Excerpt from Chapter 8: Getting Into the Galleries, Etc.


Dear Readers:

In this excerpt I discuss getting into the galleries and related issues. I think you’ll find it informative. Best,



Getting Into the Galleries
All right, let’s assume you’re ready to approach a gallery. You’ve exhibited in juried shows, restaurants, and artists’ coalitions, you’ve found your audience and are confident of your work. With these things behind you, you’re ready to begin the process of approaching the galleries. I’ll coach you a bit so that you do this right, do it well, and stand a better chance of acceptance.
As we begin, please bear in mind that as an artist you are self-employed, and thus in some ways an entrepreneur. If you handle the business details of your career professionally, you’ll stand a greater chance of flourishing. If you handle them amateurishly, you’ll stand a greater chance of failing. I wish I could tell you that to create great art alone is enough, but unfortunately it is not. Dali, Giacometti and Frankenthaler handled the business aspects of their careers very well, or had others do it for them. Had they flubbed the business aspects, they probably would have never gained much notice until after death—an all-too-common occurrence that I find needless.
So, with a well filled-out resume in hand, let’s proceed.

Rejection / Perseverance
Before we go on to the galleries, you should know that your work may be rejected several times initially, and that finding the right gallery will not necessarily be easy. Therefore allow me to share some of my experience about rejection: learn to anticipate it then determine to persevere beyond it, no matter what.
Perseverance is the quality that enables you to handle rejection after rejection, then more rejection, then further rejection, then maybe a few more years of rejection, and still snap back. I’m not saying that those rejections shouldn’t depress or anger you, or make you want to abandon the whole bloody business. On occasion they will. On occasion they’ll flat out piss you off. But you’ll have to persevere nonetheless—that is if you want to succeed.
You’re the one creating the work. You’re the one who has to believe in yourself. You’re the one who has to know whether your work is any good. If you do know this, and are certain of your destiny, then no amount of rejection should matter. Sure, you may punch a few holes in a few walls before it’s all over, but after the dust has settled and you’ve mended your knuckles, go back out and make the approach again, and again and again, and again, until you achieve your goals.
Please don’t give in to despair. Listen to your inner voice, the one that has assured you about your place in the world since the day you began to create. Voices like that rarely lie—which isn’t to say that we don’t on occasion misinterpret them. Listen to the reassurance it gives you. When you’re at your loneliest and most depressed you may find that voice a comfort, especially after it proves to have been right about your talent all along.
As you listen, and as you prepare to send your work out once more, try to employ resiliency, combined with stubbornness, mellowed with humor, strengthened with discipline, bound with humility. And hell, enjoy yourself. You’re alive, you’re free to create, your work is maturing. If you learn to take the rejections well, you’ll gain strength from them. In time, this can develop one formidable artist. Decide that it will, and that the day is coming when the galleries will be happy to work with you. People respond well to confidence—which of course should not be confused with arrogance.
Determine that the rejections will help build these things up in you; they can if you take them that way. They can also destroy you. Don’t let them. In the end, the only person who has the power to do that is you (to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt). That’s a tough one to remember and a tougher one to practice, but from everything I’ve seen, I believe it to be mostly true.

