Hang It Up
Exhibits Survey Shows Chapter Diversity
By Carol Woodin with thanks to guest authors Joyce Westner and Nancy Savage
Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 16, Issue 2
If exhibits are any indication, the public’s interest in botanical art is thriving in every ASBA chapter. The New England Society of Botanical Artists found itself faced with questions: where to show our work, length of exhibits, framing standards, juries, and more. We felt it would be helpful to find out how other chapters handle these issues.
We designed a survey and all chapters responded. Five have 28 to 40 members, one has 86, and two have more than 100. We hope these summarized results help you deal with welcome exhibition “problems.” We are grateful to chapter spokespersons for their insightful responses, and to ASBA for many useful guidelines and policies.
Chapter exhibits. All eight chapters have exhibits, from a single annual to as many as one per quarter, with an average of 2.3 exhibits per year. Each speaks of their mission of inclusion, providing exhibit experience, camaraderie, and educating the public about the genre.
Exhibit chairs/committees. Three chapters have an exhibit chairperson, the others divide the work.
Member-run exhibits. Seven chapters allow members to propose and organize an exhibit, while one limits it to the Exhibit Chair. One chapter has member-run exhibits that are not called “Chapter” exhibits.
Exhibit themes. Venues often create a theme. Half of the chapters have themed exhibits. The others have no theme but title exhibits.
Exhibit standards and protocols. No chapter has codified standards: all assess each opportunity that presents. Generally, opportunities have to be long enough to provide good exposure or in a high prestige venue.
Venues, duration, security. Venues include museums; art, nature and science centers; community, college and botanical libraries; Designer’s Open House charity fundraisers; flower and garden shows, nurseries, restaurants, commercial galleries and botanical gardens.
There are some short term exhibits, but it’s generally too much work for small exposure. Length varies from two-day shows on tables or easels, to a traveling exhibit that shows at four venues over a year. One chapter is paid to exhibit at their regional flower show. Partnering with the GNSI works and another exhibits at a prestigious gallery. All chapters turn down venues that are too open to passersby with no staff or security.
Framing standards. Six chapters use ASBA framing standards, or similar. One strictly adheres to it, the rest are lenient. Two allow framing at the artist’s discretion. All refuse sawtooth hangers, most want white or off-white mats. One chapter has only one requirement: Plexiglas. One hangs “unusual” pieces together, another segregates wood from metal frames but calls it a “distraction.” They are considering buying standard frames to be re-used..
Excluding bad frames. Of the six with framing requirements, three ask an artist to reframe a piece that’s poorly framed. One without requirements would return a piece if badly framed. A chapter that experienced broken or damaged frames gave the artist the chance to quickly reframe or remove the work from the exhibit.
Excluding artistically poor or botanically incorrect pieces. One chapter had a botanically incorrect work. They hung it anyway, so the artist could learn but exhibit. Another hangs poor work “on the far edge,” and another feels they would reject poor work if it were received.
Juried shows. Four chapters have had juried shows, but it it’s not common. Most said inclusion and encouragement are their priorities. One held a “mock jury” for the education of members. When commercial venues sponsor, there can be a de facto jury process based on curator choices.
Jury Makeup. Jurors include botanical artists, non-botanical artists, botanists, museum curators, an ASBA-member/art teacher, and a chapter president. Jurors aren’t paid, but some chapters award honoraria of $50 or $100. Another has jurors exhibit in the show.
Exhibit catalogs. Catalogs rarely done, due to costs. Two chapters have published catalogs. One was priced at $24, slightly higher than cost, but the chapter has yet to recoup costs. Another was created with donated scans by the nonprofit exhibit venue. The chapter received a small commission on sales. One hands out ‘thumbprint’ pages of artwork and artists’ contact information. One chapter suggests using online virtual galleries. Another skips catalogs and sells cards about rare plants, and makes good money. They donate 10% to the Rare Plant Initiative.
Commissions. Two chapters collect commissions: one at 25% that pays venue’s registration fees, the other collects 10%. Most chapters find the venue collects commissions, from 10-40%. Some chapters sell note cards, bookmarks and prints, all income going to the artist. Most do not require that all pieces be for sale, even at commercial galleries.
Hanging fees. Entry/hanging fees run from $10 to $30, and one venue charges $60 for framing, asking for matted pieces. One venue charges $1 fee to repair nail holes, and another charges a $15 hanging fee if the artist does not volunteer to help. Hanging fees pay for exhibit supplies, receptions, and publicity materials. Some chapters have a budget ($500 per year at one) and charge no entry fee.
We hope this information is useful for planning chapter events, and we look forward to hearing more about exhibit experiences. Let’s keep talking about how to bring the world of botanical art to an ever-expanding public audience!