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.