Choosing the Right Gallery
I advise that you start with galleries located in a major city or resort near you. Visit them and browse. Don’t mention you’re an artist. Don’t mention anything. Just walk around and get a feel for the place. Is the gallery well laid out and well lighted, or is it dim, dusty and reeking of disorganization? Does it exude contentment and confidence or despair and ineptitude? Most importantly, are the director and staff snobs or are they considerate and helpful? If the former, I advise caution.
Snobbishness, like many negative traits, is rooted in insecurity. If the staff is this way with you, chances are they’re this way with clients, which will only lead to lost sales. I have to admit though, some snobs do make excellent art dealers, they’re just a pain in the ass to work with. In the end it’s a personal call. If you feel you can work with these folks, go ahead—just watch your step as you do. Snobbery, by my experience, is often an indicator of a lack of integrity, not to mention a lack of enlightenment.
Once you find a group of galleries that impress you, you’ll need to assess if they’re a fit for your work. You can do this by taking in the inventory. If they only carry landscapes, it’s doubtful they’ll be a good fit for abstraction. Ditto the reverse. But some galleries, like mine, carry both abstracted and representational art. These businesses are open to a wide variety of work, and can have a broad range of clientele. If your work is a stretch for a particular space, no worries. It could stretch them in a good direction, provided they’re passionate about it. So, stir their passions.
After you decide which galleries you’re interested in, drop by and make an appointment to see the director—portfolio or laptop in hand. Why this way? Because requesting an appointment in person works better than making a call or sending an email, since it’s harder for someone to refuse you if you’re standing in front of them. The reason you ask for an appointment is because that shows respect for the director’s time.
I rarely view an artist’s work without an appointment, or without that artist going through the submission process. Once they do, and assuming the work is a fit, I’m happy to sit down with them. What my staff and I cannot do is review the portfolio of every artist who walks in hoping for this—and many do, simply because they were never taught how to properly approach galleries. If we did make this a practice, we couldn’t effectively run our business, promote our artists, or have time with our families. You’ll find that most galleries operate the same way, and have no choice but to.
Even so, the reason you want a portfolio or laptop at hand is because the staff member might be willing to take a look. You want to be ready for this opportunity should it arise, with a couple of originals waiting in your car. But I wouldn’t count on things unfolding this way. Instead, just inquire what the submission process is. Most galleries accept submissions via email, where they’ll ask you to forward a link to your website, or to send them several images. For this reason, it’s essential that you have a comprehensive website before approaching the galleries, as that will make you seem established.
If you do an email submission, try to make sure it goes to the staff member who reviews submissions, and not to the general email address—where it may well wind up in the trash. Keep the cover letter brief, mentioning the major points of your career in the first paragraph, with relevant links where appropriate. Also be sure to address the gallery or staff member in your salutation; never use a generic salutation.
If you mail hard copy, which I feel makes the greatest impression even in this digital age, again keep the cover letter brief. You also want it on quality letterhead with a business card enclosed. All these things can be laid out so they reflect your work and individuality. In fact I advise that you make them look unique yet professional. Why? You’re making the impression that you handle your career well, no matter how broke you might be. These little steps will assure the gallery that you’ll carry your end of the business agreement. Naturally you must include a disc of your work. Make sure your web address is printed on all relevant materials, since you want the staff going to your website and getting blown away by how cool it looks. To ensure this happens, you can always send an email with a link to your site a few days after submitting.
Call the gallery a week after you submitted, whichever form you submitted in. The first gallery rejects you? Try a second, third, and fourth if necessary. No matter how many rejections you get, you must persist. If you’ve got the talent and have paid the dues, you’ll find the right gallery—but only if you persist.
When finally you get an appointment to meet with the director, take a moment to enjoy that fact, since it’s probably been a long journey. Dress in a way that suits you—whether in a t-shirt and jeans or business attire—as long as you give the impression that you’re successful. If that success is primarily expressed in the mastery of your medium, fine. Take five-to-ten of your best pieces. Make sure your presentation is neat, organized and professional—with quality frames on your paintings if frames are needed, or refined bases on your sculpture if bases are needed.
In my gallery, when an artist walks in the door for an appointment, I expect her to be prepared. Sure I’m primarily looking at the work, but I’m also looking at the artist, gauging whether she’ll be responsible in her obligations as well as a pleasure to work with. If I see real possibility in the work, we’ll help organize her career. But if she strikes me as unreliable and undisciplined, I’ll politely decline. I just don’t have time to personally manage my artists, no matter how talented they might be. Most dealers don’t. I do make some exceptions in the case of artists where I feel I’m supposed to help guide them, whether we make any money off their work or not. Otherwise, if I want to have a life away from the gallery at all, I have no choice but to avoid this.
Equally important is the manner in which the dealer treats you. Does she show you respect? Is she considerate? Is she polite? She may be busy, she may be in debt up to her arse, but you deserve respect for the years of sacrifice you’ve paid out. Bear that in mind; it’s something to be proud of, since the achievement isn’t common.
Of course you should also return the respect. Most directors are very busy, operating on a thin profit margin, if they’re making a profit at all. It’s difficult, vexing work to run a gallery and often thankless. Just be glad you don’t have to do it. If a gallery takes you on, they have to convince the public that you’re worth investing in. This can take months or years. And while they invest their time and resources in you, initially losing money in the effort, they still have to meet payroll each month, pay their debts, taxes, artists, utilities, rent, office expenses, unexpected expenses, and hopefully take home a little dough. This is no mean feat. That’s why when you meet the director, it’s important that you be aware of the reality she grapples with every day.
So when that first meeting occurs, respect should be shown on both sides. Later, if you work together, that will have to be married to earned trust. You both will need to achieve this if you’re to have a good working relationship. As you’re talking with the director, keep this in mind. This two-way street will be one of the most important you’ll travel in your career. It involves all the give-and-take of any successful relationship, and begins with mutual consideration.
I know, because I’ve blown this on occasion, not always showing the consideration that I should have. Such is human nature when you’re irritated or flat pissed off. Naturally if an apology was due, I made one. Other times the artists were at fault. But overall in this kind of situation, we both normally made mistakes that damaged the relationship. If it was repairable, we repaired it. If not, we separated and moved on. Whichever course was taken, I’ve always tried to walk that line in a constructive and honorable way.
In the same vein, many actors have had lifelong relationships with their agents, as have writers and musicians, and those relationships brought forth history-making careers. Just as many, though, have had terrible relationships, marked by screaming matches, fistfights, lawsuits, and the constant changing of agents. A gallery is an agent of sorts. Try to get off on the right foot—unless drama is your bent. And hey if it is, that’s ok. The art world’s always been full of conflict, which does make for some pretty good stories. I personally just don’t like conducting business that way.

