Episode 286 – New Markets for Artists / Over Two Months of Follow Up

Over Two Months of Follow Up

Starting in May, I began to email and call her at least twice a week, sometimes more. After a month I was amazed that I had not heard back from her. What I found even more troubling was that I was calling her cell phone and I could tell by how quickly my calls went to voicemail that they were not being accepted manually, most likely. After almost another month of this I was starting to get worried. Did I say something wrong? Like everyone else, I began to think I had somehow messed up my chance, but I couldn’t understand how. I knew that even if I had messed something up, I still wanted a response. I felt I deserved an answer, and even if she had changed her mind for some reason, I wanted to know. So after about two months and at least fifty emails and calls I changed my pattern—change is sometimes necessary in cases like this. After starting the email in the usual polite manner, “Dear X,” I said that I was concerned that I hadn’t heard from her and that I hoped she was all right. Then I continued the letter as usual.

A Response

She wrote back the next day saying she was sorry, that she was writing a book and had been out of the office more than in, and finally that she had called the people at the other museum and they were waiting to hear from me. Isn’t that remarkable? I was beginning to doubt her interest in the project, but she was just very busy, and I was not a high priority. So that was a story involving a high-level curator. But of course, I could have stopped writing to her much sooner, and clearly that would have been a mistake.

This next story is quite different.

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 285 – New Markets for Artists / Get an Answer

Get an Answer

You always deserve an answer to your letter, even if they do not have the time or inclination to meet, so I would pursue them until you get one. Sometimes artists tell me that they don’t want to offend people by calling so much, and that they are afraid of burning a bridge. That should not be a concern. Even if you did lose a new contact, one person who doesn’t want to speak to you will not ruin your career. It is unnecessary to fear angering someone by pursuing them politely. If your intentions are honest and good-willed, and you are being professional and sincere about wanting to work with them, why would they be offended? Your tenacity should encourage them. When you keep writing to people, you are showing passion and drive, and people admire those qualities and respect the people who possess them, so please, do not worry about bothering people. As long as you follow what I have said here, you will succeed in most cases and save yourself the heartache of feeling ignored and rejected.

Talking to a Major Curator

Here is a story of how I got into a major New York museum that also has a museum in Europe. I had met the curator once, and I had a meeting with her at her office by contacting her as I have outlined in the previous pages. She told me she didn’t work with contemporary art like mine, but she enjoyed looking at it, and she visited my studio shortly afterwards. I didn’t ask her for anything at the time, but two years ago, I decided to call her because my wife and I had an idea for a show in their Europe museum.

The Phone Call

I called her cell phone and she picked up right away. I told her who I was and she remembered me. I explained our idea for their Europe museum, and I wanted to know who I could contact about it and how I could reach them. She told me that our proposal sounded interesting gave me the contact information I would need. But she also told me to hold off on contacting them because she would call them first to explain who I was. Four days later I still hadn’t heard back from her, so I wrote to remind her that I wanted to contact the other museum, but was waiting for her to send confirmation that she had spoken to them. Then, I proceeded to follow up with the process I outlined earlier.

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 217 – New Markets for Artists / Writing to a Curator

Writing to a Curator

But here is another story about someone I was pursuing through Facebook while writing this book. I added a curator as a friend and sent him a message asking if I could interview him for my radio show. He wrote back and said OK, but he was traveling, so he told me I could contact him the following week. That was after we had exchanged about three Facebook messages. 

When I followed up with him the following week to set a time for me to interview him by phone, he didn’t answer me. I wrote to him on and off for another two months and I never got a reply. I couldn’t catch him on live chat either. After I had written many unanswered emails he eventually replied and said he would be happy to talk and that we should pick a time. He apologized for being busy. I did the interview, it went well, and I now consider him a friend.

I wanted to include this example because this is what happens in the best of circumstances. I knew this guy wanted to be interviewed on Yale Radio, which hosts my radio program on the arts, but the fact is that most people will not return email and calls unless you are persistent. It is a fact that seems counter to reason, but I have found it to be true on many occasions. I have interviewed many businesspeople who have said the same thing: You must call and write to people over and over again. So for the people that do not have an interest in knowing you (like the guy I was interviewing), you have to work harder still.

How to Follow Up

I learned about professionals’ approaches to this kind of active networking by talking to businessmen and women who try to make new contacts all the time, and also from a friend who had recently quit her job. My friend, who is a fundraiser with a successful history, felt she was being harassed at her job and went to Human Resources. The Human Resources person asked her not to press charges and instead to take their comprehensive coaching and placement package for as long as she wanted until she found the perfect job. It was a generous offer, because it meant she would be given the personal coaching she needed to land the perfect job, for as long as it took.

