Episode 162 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Offering Donors Something Special

Offering Donors Something Special

One of the first ways I decided to get sponsors for my work shortly after I graduated college was not by the example above but by asking them to pay for artwork in advance. This is something you could do right now, and it is one of the easiest ways to get funds fast. Write a letter that begins with “Dear Collector,” and send it out to everyone that has ever bought any art from you. Send it out to family members or even friends who you have given your art to, because they are all “collectors” of your art whether they realize it or not. If you can only come up with five or ten people, including family, that’s OK; send it to them. When I wrote my letter, I sent it to a few people that had bought my work as well as my girlfriend’s father at the time. I was making abstract mono prints then, about thirty by forty-five inches, on paper. All the prints were in fact originals, much like selling paintings on paper. In the letter, I began as I mentioned above and then quickly explained that I was working on making a series of prints. I also said that I was writing to them so that I could make a large edition of work and that I had an opportunity and an offer I wanted to make. I explained that normally my prints sell for about $1,000. Then I said that I wanted to make them a deal if they bought work in advance. If one print is $1,000, then five prints would be $5,000, and I would also include a handmade box that they would all go into. The total cost for them was only $2,000! I put all the numbers together very much like that. I said that if they supported this now for $2,000, that I would send them $5,000 worth of artwork and a handmade box worth $200 dollars. I knew where I could get the portfolio boxes custom-made for me, at about that cost. I sent the letter out to fifteen people, and five of them sent me checks—that was a fast $10,000!

I was offering them a financial deal that seemed to be a very good investment. The actual numbers I put at the end of the letter again so the deal was clear to them, that is, for $2,000 now, you get over $5,000 in art and a custom box shipped to you. I was thrilled when I got the $10,000. This was the first time I had ever asked for money, and it worked. With that money, it was easy to make the custom boxes, which cost me $1,000, and then I had another $9,000 to make art. That made a lot of art indeed and also paid bills, took me on a short vacation, and more.

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 161 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Keeping in Touch

Keeping in Touch

One of the most important things is to keep in touch. If for some reason you have not heard from the person you sent a letter to, then call them up! It is polite and professional to make a call and ask an assistant if they have received your letter. You just need a yes or no. If they have received your letter, then continue to wait for a response. If after two weeks you do not get a response, call again, and if they already told you they received your letter, ask if they know the status on your letter and if it will be reviewed. That is polite, and you will get an answer. After you do get an answer, hopefully with a check inside, be sure to send a beautiful thank-you note back right away. The note can be brief, but make it very sincere. If you cried when you got it, out of joy, tell them. If you began screaming and saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” then tell them. It is OK to be excited; in fact, it is what they want to hear. Just put yourself in their position for a moment. When you give someone a present, what do you want in return? How do you feel when they say, “Thanks, you shouldn’t have,” as opposed to “Oh my god, I can’t believe it! Thank you so much! I love you for this!” Wouldn’t you rather have someone gush, even if it is over the top? I know I would, and generally the people you are writing to feel the same way. They want to feel happy, and they want to feel that through you. Once when a donor sent a letter to me with a check in it, I quickly sent a text to her personal phone that said, “Wow, thank you! Your help has put a tremendous breeze under our wings, and we are soaring because of you!” I also sent her a letter, but since I had her cell phone, I sent a text as well. She wrote back right away and said, “I love hearing that, it sounds beautiful.”


That is what I do, and it is quite simple and very human. We all want to feel that people appreciate us, and the more we hear it, the better. Can you tell someone too much? I don’t think so. If you sent someone a letter every week saying how much you appreciate them in different ways, do you think they would find that annoying? I know I wouldn’t. The more we hear that someone appreciates us, the more we want to help that person to keep the gratitude coming. Just like giving presents. When someone has a wonderful reaction to a present we give them, we want to give them more. It is a natural reaction. We all want to be happier and more grateful even if we don’t acknowledge it. We want to be more alive and share in the enthusiasm of others; that is why being enthusiastic and grateful to those who support you will take you very, very far.

