Do you regularly visit your local public art gallery? Studies of the past decade indicate that women are more likely than men to visit art galleries and have formal art training, yet less likely to have their work exhibited or acquired for a public art gallery’s permanent collection. The gender pay gap happens to be larger in the arts than in other industries, too.
Not that I raise such a topic to criticize our male counterparts or create division within our community — quite the opposite, in fact! We are all part of the solution, and the legacies of the past offer us a baseline for launching into new directions.
To be sure, the art gallery arena is certainly changing. These spaces are no longer the domain of gilt-edged oil paintings, marble statues and awkward whispers. Instead, they are evolving into vibrant and inclusive community hubs, particularly in regional areas where they are more likely to meet an even broader variety of the community’s creative and cultural needs.
It’s an exciting time, as renewed interest in the arts and crafts has fostered a growing appreciation for the creative contributions of women, both past and present. More than ever, you will find art galleries filled with textiles, ceramics and fashion sitting comfortably alongside newer media such as digital works and graphic arts — all by an increasingly diverse mix of artists. There is an expanded vision for what a public art gallery can (and should) display.
So, why not get involved and show the world what you make? You do not need to be a full-time professional artist working in traditional media. While opportunities for exhibitions by emerging artists may be greater in regional public art galleries, larger metropolitan institutions should also offer options. This may include display cabinets within the art gallery or CBD areas, opportunities for pop-up creative events and partnership projects with library gallery spaces and community centres. Most public galleries are happy to chat about what they are looking for, the likely timelines and what you’d need you to provide for them.
Some reasons you should consider submitting an exhibition proposal?
- It’s in the interest of public art galleries to exhibit works from broad cross-sections of their communities, and gender balance is important. It’s about more than just what’s being made; it’s also about who is making it and why.
- Visibility is a key factor in career growth.
- It will challenge you to create (or gather) a body of works suitable for display.
- It offers the potential to expand your audience base.
If the idea of a dedicated solo exhibition or display in an art gallery doesn’t seem to be a good fit for you, why not try one of these ideas instead?
- Pitch a themed group exhibition to the gallery with like-minded colleagues, or offer an inventive concept of your own choosing, such as a pop-up event within the gallery spaces in conjunction with creative theme days (for example, ‘World Wide Knit in Public Day’).
- Offer to run some talks or workshops that complement their programming.
- Enquire at gallery gift shops about stocking your work for sale.
- Approach a local café or business to exhibit your work.
- Contact councils, shopping centres or commercial real estate agents about ‘borrowing’ space temporarily for curated displays in vacant window frontages (not always possible, but worth enquiring about and great fun).
- Collaborate with another creative to deliver a project that is visual and public-facing, such as a painted mural in a local community garden or other urban area. There may even be grants available to cover material costs.
Always remember: the world needs to see what you have to offer, and you need to be your own biggest fan in promoting it. There are plenty of traditional and unusual opportunities to get yourself out there, meet new people and have some fun along the way. So…what are you waiting for?
Drawing from diverse backgrounds in health, science and the public art gallery sector, Liesl Harvey’s passion lies where the creative industries intersect with business and audience development. She explores a variety of relevant topics and shares inspiration from around the globe via her Instagram account, @thedailyculturepreneur.
Opening image: "Mutual Abstraction" exhibition works by Hannah Fox and Bec Smith. Photo by Martina Gemmola.