I read over all the materials she had been given and there was a section on following up that nicely summarized what I had heard before from many different people. It  mentioned that when trying to get an interview or meet someone, the most common complaint was that people don’t call back or return emails. Their solution to this problem was straightforward: Never say that you will just wait for their call; always say you will follow up. That means at the end of every letter you send and at the end of every voicemail you leave after you have sent in a résumé or an application or a set of images, you must say something like, “If I don’t hear from you, I will call (and/or email) in two days.” Then you contact them in two days. It could be the very same email you first sent, with a note added to the top saying you are “following up on the email below.” Then you can end it by saying you will follow up with a phone call. Go back and forth this way until you get a response. You could change the subject of the email to “Following Up.” This is really a polite and professional way to contact someone without being a stalker. For most people, this kind of persistence will make you seem very passionate and determined. I send letters and do follow-ups twice weekly. That means you can call or email on a Monday, and then again on a Wednesday or Thursday, and do the same the following week. If it really goes on for months you can sometimes take a week off—but not more— until you get a response.

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.


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 107 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / What to Discuss

What to Discuss

Will you discuss your project? Now that we have some sense of what a project is, you can decide if you are the kind of artist that wants to talk about that. If you do, then of course decide first what your project is. Let’s say it is the project where you want to exhibit your paintings and also have some type of entertainment with the opening or even part of the exhibit. The entertainment, jugglers, let’s say, help reflect what is happening in the artwork as well, or have some connection to it. It could also be people meditating in the room. If this is the project, then the reason you would like to meet Ms. X or Mr. X from the museum party is to discuss a project, an event that you could use advice on. One of the key words there is “advice.” Keep in mind when you are sending emails and asking people for a meeting, what you want is their advice. Be clear about this in your email to them asking for a meeting in a café or their office. If you have to elaborate with them on the phone, just say it is an art event  that you are planning and looking at different options to produce it, and you would like to share the idea with them and ask their advice. Then you actually have your meeting, and you discuss your project.

To present your project at a meeting, do the following: Bring a sheet of paper that has the project described on it in brief terms. The kind of text you might see on the wall of a museum, explaining what you are about to see, written for the general public. With that sheet of paper, bring no more than six printed images that represent your project. I strongly suggest you bring even less, like three images, and your page of text, in total. What you will do is talk and show only a little bit. That is why it is very important not to show images on a computer unless really necessary. This meeting is about building a relationship, not a lecture on your work. So bring something to the table in a manila envelope with your sheets of paper. Bring an extra copy of the text. After sitting down, first talk a bit about what the project is. You are a painter and you want to have an event and bring in different elements to build excitement and to have a memorable time. When you are ready, you can show your friend a few of the eight- by-ten images you have printed out. Do not give them the text yet, just talk about the show and how you see the whole project coming together. After answering any questions, it is time for you to ask a question.

In this instance, your question might be, “Do you know of any venues where I might create this event?” Then wait for an answer. This is the kind of question that can get you a lot of help because the person you are talking to can evade his or her direct help by offering you names or resources to go to. You could also ask, “Do you know who might be interested in getting involved with a project like this?” Again, the idea here is to get pointed in different directions, to other people or institutions. Because after you are done with this meeting, you will ideally have a few references and leads in your hand to make other relationships. And now it is getting personal, because so-and-so just referred you to someone and you can use their name. That is one example of how to present a project to a new acquaintance that might be able to help you either through their primary network or business or by referring you to a friend or resource. This tactic will work for curators as well as collectors or those just interested in the arts. Let’s move on to other things you might ask them.

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 97 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Preparing for a Meeting with a Curator

Preparing for a Meeting with a Curator

The idea is to get a meeting with a curator, any curator at the museum, and this is what you will do once you get the meeting.