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 160 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Charm


Once I was talking to the avant-garde theatre director Richard Foreman and I was asking him about raising money for different projects. He started to tell me about Jonas Mekas, who is the director and founder of Anthology Film Archives. AFA is a building in New York that is dedicated to showing avant-garde films. It is a nonprofit institution that was founded by an artist with the help of many other people. Mr. Foreman told me that Jonas Mekas was great at talking to wealthy people at parties. He said they used to call him “Saint Jonas” because he was so sweet to everyone, and they loved him. Foreman said Mekas was able to ask many people for large sums of money to support other artists, and they gave it to him. I never learned many more details of this story, but it is clear that part of the way he raised millions to build his institution was to befriend people in a charming manner.

You can start writing a letter today. Think of what you need money for: to complete a painting series, or make a new sculpture, or for the development of some other project or dream you have in mind. Then write it down and get into it, get excited about what you are writing, and express that with enthusiasm so the person you are writing to feels it and comes along for the ride. Then when you send updates, continue the excitement of your accomplishments.

Don’t Be Negative!

A special note here is to remember not to be negative or say that you need the money because you are broke. The reason for that is simple; people want to fund your dreams, not pick up the pieces. They want to attach themselves to someone who is flying, not get on a sinking ship. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Put yourself in the position of donor again. If you are about to give a small or even a large donation, you want it to really make a difference, you want people to be happy and grateful, and you do not want it to just be a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. The last note about writing a beautiful letter is to come up with other ways for the letter to stand out. I often use sealing wax on the back of the envelope and I use a coin to stamp it. It looks beautiful and is one more way your letter is standing out from all the rest that come in. Or consider scenting the letter lightly with perfume!

I also do not usually mail a letter like that with the address on the front as I would with a normal letter. Sometimes I do, but generally I put the letter in a FedEx envelope or in a priority mail envelope. That way it is protected and will usually be opened first as well.

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 159 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Sending the Letter

Sending the Letter

Then I did much of what she said. I went to the art supply store, and I bought a few pieces of beautiful paper and an envelope to match. Then with a nice pen, I wrote out a letter explaining that I was having a show and that I needed $2,000 to complete the budget. She mailed me a check for $500. Then I sent her a thank-you note, also handwritten. Six months later, I asked her for funding again, in the same manner, and this time she sent a check for $1,000. Every time I asked for more, she gave me about 50 to 75 percent of what I was asking for. The amounts kept increasing. Now I count her as one of my regular patrons who gives me significant sums every year. What I have learned from her is that you have to build a relationship over time.

Sometimes I hear artists saying to me, “I know this person is a millionaire, and they could easily write a check to me for $10,000.” That may be true, but that is not how millionaires function, especially those with foundations that have to give in a responsible way. The way giving is done is in small amounts that keep increasing, and the reason for that is so the donor can watch how their funds are being used. Imagine you are a donor; wouldn’t you want to make sure that your money is spent wisely? If an artist asks you for $10,000, and she is a person without much money to begin with, how can you be sure it will be spent wisely? They might promise you the world, but the only way to know for sure is to give her a small amount of money first and see what she does with it. That is what you can expect from someone you write to that has a foundation, so expect that and ask for a small amount to help you build a relationship.

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 158 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Using Your Contacts

Using Your Contacts

The next step is to go home and keep the cards you collected in one place. As soon as you meet someone and get their card, go home and send them an email within twenty-four hours. Even if you don’t get their card, remember to look up their names and find a way to send an email to them. You might not find their personal address, but you can probably find a company address for them. Write them a polite email saying that you enjoyed meeting them and that you would like to keep in touch and give them a link to see some of your images. Then keep going to openings; you will see them again, address them by their first name, and ask them how they are and talk again about what you are seeing. This is the way I do it, and it is one of the basic ways to make new friends in a setting like this. After meeting them twice, you can begin to ask them to lunch or tea and get to know them better and tell them more about who you are. See chapter 3 on presenting yourself for more information on what to do at the lunch meeting.

