Web Statistics Starting a pop-up gallery | Kerry Thompson Australian artist - Thoughts, hints and tips for artists

Starting a pop-up gallery

If you have ever thought of using an unoccupied shop or other space to set up a temporary pop-up gallery, here are a few thoughts that may help based on my Little Firefly Pop-up Gallery experiences.

I saw a space at a cafe/nursery in Nov 2010 and asked the owner (who was looking for a tenant) if it would be possible to set up a pop-up gallery for a few weeks. What was meant to be 17 days turned into three months, I then helped him turn it into a community gallery so others could use the space, used it again myself for a month leading up to Christmas 2012, and he has now turned it over to a yoga studio.


Approaching a venue: Things I've learned: re asking, Just ask! Have a plan in mind so if they haven’t thought of this before, you have answers ready.

Rent: See what they say and decide if you can afford it and will it be worth it; how does it compare with taking out an ad, for example. Being on site and being able to display your work where people can see it “live” is invaluable.

Splash point: doing a pop-up gallery, like doing an exhibition, gives you an opportunity to promote your work with a particular date and location - like dropping a pebble which then results in ripples spreading out.

Insurance: Look into public liability insurance and building insurance and insurance for your works. Discuss who will cover what? In my first experience, I had to provide my own public liability insurance, I confirmed that building insurance was held by the owner, and insurance for my work was up to me.

How can you display/hang your work? I used bulldog clamps and paperclips and ring things and string to hang paintings from the front of shelves, others were on the shelves, others on those removable adhesive plastic picture hooks, others on easels placed so the legs were not a health and safety risk.

Make the space inviting so people feel welcome to step over the threshold, and comfortable once inside.

Set up an easel
or whatever you use and work while you're there if possible to recreate your studio and share your world with your visitors - a great ice-breaker and keeps it interesting while you’re there.

Approaching the visitor: Don't worry about getting the approach to people right or wrong, you'll learn how to be yourself and engage as you go along. Some want to be acknowledged and engaged, others don’t; a name tag with an image of your work on it and the label “Artist” will help people understand who you are and may help open conversation.

Promotion: Consider how you will advertise/announce that you're there - this is one of the trickier and most important things as you are there for a short time and people don't know it - I ended up putting flyers on the tables of the cafe because even though they were within view of the gallery, they didn't know it was there. I letterbox dropped and used my social media and email list, and have found a framing shop on a main street that is happy to put my flyer in the window - people have commented they learned about me from that - invite local businesses to put their card in your shop - be part of the community. Chat to local businesses and invite them to your opening. See if there’s any way you can create something together, such as putting something from their shop in your gallery, if it enhances what you are trying to achieve with the space. A local florist was happy to give me a spectacular display for one of my openings when I offered to put her cards beside it and to mention her.

Signage: People don't as a rule read signs; this is something I learned early on. Make it easy for people to figure out what they are stepping into and what is going on. Use balloons or streamers or flags to give the space a bit of movement and capture attention, as long as they suit the feel you are trying to create with the space.

Merchandise: Have little items (eg postcards) that people can purchase (or you can give away in special cases) if they love the art but aren't in a position to buy. I started out regarding the gallery as selling paintings with the smaller items ticking over. At my last pop-up, I had a lot more “other” items because I realised that they were ticking over more than the paintings, and were being sent as gifts to folk across the globe. A post card display rack with 32 different cards and numerous other folding cards was a great way to display works, including images of those paintings that have already sold.

Partnerships: I have created, set up and run my pop-up galleries on my own, but next door to me recently was a wonderful pop-up by ceramicists. Their work and mine really complemented each other and people coming for one exhibition were able to enjoy the other as well.
At my last pop-up I invited one established but no longer exhibiting artist and one emerging photographer to share the space. I didn’t charge them rent. It was a wonderful opportunity for each person’s work to be viewed by the audience of the others and gave us an excuse for a combined opening. My mother taught me to “share the wealth”, and she didn’t mean money. It was a good experience for all of us.

Good luck with your pop-up experience if you decide to strike out and give it a go!