Sunday, January 15, 2017

Calendar of Major Art Society Open Exhibitions in 2017 - and the need for change!

I have a page on this blog dedicated to UK Art Societies: Open Exhibitions 2017-18. This has just been updated for 2017

It now includes:
  • a calendar of deadlines for entries by month in 2017
  • summary details of ALL the open exhibitions in 2017 of ALL the major national and regional art art societies in the UK - organised by:
    • FBA Societies at the Mall Galleries
    • Societies based at the Bankside Gallery
    • Other UK Art Societies - subject specific
    • Other UK Art Societies - media specific
    • Other UK Art Societies - artist specific
    • Other major UK Art Societies not based in London
  • Tips for entering open exhibitions
Below I take a look at "how open is open" and explain why I'll be counting and changing my reviews of open art exhibitions in 2017.

View of an open art exhibition at the Mall Galleries

Reviewing "how open is open?" - an innovation for 2017

The purpose of an open entry

The open entry to an annual exhibition organised by an art society provides:
  • the art society with its life blood of future members.  
  • a stimulus to some 'resting' members to raise their game
  • a venue for emerging artists to raise the profile of their art and interest both galleries and art collectors

What an open entry art exhibition is not

The open entry is NOT a cash cow - used primarily to subsidise an exhibition of members' work.

If it is treated as such - or appears to artists to be used as such - then it
  • diminishes the credibility of the society and verges on deceit
  • attracts adverse and critical comment; and 
  • credible future members will be more inclined to market their artwork elsewhere - online and/or with other open exhibitions/competitions which are much more transparent as to the chances of being selected.

How serious is an art society about its open exhibition?

Speaking personally, an open exhibition for me should be:
  • broadly speaking 50:50 (members:open).  
  • 60:40 is OK but could be improved
  • whereas 75:25 (and worse) is NOT and needs action.
Others may have other views.

My notion of the right sort of ratio is based on 
  • the notion that an annual exhibition need not be the only exhibition an art society holds - and other exhibitions can be member only. 
  • if you describe something as an open exhibition then that needs to be a dominant characteristic of the exhibition - otherwise the Advertising Standards Authority might have something to say. 
From a consumer perspective there are some key indicators of how serious an art society is about making its annual exhibition genuinely open. These are very easy to observe online - before, during and after an exhibition. 

I look to see whether or not the society:
  • has a website page dedicated to the exhibition
  • makes sure its exhibition page is current and up to date
  • gives artists plenty of notice  of deadlines and requirements of entries
  • sells the benefits of exhibiting with the society OR just focuses on the terms and conditions of entry.
  • uses social media to remind people about the exhibition - and shows people the work done by its artist members
Bottom line, a number of art societies have some considerable work they need to do to convey they are serious about their open exhibitions.

However I'd like to highlight two art societies which do well with respect to their website information for non-members:
RSMA Open Exhibition 2016 - in the Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries

Why open exhibitions need to change

There have been a number of changes in the last 11 years that I've been writing this blog

  • Emerging artists now have many more opportunities to market their art direct to the art buyer/ collector than they did some 10-15 years ago
  • the entry process for open exhibitions has changed and become much more accessible. Digital entry is now the norm.
  • the number of open entry artworks selected and hung seem to reduced quite significantly in some of the open exhibitions I review. I'm not entirely sure why this is. It's maybe related to the fact that some societies have downsized the exhibition to make it more economical to run - but without maintaining the artworks hung ratio of members to open entries.  Their focus seems to have been on keeping members happy in the short term rather than on the long term well-being of the Society (see below).
It seems to me that some of the basic concepts and processes underpinning "the Open Exhibition" need to be revisited, reviewed and updated to keep them very relevant to those who aspire to become professional artists - and future members of the art societies.

The need to have a "business rethink" is particularly relevant to those societies with an ageing profile of members (and both they and I know who they are!) These are the societies that have a critical need to create a strategy to:
  • sustain the art society over time
  • maintain a better balance of members across the age ranges
  • grow volunteers within its member base to enable more active exhibiting by the society - in galleries and online
That in essence means working towards enlarging the open entry not diminishing it!  Younger and more digitally active/aware artists need to become members!

The need to be more transparent

So I've decided to create a bit of a stimulus by starting to count and analyse the open entries in a systematic and transparent way i.e. I'll publish the numbers.

Many of the art competitions are now completely explicit now as to the:
  • number of entries received
  • number of entries pre-selected
  • number of entries selected for the exhibition.
It's no longer good enough to take money off people for entering their artwork in an open without providing some context as to how likely it is that their artwork will be selected i.e. what percentage of entries get hung in the exhibition.

NEW FOR 2017: I shall be:
  • trying to find out the number of entries submitted to an open exhibition
  • counting the number of artworks selected for hanging from the open entry
  • calculating what percentage of the exhibition is selected from the open entry. 
  • noting the ratio of members' artworks to open entries.
For example, the Pastel Society has selected 100 artworks from the open entry for their annual exhibition which is held next month.  I'll be calculating the rest of the numbers once I've seen the exhibition and the catalogue.

Can you help?

I'll be more than happy if artists round the country want to join in with this review of "How open is an open?" and do the same count for exhibitions I can't get to. 

Or just send me the catalogues if its clear who are members and non-members!  

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