As I’ve already mentioned, a gallery is a business and must function as one if it is to succeed. DreamWorks is a business, as are Random House and Columbia Records. No film studio, publisher, or record company can prosper if it doesn’t operate on sound business principals; nor can its artists. The same applies to galleries…  (The entire chapter is 20 pages long; this is just the first portion).

Excerpt From Chapter 6


Dear Readers:

Sorry I was away for a week while dealing with the webinar, and a huge NFL project. But I’m back so here’s another excerpt. I trust it will be of use. Best,




New York: What It Means and What It Doesn’t
To be honest, I can’t say whether any of my artists will ever be adopted as the latest rage in Soho or Chelsea, which are tough places to figure and tougher to break into. To be even more honest, we haven’t approached any of the galleries there, since my strategies have mostly focused on artists and collectors west of the Hudson. Some of my artists would undoubtedly do well in New York, if we ever get around to placing their work there. But because we haven’t needed to, it’s never become a goal. Sure I love the town, but being or not being a part of the New York scene doesn’t determine our success.
Many galleries on the Soho/Chelsea front obviously carry magnificent work that will stand the test of time. Just as cool, I’ve met scores of New York dealers who are quite aware that where one lives is not a determiner of talent. These people know they can as readily make their next discovery in rural Alabama as the Upper West Side.
But those who are caught up in the fame machine appear absurd, even ludicrous, for their perpetual courting of what they hope will be the next hip thing. Not only will they ignore the artist from Alabama, but also those from Brooklyn, Harlem and Jersey—unless they have a well-dressed entourage. This excessive posturing bears little substance beyond name recognition, money, and some warped notion of celebrity. Talent and discipline are often last considerations in these sorts of galleries, superseded by what has tragically become a primary consideration—image.
Despite its aura of self-importance, this portion of the New York scene has minimal impact on the rest of the country. Soho and Chelsea, amazing places though they are, represent only a fraction of what is now occurring in the arts in America. And while exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial are finally beginning to pay attention to artists in other regions, a good part of the Manhattan scene is still under the delusion of assumed superiority based solely on location. In truth, the New York mystique is what it is because of where it is, not necessarily because of what is carried there—although some of the finest work in the world is indeed carried there. But the American art scene is no longer centered in New York; it began dispersing across the country in the ‘90s, a movement whose time had finally come.
Prior to that, from the 1840s onward, Manhattan was necessarily the center of America’s art universe. Where else would Childe Hassom and Diane Arbus have based their careers? Kansas City? We both know better. And while artists like Judy Chicago and Wayne Thiebaud did very well by launching from California—another mecca of a different sort—without a nod from New York, their impact would have been less significant. The entire country, if not the entire world, has been enriched by the cultural wealth of Manhattan. Whether an artist makes a pilgrimage there, or is distantly influenced by its many movements, the place is incomparable. That much is a given. So is this—things have changed.
All the time New York was bearing its influence, the provincial regions were struggling to grow and stand on their own cultural feet. Now they’ve begun to, whether in art, film, music, or literature. The process is far from complete, but it’s come a long way in a very short time. Avant-garde work that used to mostly come from places like The Village can be found in any city now; and whenever that is flourishing, it’s a sign that other disciplines are as well. This is significant. Why? Because without that growth, the country as a whole can’t realize its own potential, and artists in Austin or Minneapolis who can’t afford to live in New York (not that artists there can either), get a better shot at a viable career.
Since the time of the 1913 Armory show, Manhattan has been the launching pad for whatever was revolutionary, outrageous, or new. It still is, but so are dozens of other cities. They may not yet have the cachet of the Big Apple, but because of the Internet and a burgeoning national art market, their influence is growing.
