How to submit art to a public gallery

Malcolm Wang

Malcolm Wang breaks down the process of submitting to a public gallery in easy to implement steps.

By Malcolm Wang

This month I’m the featured artist at the Novi Civic Center public gallery in Novi, Michigan. This is my third year exhibiting there. I have thirty-five photos from my new portfolio in the exhibit. My city is very supportive of my artistic growth.

Some artists might not know how to submit their artwork to a public gallery. I would like to explain how to do that. I have learned a lot by preparing my photos for shows.

If you are not sure if your city has a public gallery, try calling or emailing the public library or City Hall to ask where artists can submit their work. In my city it is handled through the Parks and Recreation department.

The first thing I do is I make lots of art.

I visit state parks and take photos while hiking. Yesterday, I hiked for two hours and forty minutes deep in the woods, and I took pictures of trail markers and wetlands. In the wetlands, the water was like a mirror, so I took pictures of reflections in the water. I also like to visit galleries and museums. I see many different artistic styles and different ideas.

I first noticed public galleries at the Novi Civic Center and in local libraries when I was four or five years old. When I make artwork, I have all of these ideas in my mind. I specialize in nature photography and I process my photos on Photoshop. When I have a finished photo, I add it to my portfolio. I have one hundred and twenty photos in my portfolio right now.

Malcolm Wang Teasel

If you don’t have enough art for a solo exhibit, then you can submit a group portfolio with some friends or classmates. Or you can submit one entry to a juried show. One time, I submitted my photo Kaleidoscope 3 to the Body and Soul exhibit at the Matthaei Botanical Garden and it was accepted. Another time I submitted my photo Three Dogwood Blossoms to the Northville Art House Student Art Show and it won second prize. These shows are good learning experiences for beginning artists, because you can learn how to prepare a single entry for the gallery.

Malcolm Wang American Bullfrog

Then I look for places where I can submit my art.

Most public galleries have a jury that decides which artists to feature. My city prefers local artists. When I applied to my city, I had to write an essay and submit samples on Dropbox. I did not know how to use Dropbox so I created an account and I learned how to use it.

In my application essay, I mentioned the name of my city where I live, and I wrote that the city could celebrate autism acceptance by showcasing an autistic artist. The jury liked my artwork and statement. Some artists might be nervous about asking questions about their application.

It is important to follow all the rules on the application but it is okay to ask for more information.

For example, it’s okay to ask when the jury will make a decision, or what type of artwork is preferred, or how long the artist statement has to be. When I ask polite questions, I am developing a professional relationship. These relationships will help me in the future. Cities like to plan ahead. My exhibit was scheduled for seven months after my portfolio was accepted.

Malcolm Wang photography

I used the seven months to prepare my photos. The city gave me instructions about wiring photos for a gallery. I tried different types of frames but I prefer photos on canvas. Photos on canvas have a soft pinewood frame inside, which is easier to wire than other frames.  I sign and label each photo, and I wrap it in bubble wrap so that it does not get scratched. I store my artwork a safe place so that it does not get damaged.

About one month before the exhibit, I was asked to submit a complete list of all my photos, with the size and price for each photo.

The city gallery helps me by giving instructions about set up. I was given a date and time to set up. The city provided the hardware for hanging my wired photos and the little cards with information about each image. My mom and my brother help me unpack and hang each photo. We alternated abstract photos with photos of flowers. People really like to buy photos of flowers, so I have a lot of wildflowers in my new show. We matched up the cards with the photos. We made sure everything was straight. It took over an hour and we were working really fast.

My favorite part is the opening reception. The city hosts a one hour reception for the featured artist of the month.

I invite everyone I know to the reception: friends, teachers, and people from my therapy group at the Living and Learning Center.

At the opening reception, I love to talk to all the people about the artwork. My art makes people feel very happy inside, because it is all about peaceful nature. Some artists might not like an opening reception. Some accommodations artists can make are to keep it quiet with no music, to only invite a few special people, to schedule it for a comfortable time, and to sit down in a chair and just talk to people quietly. If an artist needs special accommodations, he or she could contact the jury after the portfolio is accepted, and explain what is needed. I would like to see work from autistic artists in every museum and public gallery that I visit.

Here is a quick summary of how to submit work to a public gallery:

  1. Make art. If you don’t have enough art for a one person show, then you can submit one entry to a juried show or submit a group entry with other artists.
  2. Ask your public library or city hall if they have a public gallery. If the answer is yes, then ask what the process is to apply.
  3. Follow the rules on an application, but it is okay to ask for more information.
  4. Most places prefer a digital portfolio, so make sure you have digital images of your work.
  5. After your work is accepted follow the gallery’s instructions about preparing your artwork for display.
  6. Submit a complete list of your items for exhibit at least a month before the show. Be professional in your communication.
  7. Arrive at the correct day and time to set up your exhibit. Bring someone to help you.
  8. Have fun at your opening reception! If you need accommodations, ask the gallery director in advance so that there are no surprises.

Biography of Malcolm Wang

I am a high school student in Novi, Michigan. I have been taking photographs of nature for six years. I have exhibited at the Novi Civic Center, the Northville Art House, University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Garden, Barefoot Theater in Livonia, Michigan and the US Department of Education. I was diagnosed with autism when I was three years old. 

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