The idea, of course, is that you are making friends with people who can help you, and the next step is to ask them to help!

Writing a Beautiful Letter

Once, when I met a trustee of a museum that I wanted to talk to further, I asked her at an opening if I could call her and ask her advice on a new project I was working on, and she said yes. I tried calling her several times and only got her assistant. Then I asked her assistant when the best time to catch her was, and she told me between 7:30 and 8:00 am. Since then I have found that the time to get people who have assistants is in the thirty minutes just before the assistant arrives.

I called her back at that time and I said hello and reminded her who I was, and said that I wanted to ask her a quick question about fund-raising. I proceeded to ask her how I should go about asking people for money for my artwork. She was very forth- coming. She told me that in her experience, there were several things that were needed for her to give money to an artist for a project. She said that when artists send her beautiful letters, she responds. By beautiful letters, she meant that the letter was handwritten on beautiful paper, in a beautiful envelope. And the letter itself was long, chatty, and asking for a specific amount of money. She said that when people send her letters like that, she not only writes back, she saves the letter because it is so beautiful. Now there was something very important that she mentioned about how much money you are asking for in the letter.

Like most people who are involved in the arts and give a significant amount of money to the arts, she has a foundation of her own that administers how the money is given out. That means that you can search online and see what her foundation has given to in the past. She said it was important to her that people knew who she was and what she gave money to and how much she had given. The reason for that, she said, is so that people don’t ask her for too much or too little money, but an amount that makes sense. She also said that she doesn’t like it when people only write to her for money and don’t send her letters in between giving her friendly updates. And, at the end of our talk, which was about twenty minutes, she said, “When you get the letter done, send me a copy.”

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 157 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Introducing Yourself

Introducing Yourself

So let’s take it one step at a time. You have your list of people you want to meet who are potential supporters, and you have printed out their pictures so you recognize them when you see them. Now you are at an opening reception, alone. Don’t bring a friend or you are sure not to meet the person you are seeking, or even someone new, because you will be talking to your friend the whole time. Look around at the whole scene. See if you recognize anyone from your research. You may or may not see someone, but look. If you don’t see someone you know from your research, then be a detective. You can tell who is the wealthiest by the clothes they are wearing, their shoes, their watches, and other accessories. Now is the time to be brave; you really have nothing to lose here. If you recognize someone or they just seem like they would be a good patron from their dress and attitude, go up to them, be confident, and hold your head high, extend your hand for a firm handshake, and say, “Hello, my name is X, I’d like to introduce myself.” They will shake your hand back, and all the while, look at them right in the eye and be confident.

If you act too nervous or skittish, you will make the person you are trying to meet feel the same way. So do your best, and after introducing yourself, if they do not introduce themselves right away, ask them, “May I ask your name?” They will tell you, and then you can begin a brief conversation. Ask them what their favorite work in the show is and listen carefully to what they say. Respond to their words thoughtfully. If they say they do not like a particular work, ask why. Then in the conversation that ensues, offer your own thoughts. Don’t make jokes, curse, or say anything negative. Be upbeat and enjoy yourself. They will most likely ask what you do, and that is your opening to say that you are an artist. If they do not ask, then you can say, “I am an artist.” And then add your own comment about the show and why you came there.

Don’t talk too long because you want to end the conversation gracefully, so take out a business card and hand it to the person you are talking to, with the printed side facing them so they can read it, and say, “I’d like to give you my card.” If you don’t have a card, by the way, print some now! You just need your name and email address and either the word “artist” on there or something about your medium. I prefer just having the one word “artist” on mine. Then ask if you can have their busi- ness card. They will usually hand it right over to you, but even if they do not, tell them it was nice talking to them and to have a nice evening. Then shake their hand firmly, smile, make good eye contact, and move on to another person the same way. If you didn’t get their card, remember their name and write it down a piece of paper. At first you will feel awkward doing this, but after a little practice, you will get better and better, and before long, you will be collecting many cards from people who could be potential patrons of your art.