This doesn’t mean that Soho and Chelsea will ever be replaced. It does mean though that they are sometimes out of touch with the rest of the country. That wasn’t so important in 1960; now it’s critically important. This also means that artists who have been locked out of the New York scene no longer have to look to Manhattan for approval. Mutual respect on both sides would be a good thing though.
I bring this up because some of you may not yet be acquainted with the New York scene, but may be curious about it. I’m just assuring you that your success can mirror or eclipse ours without representation there. You don’t necessarily need that to have an outstanding career, but having it under your belt is certainly a great thing if you can land it. So go ahead and submit to the New York galleries if you wish. Should you only meet with rejection, don’t worry, you’ll be in great company. While you’re in the process of making those submissions, you can still do exceedingly well in the other markets, which are vast and numerous. All you have to do is go after them, using techniques I’ll cover soon enough.
Despite some of the beefs I’ve listed, I will always love Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. As with many writers, I owe the place a great debt, since my early years in that city had a profound influence on me.
That’s why it was so harsh to go back in September, 2001—which was like returning to a place that had once been home, only to find it had become a battlefield. The strange quiet of the city, the grief, the look of shell-shock on the faces. Yet also the compassion and unity, the newfound levels of patience and consideration—horns that honked less, people saying please and thank you, many of them with subtle warmth. After all, it’s not easy living in a place so crowded while still maintaining sanity and civility.
Then my visit to Ground Zero: the mile-long line of dump trucks, the barricades, the solemn crowd, many of them praying—Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims. And fliers for the missing posted on windows—Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims. Also atheists, spiritualists, janitors, executives, party animals, firemen, cops, and without doubt a fair number of artists. Then there was the site itself—the shattered buildings, the mountain of rubble, the cranes and dust and stench. As I gazed on it, I realized I was looking at a mass grave.
I had been greatly depressed ever since the towers collapsed, as most of us were. Now my depression deepened: the hatred and savagery that brought all this on—hatred that went back for centuries on many sides. I stared at the wreckage and felt so irrelevant, the profession I was born to and the thing I do. Oh I know it isn’t irrelevant, but at that moment I felt only futility. How could anything in the creative world seem worthwhile in the face of this?
And yet it is. Whatever calamities we may face, life goes on, just as it always has. And as life goes on, so does the work of the artists who examine events, interpret events, and help us make sense of what all too often seems senseless. I thought of these things as I walked from Downtown to Soho, passing fire stations and police stations with their shrines to the dead out front.
At Spring Street I stopped at a café. The waitress was friendly and the busboy polite (I had to keep reminding myself that this really was New York). The busboy, of Arab descent, was singing along with a John Lennon song on the radio: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
I asked the waitress if she thought the busboy was a good singer. She gave him one of those sidelong New York glances, laughed, and said, “Neah.”
He just smiled and kept on singing.
I drank a cappuccino, wrote some postcards, and left.
That afternoon I caught my plane and flew out over the city, where smoke was still spiraling up from the ruins of the World Trade Center. I knew that New York would eventually be New York again—with all that is both great and awful about it. In the end, it’s still one magnificent town—so American, so full of excess, at times trend-ridden and self-obsessed, but always incomparable. In the end it has dignity, resilience, and strength. This country wouldn’t be what it is without New York, and neither would the arts. As long as I write, and run a gallery, I will remain mindful of that.
Of course I’ve been back to the city many times since, but of all my visits, that one remains the moist poignant. That one burns the brightest. I think it always will.

