Setting up a studio is one of the first things you may consider after completing your degree. There are many decisions to be made, including whether the studio will be at home or at another site, and whether you’ll have your own or be part of a group.
Here are some Bay Area resources that can be helpful in finding a studio or a live/work space:
Maintaining a Practice
Without the structure of classes, assignments, and deadlines, many recent alumni find it challenging to maintain their studio practice. It can take time to adjust to the transition into a wholly self-directed practice, which takes skills that are quite different from those that helped you excel in school.
Building a career as a working artist is not as easy as setting up a studio and an active practice—it takes a dedicated approach to the business side of your work as well, and that incudes approaching galleries.
Commercial galleries are businesses that aim to sell art. They range widely in showing emerging artists versus established artists. Most galleries acquire artists from exhibitions in not-for-profit galleries or from slides submitted directly from artists.
Not-for-profit galleries or alternative galleries are spaces dedicated to showing, not to selling work. Alternative galleries are an excellent way for emerging artists to build their exhibition record and reputation in the arts community.
Other options for showing your work can include building lobbies, coffee shops, vacant businesses, artist’s studios, and rented gallery space.
Familiarize yourself with galleries, paying close attention to the style of the work and degree of establishment of the artists they show (emerging, established, etc.). Visiting during openings and again when it’s less crowded will allow you to examine the space and the way the art is displayed, in addition to learning more about their publications, mailings, clientele, and staff. The better you know the galleries, the more efficient you will be in determining where your work might fit.
A good place to start exploring galleries online is ArtSlant, which has a gallery guides for San Francisco and listings of openings. You can also pick up a copy of San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), which has a great listing of galleries and alternative spaces in the Bay Area.
Artist Packet and Website
When you begin to approach galleries, you need to have a professional artist’s packet put together. This includes your portfolio, cover letter, exhibition resume, artist statement, and biography.
You should also have a website, which functions as an online version of this packet. Include your resume, artist statement, artwork documentation, biography, and a way to contact you via email. It’s important that your site is regularly updated, organized, easy to navigate, and professional looking. Do not include personal or social items on your professional website. Your site name should also be professional; most artists register a domain name that is some version of their name (e.g., www.firstnamelastname.com).
Research a gallery’s submission policy. Many galleries will allow you to drop-off a packet, while others have special times and days for reviewing work. Some galleries will only review your work if someone recommends you. Most prefer to receive packets in the mail.
One month after mailing your packet, call and inquire if your packet was received and when it might be reviewed. Do not do this in person; you’ll be deterred if you appear unannounced and demand to be reviewed. If you are given the opportunity to discuss your work in person, be sure to follow-up with a written note of thanks. If this does not result in any further relationship with the gallery, simply cross them off your list for now and move on.
Keep records of the galleries that you approach in a spreadsheet or similar document. If you receive favorable feedback from one gallery, note it in your records—you’ll want to approach them again when you have new work. Likewise, if a gallery is not interested in your work now, it doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the work you will produce in the future. When you have a revised body of work, send them another artist packet.
It will take some time to get your first show, and it may take even longer to get your second. Persistence is crucial—most successful artists are rejected many times before they finally break through. It can help to start thinking of your success according to your own standards and the quality of your work rather than by how many times you show or by the sales of your work.
Continuing Your Professional Development
Many art organizations in the Bay Area offer professional development courses and workshops for artists. These can be useful tools for revitalizing your practice and refreshing your take on the business side of the art world.
Some of the most prominent organizations to offer such courses are SOMArts, Root Division, San Francisco Artist Network, ArtSpan, GrantSpace, Center for Cultural Innovation, Foundation Center, and NODE Center.
Whether you set a weekly schedule of time that you will spend in your studio, or hours per week that you will work, setting goals is important for maintaining a degree of personal accountability. Starting with small, attainable goals will allow you to gain momentum with success, and prepare you for larger goals as you grow your practice.
Find a Community
Creating work in a community that supports, critiques, and challenges your work is different than creating your work alone. Part of establishing yourself as a working artist is to create a community that will support you and your practice. For some, this community can exist as an extension of school by maintaining connections with other recent alumni. Others choose to live or share studio space to create a built-in community. Attending events, openings, and visiting other artists’ studios are other ways remain involved in an ongoing dialogue.