Wildflower Watch

Creating a Traveling Botanical Art Exhibition

By Derek Norman with Guest Author Kathie Miranda

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 16, Issue 4

 

In this story Kathie Miranda offers a tutorial for creating a traveling botanical art exhibition. It offers a clear precise blueprint that could be emulated by any and every Artists' Circle or Chapter across the country. The message is universal and demonstrates once again that the relevance of botanical art to the issues and news of the day has never been greater.  


Along with fellow artists from the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, Greater New York Chapter, I developed an educational art exhibition of invasive plants found in Connecticut. The show traveled around the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey area for 2 years. It was finally installed for an additional 2 years in a specially prepared exhibition hall at the Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven, CT where it was seen by thousands of visitors and was the focus of numerous museum-sponsored events and scholarly articles. 

You can develop your project idea by implementing a simple marketing strategy used by most successful businesses. Now before you skip over to the next article, let me vouch from my years as a corporate marketing manager, the strategy is userfriendly for artists and it works well when applied consistently. The elements of this strategy, called the Four P’s of marketing - Product, Price, Place and Promotion - can be summarized as offering the right product at the right price, in the right place and promoted in the right way. Here is how our experience illustrates the elements. 

Product ~ the Artwork 

As we researched the individual plants to be illustrated for the show, it became apparent invasive plants were, and are, a hot topic in our state from many perspectives: for individuals, the community, business, and government. As we learned more about invasive plants, we added more artwork to expand the scope of the show (from an original 19 pieces to 33). The total body of work was our “product.” 

Price ~ the Right One 

Much advice has been written on this topic (a great workshop idea for a future ASBA conference?). For more information, see the TBA article, What’s It Worth? Pricing Botanical Art by Carol Woodin (Number 36, September 2005). Because our mission was educational, the artwork for our show was not for sale. 

Place ~ Where The Artwork Can be Seen 

Our exhibition, Invasive Botanicals: Beauty and the Beast, opened at the prestigious Weir Farm in Wilton, CT and generated so much interest that organizations such as arboreta, nature preserves, state parks, museums and galleries, began contacting us to host the show in their community! To get started, seek opportunities from within the realm of your current activities. As botanical artists, think of all the people and places we touch to produce our artwork - from researching a plant to getting the artwork framed - these are potential sources for show space. Some may be atypical but lucrative. 

Promotion ~ How to Get Your Message Heard 

We arranged for the host venue to handle the usual promotional activities: newsletters, postcard mailings, posters, and local press coverage. In this way, information about the negative impact of invasive plants on local ecosystems – our clearly stated “message” - was broadcast to larger audiences than we could have reached on our own. 

By far the most effective promotional tool I used was to express my passion for the project: I talked about it wherever I went (“word of mouth advertising”). At meetings and events of my local land trust association, botanical society, and most importantly for a project like this, the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group, I asked for brief microphone time to tell everyone about the project and where the artwork could be seen.  

In the audience at one meeting was the director of the Yale Peabody Museum who requested the show: a first for a museum that historically did not display original artwork! Passion is infectious. 

Identifying the Four P’s are concrete first steps to consider for any new endeavor. You do not have to be a marketing manager to put them into action for your traveling exhibition but you should put them in writing - just as you do your annual goals. Work flexibility into the plan: be willing to react to opportunities as they arise. For instance, our show was created as a one-time event; but the theme was so timely, sending it on the road was a wonderful opportunity to fulfill our educational mission.  

Plan the promotional part as carefully as you prepare the artwork. Recognize you have a story to tell, and share your story passionately: tell everyone about what you do. Think about what you already do and where you do it: you may have to look no further for great opportunities to show your work. 

Payoff - The impact of the Exhibition 

I suppose you could say that there is a fifth "P" - the payoff and impact of the exhibition. While it is difficult to quantify in terms of exact numbers what we can say is that in being exhibited in X number of locations we dramatically increased the awareness of invasive species. In truth, we can’t even enumerate all the benefits to the public and plants that this exhibition created, as each person who saw it has their own tale to tell.  

  • Yale Peabody Museum Herbarium vignette created to accompany the Invasive Plants Exhibition
  • Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, watercolor on paper, © Kathie Miranda 2007