it is professional to send them an email once a week, preferably at the same time on the same day. In your weekly email to them, just say you are still offering your services and send them an image. This is marketing made simple. In order to be effective, you have to simply send an email once a week to your clients, stating that you are available for working. That once-a-week email should only be going out to the list of contractors and interior designers. Occasionally, personalize a letter to someone you are expecting work from or have talked to recently.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 146 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Fiscal Sponsor

Fiscal Sponsor

A fiscal sponsor is one solution. That means there is another nonprofit or NGO that is willing to receive the donations for you. The way it works is fairly straightforward. If you are asking people for donations that you would like to be tax-deductible, or if you want to apply for grants and other funding that is only for organizations that are exempt from paying tax, then you request that the donation be sent to another organization, which then gives it to you minus a small percentage. That is what a fiscal sponsor is. There are many organizations that do this for artists all the time, and they take between 8 and 10 percent of the total amount donated for their services. That is generally fair because they have to deposit the donation, write you a check, and do all the books themselves. There are several institutions that do this type of fiscal sponsorship, but you can go to any local organization that is nonprofit or the equivalent and ask them if they would take a donation for you for a percentage of the total.

Usually everyone will say yes if they understand what you are asking. Tell the fiscal sponsor as much as you can about your project and why it might have a relationship to them. In other words, if you are starting a gallery or community project, then a possible match for someone who would take donations for you might be other art centers or cultural institutions. An idea of an organization that does not match your aims would be the Red Cross or a church or another organization that has little or nothing to do with the arts.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


How to use this site to listen to one or all the podcasts

On this site, Brainard Carey is reading from his books and adding commentary, like a directors cut of a book. New episodes are put up daily, but if you want to listen to a whole book in its entirety, from beginning to end, click here to listen to all of The Art World Demystified, and click here to listen to all the podcasts so far from Making it in the Art World. Click here to listen to the latest podcast series New Markets for Artists.

If you want to hear a free webinar on How to Get into A Gallery and Write better Statements and a Bio, click here.


Episode 145 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Working with Newspapers to Promote Events

Working with Newspapers to Promote Events

A common and fairly savvy way to partner is working with a local newspaper. Charles Saatchi, the advertising giant, did the following campaign in London. He asked a paper, the Guardian, if they would host an exhibit of artworks in one of their rooms. This is how it would work. There would be an open call to artists to submit work to a show that would be juried by the public. It would be announced through email and advertisements in the newspaper. As the art came in, this is what artists would have to do. They had to upload their work to a site (Saatchi’s) and then they had to sign up for the Guardian’s mailing list to get news on what was happening. Not unlike my last example, there is a mailing list collaboration here. You see, after the artists upload their work, they have to tell all their friends to please vote on their work so they will win a place in this show, the idea being that this is curated by the community.

So now take a look at the big picture here. Saatchi makes a proposal that is good for everyone. The Guardian is hosting an art show and telling their readers to pick the artist they like the best. That means there will be plenty of free coverage in a major newspaper. The reason the Guardian is doing all this at no cost is because every time someone votes, they have to sign up on the Guardian website, and they are adding to their email list. For Saatchi, a wealthy man who could have paid for it all, he is getting what he wants too. There will be more publicity for him and his new artist website, and he created a nationwide promotion that will cost him nothing. Pretty sly move, don’t you think? This is a version of what you could do. Of course you could take that exact example and go for it because it will probably work in most cities. However, the main lesson to take here is that you can partner with major media or stores and come out with a win-win situation so everyone is happy.

The way to earn an income stream from these ideas it to have something to sell or just continue to raise money for your gallery. That’s right, no sales at all, just donations from people to keep your gallery going. This is how most small organizations and nonprofits run to some degree. What makes some more profitable than others is how savvy they are at working with other businesses and finding a way to generate more donations and a larger mailing list. This can be very creative. I am talking about a gallery, but you could create a temporary outdoor exhibit for artists or a performance event or almost anything that will engage the community and be of artistic or cultural interest. Is this an income stream that could make you money right away? Absolutely. As soon as you have the idea, you can begin talking about it and raising money. It will take you longer to be an official nonprofit, recognized by your government, but you do not need to wait until that happens.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 144 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Generate Ideas

Generate Ideas

You can say that you are having an auction to raise money; would they (the business you are talking to) be willing to donate a gift certificate for this? The answer is almost always yes. That means a gift certificate for a meal at a restaurant, a hotel room, catering, anything at all. That is one way to begin to build support in your community.

Also, you can think up “cross-promotions,” which means that you say to a hotel or liquor store that you will give a work of art or a discount on a work of art to the person that tells the most interesting story about art or something like that. Radio stations do this all the time. They offer something for the tenth or hundredth caller, and it is a sponsored promotion; they are giving away something like a meal or a room or tickets to a concert. Their goal obviously is to get more listeners who are actively calling in. But a traditional promotion where both parties benefit could work something like this: the hotel you made a deal with tells everyone on their mailing list that if they book a room within a month, or even if they just fill out a questionnaire about how service was at the hotel, then they will get invited to a special opening at a local gallery that is a private affair. Do you get the idea? You are asking a business to work with you on a promotion, and if they send their clients an email enticing them to do something they want, you will offer a reward.

Or you could ask something further. You could say that if the hotel client signs up for your newsletter or mailing list through the hotel, then they will get to come to all the private receptions at your gallery. The goal here is to get a business owner that likes what you are doing and can see the benefit in offering something to his clients that would make them better and more grateful customers. In turn you can get people to sign up for your mailing list and come to your event.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.