Approaching a Gallery: The Initial Email (an Example of What to Send)

At any point in an artist’s career, they many begin to seek out representation from a commercial gallery. This has several benefits for the artist, including more exposure, a better venue to show work (presumably), less self-marketing, and hopefully more sales (if that is what the artist is after).

As many galleries are quite established and receive numerous submissions constantly, it can be tricky for artists to get a good “foot in the door.” The best first step is to do your research and approach a gallery to see if they are actually accepting submissions. This is best done with a respectful, polite email (with a link to your portfolio cleverly inserted).

Example of a good initial email:

For the attention of the curator,*

I am a Vancouver artist seeking representation** locally. I am writing to inquire if you are currently accepting submission proposals. If so, could you please let me know which format or materials you prefer.

Best,
Your Name
http://www.yourwebsiteaddress.com***

The key points in this email are:

*Some people say you should address someone individually. I think this is fine, especially since it is your initial email and you shouldn’t be expected to know the entire staff and who does what. Hopefully, someone with a name will write back to you, and from there you can address them personally.

**Whether you are seeking representation from the gallery or an exhibition in their space, state clearly and simply what you’re interested in. If you just wrote “here is my amazing artwork!!”, you’re not asking for anything and you’re unlikely to get anything.

***Regardless of how busy the recipient is, there is a good chance they will click on a link to view your work, at least out of curiosity.

Common mistakes:

  1. Including too much information about your artwork or your practice in your initial email. Since you haven’t had the courtesy to ask whether they are interested in looking at submissions, you are like an unwanted salesperson at someone’s door. Regardless of whether you have quality goods or not, your pushiness is a turn off.
  2. Sending your inquiry to more than one gallery as a bulk mail-out either CCing or BCCing recipients. Although I don’t think it’s necessary to name your addressee on the first email, you should never email more than one gallery at a time. If you can’t be bothered to spend the time to write to them individually, why should they spend the time responding?
  3. “Please find attached 18 images of my work.” Unless a gallery has told you that they accept email submissions, or it is posted on their website, don’t send images as attachments. A link to your website or online portfolio is a much more subtle an non-invasive way to introduce your work.
  4. “My work would be suitable for your gallery because____.” It’s very presumptuous to think that you know what is suitable for the gallery. A curator or director will know what is suitable and what is not suitable. Many artists make the mistake of thinking that they will fit in a gallery because their work is just like an artist who is already represented. In actuality, it would probably make the artist much less desirable!
  5. “I would like to hear what you think of my work.” Unfortunately, the gallery does not owe you anything nor do they have any obligation to critique your work on their own time. If you are respectful of them as professionals, they will likely be respectful of you– you might receive a comment or two about your work or even suggestions of galleries to submit to.

Have you had any luck (or any disasters!?) when approaching galleries? Have you found any other helpful tips?

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5 comments

  1. Great post! Here are some additional thoughts:

    If the gallery has a website, spend some time reviewing it. You might learn useful information such as:

    1.) Verify that you indeed wish to approach the gallery.
    2.) See what they want for an artist submission (If they spell out exactly what they want, and in what format, don’t ask! Come up with some other relevant question or point of clarification.)
    3.) Learn the name of the gallery director or owner (add to your Rolodex for future contact.)
    4.) Learn about upcoming openings or events, which you may attend or use as a future point of conversation. (If they have an email list, subscribe to it!)

    If the gallery is on your “A” list, I strongly recommend contacting them multiple times (perhaps monthly or quarterly). In addition to email, you may also consider sending them a prospecting letter. Here’s a detailed description of my personal art gallery prospecting package. > http://www.brennenmcelhaney.com/journal/?p=107

    Often, it takes multiple impressions to get into a gallery. Don’t give up if you get no response!

    • Thanks Brennen, all excellent suggestions, especially your point about attending events. Your submission will likely receive much more attention if you have introduced yourself in person to the gallery staff.

      Also- I agree with your “don’t give up” suggestion but I’ll add to it: if you are sending multiple emails or packages to a gallery, refrain from calling them out if they never replied to you. Just keep sending them updates on your practice at regular intervals, unless they request that you don’t.

  2. Douglas DeVivo

    If you have a strong desire to cold call a gallery don’t walk in with anything that looks like a portfolio ,a few postcards or an Ipad are great. Say your story clearly in as short as possible no more than about a minute and have your Ipad on slide show . Ask politely if they would like to see more or if not who they could recommend .
    This works well for me

  3. Pingback: The ART House: Approaching a gallery – our top tips for artists. |

  4. Robert Marks

    Thanks for all these great pointers on approaching a art gallery to host an exhibition of my artwork you open my eyes to the harsh reality. I have done some of the don’ts with the gallery I continue to frame with .Do u think I should used your methods of approach and approach them professionally or research an other art gallery whom exhibit young artists like myself

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