Juried Shows/Art Fairs
After an artist achieves master status, he will rarely participate in an art fair unless it’s an exclusive event through a museum, gallery, or similar entity. But while he’s building up his reputation, it’s essential to regularly participate in public exhibitions, whatever type of gig it might be. All of my artists have shown in various exhibitions and fairs, as have most successful artists I know. For those of you who only execute installation-based or avant-garde work, art fairs will be of little relevance. Instead you’ll want to seek out juried shows that are an appropriate venue for what you do—the edgier the better, as long as they have strong attendance. But for the rest of you, the right series of fairs can help give your career a serious launch.
Just what is an art fair? In the worst case, an outdoor event arranged by well-intentioned dilettantes for a largely indifferent public. Are they all this bad? No. Many are well run, providing excellent venues for selling work at the lower price levels, and for meeting hordes of potential collectors. The trick is learning to choose between the fairs that are worthwhile, and those that aren’t.
The best story I ever heard about a fair came from Vernon Brejcha, a glass artist whose works have been placed with museums worldwide, and who studied under the great master Harvey Littleton. But in the beginning Vernon was as unknown as any emerging artist, and so decided to do a few fairs. He told me how once, in the ‘70s, he was sitting a booth at a Dallas show when a man, woman, and their daughter walked up. The trio stared at his glass, stared at him, then the father said to the girl: “See now, Charlene. This is how you’ll wind up if you don’t start getting better grades.” They turned and walked off.
Vernon was rather more selective in choosing his fairs after that.
Regardless of whether the show is an outdoor fair or an indoor exhibit, it must be juried. It means nothing to be accepted in a non-juried show. Besides, in non-juried shows you don’t know what other kinds of work will be exhibited, or whether you’ll be stuck next to some guy who does paint-by-number landscapes on saw blades.
Amusingly, the jury members in some shows are no more qualified to serve on the panels than the average car salesman. In fact they may have no background in art whatsoever, but are chosen because their niece is chairwoman, or they think it would be a creative thing to do, or, hopefully, because they genuinely want to see a great show result, with scores of artists selling tons of work. However the jurying is done, most shows do advance awareness of the arts to a certain degree. That can only be a good thing. Besides, if you win a prize they usually give you a little dough.
Shows that are well established are obviously the best choice, like the Navy Pier Show in Chicago (if you can afford the booth fees), or the Brookside Art Annual in Kansas City. But even if it’s a newer show that doesn’t yet have a reputation, as long as it’s well run, well attended, and in a proper setting, this is better than letting your work sit in the studio and collect dust. You’re in the process of building up your resume. It’s a gradual process, and you’ll have to be proactive and patient in carrying it out.

How do You Learn About the Shows?
The simplest way to learn about shows is to use the Internet. Enter appropriate key words in a search and you’ll be off and running. If you’re only interested in fairs in a particular city or state, just specify that in your search.
In addition…

Artist’s Network Career Webinar on Tuesday 5/14, Free


The Artist’s Studio, Gustave Courbet

The Artist’s Network has hired me to conduct a career webinar on Tues, 5/14, at noon CST. This is owing to the success of the book, and my 22 years in this insane but beautiful business. One of our specialties at Leopold is helping emerging artists to gain entry to the professional level, making huge advances in their careers as we do.  I mean Picasso started out as an emerging artist, as do all of us.  Thus many questions will be geared toward that.

This is going to be a great gig.  If you want to join us just sign up here:  http://www.artistsnetwork.com/paul-dorrell

Excerpt From Chapter 5

F UKH Complete

“Woven Piece,” Blown Glass on Hickory, Drew Hine, Ed Tranin, and Paul Dorrell.  University of Kansas Hospital.

Dear Readers:

Here’s the first half of another chapter. Hope you enjoy it.