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 156 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Preparing the Budget Sheet

Chapter 9

Working with Sponsors and Private Patrons

Isn’t this the holy grail for artist funding? To have a private patron is the dream of many artists. Or at least they believe it is. It has the ring of what we imagine a trust fund would be like, or the romantic stories we have heard about artists living off the regular patronage of one wealthy donor. The truth is that the relationship of artist to wealthy donor is still alive and well, and it is something that I use to support myself. I will outline how you can create that kind of relationship. Like any other methods, it will take work and dedication, but it can also be fun and very rewarding.

Who Can Help?

First, there is the question of who could possibly help you. Depending on where you live in the world, you have to begin to make a list of people who could be potential patrons. Generally, these are people with an interest in the arts and deep pockets. One of the places to meet them would be at your local museum or art institution. Go to the openings at all museums. Go to opening receptions at any center as well as art-related events. Remember who you are looking for; people who don’t look like the artist’s friends, people who look like they have money! The way to organize yourself even better is to keep a list with pictures of everyone who might be a potential donor. The way to get that list is to begin thinking about who it is in your area that is interested in the arts and has money. One method that I use and mentioned earlier is to go to the museum or art centers and find their website and look at the list of donors. There is also a board of directors listed or a group of donors that are the top level. These are the people you want to meet. All the donors to museums are people who could potentially be a patron and help support your work.

Begin by making a list of the people in your area that are donors to the art centers and museums. Search their names on the web and print out a page with their picture on it. Most likely you will be able to find a picture of them on the web, but if not, just print out a page with their names on it and whatever information you have about them, like what museum or institution they are associated with and what social, artistic, or other causes they donate money to. Then go out and talk to them at parties and at openings. OK, for most of you, that is the hard part, talking to people you do not know at openings. Well, I know it is, and I will give you some steps to take here, but you have to be bold and brave. It isn’t easy for anyone, but this is how the relationship with a patron gets started.

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 155 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Preparing the Budget Sheet

Preparing the Budget Sheet

Before we met with the curators and assistants again about our show, we prepared a budget, and since we are visual artists, we made a picture on a piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper with a pen. We drew one big circle on the paper, and then inside that circle we drew several more circles. On the edge of the big circle we wrote “950K,” meaning $950,000. We were guessing at an ideal figure but stayed under one million to make it seem very calculated and not too over-the-top. Now on the inner circles we wrote other amounts that were the numbers that added up to 950K. There was a book we wanted to make, the cost of building it all, and salaries of people to help us. There was one circle that said 22K, and that was titled “Installation Cost.” The rest of the costs were mostly for a film we wanted to make of it all.

When we went to the meeting where we were supposed to talk about the budget, we brought our sheet of paper with circles on it outlining the grand budget. As I pointed to the first number, 950K, for the whole production, there were audible gasps. I said, “Don’t worry, we can raise some of the money.” And then I pointed to the circle that said 22K, and said, “That is what we need to mount the show.” Quickly, the top curator said, “We can’t give you more than five thousand, that’s the most we have.” Then the other curator said, “I could probably get five thousand as well.” At that, I said, “Very good, we can work with that.” And in the end, the museum did give us ten thousand to do the show, which was a lot of money for them, and for us as well.

Ask for the Moon

You see, the method here is to ask for much more money than you might actually need, and when you do that, you will find out what the maximum budget for the museum is. In this case, the most the museum could give was ten thousand dollars. And that is the story of how we got that show and began funding it. The next part of that show was how we got the additional funding. In this case, we had some great luck through perseverance. Apple donated equipment generously to the show, as did companies like Bose and Gibson, to name a few, along with private patrons. I will write more on sponsorship and how we got those companies to get behind this show, but first let’s wrap up what happened here.