You will prepare yourself for the meeting in the following ways:

  1. Bring a printed image, not a laptop with pictures on it, but a printed image and preferably less than ten, on eight-by-ten sheets of glossy paper (or a similar size). They can be print-outs from your computer, but keep everything very neat and organized. Do not bring original work or anything that is awkward. The idea of this meeting isn’t to evaluate you or your art, but to make a proposal.
  2. Decide what you are going to ask the curator. Yes, you are going to ask them a question, because if you don’t ask them something, you will have a pleasant meeting that will end with the curator saying, “Thank you and let’s keep in touch,” and you do not want that! You want something more valuable from the curator, which is a reference. But what will you ask? What will you propose? This is the fun and creative part. It depends on your medium, of course, but think about how you would like a show of your work to look. How many pieces would you put in that show? Will the show have a message? Is that message political, personal, spiritual, or something else? When talking to a curator, it is easiest to talk about ideas, because quite honestly, talking about art is difficult. It is usually difficult for the artist as well as for the person viewing the art, so talk about ideas.

It’s about Ideas

Make your idea succinct and understandable. Perhaps you are telling them you want to have a show of paintings or sculpture or something else. Say exactly how the show would be put together and why it will be exciting. Tell them why you think the show is important. You should be able to say all that in less than one minute. Then wait for the curator to respond with something like, “Oh, that is interesting.” Then tell them that you want to present this show, do they know of any venues that might be appropriate for it? Wait for an answer; do not jump in with nervous talking. This method gets the curator off the hook from having to talk about their museum, and most likely there is little they can do for you there. However, they know other people that may be able to help you, and they might say something like, “Oh, you should talk to X, that gallery might like it, and also X, because that is a space that encourages dialogue,” or they might even say, “So-and-so at this museum might be interested.” Whatever their answer is, explore it a little, ask more questions if you don’t understand something they say, and take notes! Then thank them and leave.

The Pen is Mighty

When you get home, write them a brief thank-you note. That is the way I got a solo show at the Whitney Museum, which I will go into detail on in chapter 8. I made an appointment with a curator I did not know, and I did not bring in any images at all. I described three ideas to the curator, and she told me two places for the first two, and for the third, she suggested another curator at the museum! It is really that simple if you just make the meeting and think of something to say. We are all interested in ideas, and especially when the person talking about the idea is enthusiastic and positive. When I talk about ideas to a curator, I am very excited about it, like I was as a child getting a new toy that I always wanted for my birthday. People are very attracted to others who are sincerely excited and happy about a creative project; it is the life force we all desire and live for.

We have covered how to present your work to a museum, either for review (if they have a policy for that), or by talking to a curator about your ideas. Presenting your work in these cases is fairly straightforward, with the exception of talking to a curator, which is more creative and personal.

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 96 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Presenting to Museums

Presenting to Museums

For museums, which are usually not for profit, what you are looking for is two things. One, you want to know who the curators are there. You want to know their names and what they have done in the past. It should be easy enough to find their names by looking at the museum’s website. If that is difficult, go to the museum and ask who the curators are for contemporary work. The other thing you would like to know from a museum is if they have a policy for looking at the work of new artists. You can write them a letter and simply ask that. Now let’s go to the next step of this situation. You have a list of the museum’s curators, and you have a sense of the shows they have, and perhaps they do look at the work of artists. If they have a policy of looking at work, simply follow their rules. Usually they ask for a letter, images, and a biography of yourself. Keep in mind that most museums that have policies of looking at artists’ work are usually not exhibiting those artists right away.

What they do is look at your work so that they can understand more about what is going on in contemporary art. Also, even if they like your work very much, they will want to see more. Normally you will get a letter back from the museum stating something like, “Thank you, please send us an update in six months.” The reason they are saying that is so they can see how your work evolves, and also to see if you are professional enough to keep sending them work on a regular basis. The next step with museums, which you can do at any time in your career, is to target a specific curator. In my experience, it is easiest and best not to target the top curator.

Look for a new curator at a museum, someone who is probably young and handles something that might not even apply to you, like booking performances or music. Write to that curator directly and ask him or her if you could meet with them to talk about a project that you would like their feedback on. I always ask if I can meet the curator at the museum café at lunchtime for about fifteen minutes. Usually that is hard to say no to. It is also helpful if you Google the curator and find out something about their past so you can make a reference to it in a letter showing that you know who they are! The letter might look something like this:

Dear [Curator’s name here],

I just read your text on the paintings of [artist’s name here; find this by researching on the web], and I thought you did a great job at articulating the importance and subtlety of her work.

I am writing to you because I would like to have a brief meeting with you at the museum café to tell you about a project I am involved with. It would take about fifteen minutes and will be easy. I value your words and the way you approach your writing and hope you can have this brief meeting with me to hear about an idea that I would like your advice on.

Is it possible to meet on [date] at [time] in the café? Sincerely,


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.