Where to Show in the Beginning
If you’re not in a thriving gallery yet, how do you get your work before the public? Easy. In fact here’s a list of possibilities.
Corporate Offices: Every corporation has a group of art lovers within, and potential clients throughout. There are thousands of corporations throughout this country, and in most other nations for that matter. This means that no matter where you live, there are several corporations in relative proximity to you. Choose the ones you want to work with, and contact the person responsible for displaying art. Sometimes this is an executive assistant, sometimes an office manager. Of course most corporations have never done this. Great! This is your chance to introduce them to something new.
You can install your work in the executive offices, main lobby, or elevator lobbies. Wherever you install it, you want it seen by the largest number of people possible. Price and title each piece, and put out a resume with your contact information on it. Make sure the area where you install is secure, and if possible, have the corporation insure the works, though they’ll likely resist that.
After installing, organize an opening. Invite your friends, their friends, their business associates, etc. Try to make sure that people who can afford art attend, along with your usual cast of characters. Make yourself accessible at the opening. Don’t be aloof or drunk, and never worry about being nervous—that’s a perfectly human and endearing quality. But mostly, engage others. You don’t need to talk exclusively about your work, although if you want to sell, conversation will have to gravitate in that direction, and you or someone who is with you will have to try to close on sales. The easiest way to do this is to allow people to take a piece home for consideration; if they like it, it probably won’t come back. Equally, you must try to get the corporation to buy a couple of pieces before the show comes down. If a private collector or the corporation resist buying, offer to come down ten percent on the price, twenty percent if you must, but no more. Coming down too far demeans the work, and you.
Even so, don’t make discussion of your work the sole focus of the evening. Relax. Tell a few jokes. Have a few glasses of wine. Have fun. Fun, like trust, leads to sales.
Restaurants: Any well-patronized, well-lighted restaurant will do. Talk to the owner. Chances are, if they’re not exhibiting art, they’ll be thrilled to have your work there—assuming they respond to it. If they don’t, talk them into it anyway. You’re not selling to the owner, who may have no appreciation of art whatsoever, but to her customers. They’re the ones you want to reach. Try to choose a restaurant of some affluence, since that will make sales more likely. Then call a meeting with the wait staff, offering each a ten percent commission for every buyer they send you. If they’re passionate about your work, they’ll be happy to discuss it, hand out postcards, and send clients your way. Naturally they should be rewarded for going to the trouble.
City Offices: Many city halls and administrative buildings are open to exhibiting art. You may not get many sales, but at least it’s a venue and a line on your resume. If you’re a painter but are not allowed to hang work on the walls, use easels. If you can’t afford to buy easels, build some. Lumber is cheap, and anyway your designs will likely be more interesting than those of the store-bought variety.
Other Venues: Churches, university galleries, upscale bookstores, upscale hair salons, hotels, architecture firms, interior design firms, law firms, convention centers, airports, private clubs, or a showing in some socialite’s home. You don’t know any rich socialites? Tap someone who does. This may lead to introductions, which may lead to interest, which may lead to sales.
Cooperative Galleries: You could always try to start one of these if you like. They are essential to the art world, and for over a century have contributed to America’s understanding of, and coming to terms with, art. They’re fascinating, can be a great deal of fun, and almost always lose money.
If you do start one of these, make sure the director has sound business as well as aesthetic sense. Rarely does an artist have the former, since we don’t tend to be wired that way—although there are always exceptions, Dale Chihuly being a case in point. So if you don’t have business experience, no matter, there are many other ways you can assist—you can hang the shows, you can paint the walls, you can update the website. But please assign the bulk of the business and marketing decisions to someone with appropriate talent. If that happens to be you, fantastic. However this role is filled, it’s best if more than one person participates, since it takes a qualified team, with cooperative attitudes, to effect winning strategies.
If you do start a cooperative gallery, I salute you. It’s a noble undertaking with ample difficulties: organizing shows, attempting to interest collectors, paying rent and a multitude of other expenses, dealing with marketing and staffing, and trying to ensure that everyone gets along. It’s no easy task. Should that gallery wind up closing, it’s quite possible that you’ll be tired of the art business by then, and that those who started the cooperative will no longer be speaking. That’s all right. Get it out of your system, admit your trespasses, forgive the trespasses of others, and move on. We’ve all had to do that in one way or another, including me.
Whether it succeeds or fails, opening a cooperative gallery can teach you valuable lessons about the art world in general, the art business in particular, and the challenges of both. If the cooperative doesn’t fold, everyone gets along swimmingly, and you even turn a profit, please tell me how you did this. It’s rare.