I began by writing a cold letter to a museum curator and asking for a meeting. At the meeting, after giving three proposals and asking where to exhibit them, I was pointed in the direction I wanted, which was to a top curator. Then, with careful planning, my wife and I were able to talk about the show further, develop a budget, and get the museum to commit to a certain amount of support and a date and time for the show. It is a clear process that you could follow. In the next chapter, I will explain how we got funding for the show.

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 154 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Questions


Then we were asked a slightly bigger question than we had expected. The top curator said, “Well, what would you like exactly in terms of space and time?” We hadn’t thought about that beforehand, so fairly quickly we just asked for the moon. I said we wanted all six thousand square feet in the space where we were sitting, including the galleries off to the side, and we wanted it all for at least a month. She nodded her head and took notes. We were thanked for coming to the meeting and told that they would be in touch. As of that moment, the show was being considered but was not in the bag by any means. We had three more meetings before we signed a contract for the exhibit. We were asked if we could do the show in two months. We said no, that was too soon to prepare, and they said the only slot after that was a year from then, and we happily said that was the spot we wanted. Then we spent a year working on the show. When the show finally went up, it was billed as a “commission” by the Whitney Museum, which we liked very much and were surprised by, but we also understood that how a show is publicized by the museum is up to the museum for the most part, not us.


One of the questions we had over the course of several meetings with the curators was how much money the museum would give us for this show. We knew this was a tricky question because there is not a set amount that artists get in most cases. However, we had a method for finding out exactly what they could offer us. In many cases, the museum will only give you a portion of what you need, even if they are commissioning it. When we were in the group show at the Whitney Biennial, we were given a $400 budget. That was of course very little, so like many artists, we had to do fund-raising beyond the show. That meant that if we needed a tent built (and we did), we would ask the company that made it to donate that to us (and they did). There was even an artist in that show (the Biennial) that the museum commissioned to do a huge installation, but the museum would not pay for it. However, because it was a prestigious show, the artist was able to ask sponsors from all kinds of places to help pay for the show, and they did.

Now in the show that I am talking about in this chapter, which was a solo show in a giant space, we had to come up with a budget. This is how we did it and is also how we found out what was the most they could afford.

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 153 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Curator Writes Back

The Curator Writes Back

After I sent in that email, I got an email back that said the curator wanted to meet me and my wife and talk about what we had planned. We were extremely excited about this meeting. We knew there would be several people there, the original person we met as well as the main curator we wanted to meet and prob- ably a few assistants. To prepare for the meeting, my wife and I talked about what we wanted to do. However, we were not exactly sure what we wanted to do yet. We knew it would take much more time than we had until the meeting to plan the show. What we did do was to make one image that we would bring to the meeting. It was a very simple image of the doors that led into the space we might use, and it had the name of the museum above those doors. Then, in a very simplistic way, we printed out an image from a movie, I think it was an old classic with Cary Grant, and I physically cut that image to a size that could be pasted over the picture of the door. The effect was that it looked a bit like the image was projected on the doors. This was not done with Photoshop; it was a real cut-and-paste. The image itself didn’t say a lot, but it was the one piece of paper that we brought with us.

The Second Meeting

At the meeting in the museum, we were at a round table with two curators and three assistants. The top curator asked us what it was we were thinking about. We began saying that we wanted to create a space where people walked in and were able to step through the sculptures and the effect would be dreamy. We used a lot of adjectives and talked more about the experience of the viewer and less about what we were doing precisely. We showed our eight-by-ten piece of paper with the picture of the museum doors and the image pasted on top of it. We explained it would feel like walking through an image, or at least through doors with an image on them. The image was passed around, and everyone commented on it, saying that it looked very interesting. Of course the whole idea was still just being formed, so they were reacting to an idea of what it might be, not any images of the art itself. They didn’t see the sculptures we were going to make, and we couldn’t provide many more details.

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.