When I first opened my gallery, I immediately set about learning the art of the press release, and developing relationships with journalists that were based on mutual respect. It would take years of accomplishment for those relationships to bear fruit, since no journalist wants to cover you unless you have a worthwhile story to tell. Eventually we would have dozens of stories to tell, but in the beginning no one wanted to cover an unknown gallery—and without press in the arts, you die.
To compound this, I regularly got the response from certain papers that they could cover my artists completing a commission, but not the gallery, because that would seem as though they were plugging us. I couldn’t believe my freaking ears. Here I’d busted my butt to land the commissions, risked every cent I had to promote regional artists, worked as project manager and sometimes co-designer, and the media couldn’t give us credit? Not a day went by that they didn’t give credit to H&R Block, Hallmark or Sprint for their successes, but apparently we were supposed to go unmentioned.
This was my introduction to one of the curses of the gallery business, meaning, if your artists are applauded the gallery is often ignored, as if it had nothing to do with their success. In fact a gallery will sometimes be condemned for trying to turn a profit from art, as if that’s an evil practice. The hypocrisy of these attitudes goes a long way toward explaining why so many galleries fail. In my view, neither the gallery nor the artist is more important than the other: they are equal partners who must work together to succeed.
But if a gallery can’t get credit for its work, it will indeed fail. This will cause the culture in your region to suffer. Why? Because when an artist can make income from their work, they’ll stay in the area and contribute to it. But if no one buys from the gallery that reps them—which amounts to making an investment in that artist—they’ll flee. That act of fleeing has been a practice in the provinces for over 200 years, where few serious artists stayed, since their own regions refused to support them. I was determined to help reverse this trend, but knew that I would need the help of journalists to do it. First, however, I had to convince them that if it was okay to write about Garmin, it was okay to write about us. Eventually I did and they’ve been fantastic allies ever since—especially the Kansas City Star—recognizing that what we were doing was both culturally and financially important for the region.
All told, getting press is not that difficult. Journalists are creative people and tend to respect artists. Thanks to them, my artists and I have appeared in over one hundred articles, and have been interviewed on TV and radio dozens of times. Did this happen by luck? I wish it had; that would have saved me hundreds of hours writing releases and making phone calls.
Anytime you organize a show or major installation, you should try to get it covered. That will prove a pleasant diversion for the journalist, who may otherwise have to cover political scandals, robberies, and murders. How do you get their attention? With a press release, accompanied by solid photos.
Below is a release I sent out to area papers and TV stations as one of my projects neared completion. My releases tend to read more like a letter than a form, since I prefer addressing each journalist personally. Note that I open with the essential facts, since journalists have time for nothing else.

Media Organization

Dear __________:

Earlier this year H&R Block commissioned dozens of regional artists to execute site-specific works—some of them enormous—for the new H&R Block Center. Installation of the lobby and exterior works will begin on 10/16 at 9:00, concluding on 10/18.

Some of the artists whose works we’ll be installing: Lisa Grossman, STRETCH, Lonnie Powell, Leslie Reuther, Vernon Brejcha, William Lobdell, Dierk Van Keppel, Brent Collins, Adolfo Martinez, Dave Regier, and seventy others.

We only used regional artists for this project, with the intent of advancing culture in our area. I hope you’ll help us celebrate this collective achievement, which we feel will garner national praise. If you have any questions, just let me know.


Paul Dorrell
Director/Art Consultant

You can send this via email or postal service. I alternately use both methods, depending on the journalist I’m working with, and their level of inundation. With the advent of email, some journalists received up 200 queries a day. You don’t want to get lost in the hubbub. In those instances, a mailed release with visuals will likely get closer scrutiny, followed up by email once the journalist knows who you are.
With most stories I’ve landed, follow-up has been necessary to ensure that the journalist received the release, and to learn if they’re interested. By politely persisting, you may get your story, but please note the word polite. Journalists owe us nothing, are overworked in a demanding profession that is going through convulsive changes, and they often receive only moderate pay. It’s important to try to understand the realities they cope with. In addition, if they feel your current story doesn’t warrant coverage, you have to let it go. Never try to force coverage, as that will earn you disdain—although you can always pitch the same story to a writer in a different department.
You don’t have to be involved in an event as large as Block to get a story. We’ve gotten press on single murals, a single outdoor sculpture, or an emerging artist having her first show…