Friday 22: Galleries, commissioners & funders – what they want, making applications and approaches

Emilia Telese tells us how to write the perfect proposal, and provides the necessary tools for approaching a gallery or funding body.

REMEMBER“Being an artist is a profession”

How artists work can vary – how you perceive yourself and are perceived is very important

The Art Eco-System

The Art Eco-System model shows how to go about gaining visibility as an artist.


(From the ACE Taste Buds Report, Morris Hargraves McIntyre 2004. This two year research programme involved over 6000 artists, dealers, buyers and galleries and looked at the development potential of the art market in England.)

Breaking through the barriers…

There are certain invisible barriers which artists face.

Think about your practice in a holistic way… “The way I think about it is by thinking of radio energy. Your work is grounded in reality, in knowledge and is part of the art system. If you broadcast what you do, like a radio channel, eventually your work will be seen by enough people.”

Whilst working for a-n, Emilia commissioned a series of articles about the art market, and one of them was an interview to 100 galleries in London by an artist group called My House Projects. They asked these 100 galleries:

What do you look for in an artist who approaches you with a proposal?

The majority of the galleries responded with, ‘We don’t want an artist to approach us with a proposal.’

Think of it as a safari”, says Emilia. Galleries and curators (the hunters) want to feel that they have discovered an artist. The thrill is gone if the artist (the hunted) hand themselves over on a plate. In short, NEVER MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE DESPERATE TO BE SHOWN.

Where to begin?

  • Draw a mind map at the beginning of every new project
  • Everything that you put on your map could be a clue about the right people to approach.
  • You have more chance of getting funding or response from galleries if you target those which are relevant to the project that you want to do.
  • Going to a smaller funding body may be more successful for you – see Arts Funding Guide.
  • Your map will form the outline of your proposal

The three Rs of fundraising:

Results – know the results you want to get

Relationships – establish relationships with those that will help you

Research – Do your homework!

Have a particular gallery in mind?

  • Be specific about why you want to show there, what you hope to get from showing your work there, etc.
  • Avoid doing anything vague! Tell them exactly what you want to do.
  • If you simply send a gallery your portfolio, don’t expect them to just magically understand what you want from them.
  • They may have hundreds of people sending them a proposal that is tailor-made to them, so it is unlikely they will spend any time looking through random portfolios or blanket proposals.

How to make a budget…

  • After you have found a venue that is prepared to show your work, you will be able to start your budget. A funding body will need to know where you are showing and when before they can offer funding.
  • Be specific about how much money you are going to need for a project.
  • See this example of a Basic Budget Layout
  • Go to a-n website to work out your daily rate of pay.
  • Not just your expenses, but what other peoples’ expenses are, too.
  • You have to value anything that anyone gives you for free, so that you can use it as an income asset.
  • Work backwards – what is the date of your exhibition? From there, work back through each of the budget categories – marketing, production, research and development – to sketch out your timeline. This will give you an indication of when you will need the money by.

Keep the money coming in!

Have 3 projects going on at any one time, one that has just been completed, one that you are in the process of doing right now, and one that you are researching that will take place in the future. This ensures you are never stuck for something to do and you are getting paid regularly.

Forward planning

Plan at least year ahead of time when putting together shows so that you can get successful funding. The more successful you are in getting funding, the more likely you are to receive funding in the future. Very few funding bodies provide retrospective funding (funding given after something has already taken place), so it is important to plan ahead and allow yourself enough time to re-apply through another funding body if you are initially rejected.

Always check if a funding body allows you to apply for equipment. Not all do.

Proposal layout

Concentrate the most important part of the proposal on the first half page of A4 – people’s attention spans are limited.

Proposal outline

There are 8 elements to writing a proposal outline. The order in which these appear in your proposal should be tailored to whoever you are writing it for. Think about what would be most important to them,

  1. Project name & description
  2. Project partners (attached: CV)
  3. Timetable
  4. Location
  5. Technical details (attached: budget)
  6. Philosophy
  7. Benefits to the Artist
  8. Benefits to the public

More tips…

  • Only approach galleries or funding bodies that have something to do with you and your work.
  • If you have secured a place with an established gallery, it acts as an anchor, as they are showing the funding body that you are being taken seriously.
  • DO NOT make things up! Galleries and funding bodies know how much things cost. Don’t make it up.
  • Tailor your language to the gallery or organisation you are applying to.
  • Make them fall in love with your ideas. Make it sound alive, even though it hasn’t happened yet.
  • Say how this project will benefit you as an artist – maybe it’s your first solo show, maybe you are working in a new way…
  • Find out how many people are expected to visit the gallery at that time of year (they can calculate an approximate number using data from past years). Or outside the gallery – footfall of a certain place. In order to find average number of people who visit, you may need to count yourself!

Give them what they want!

  • Keep your information within the parameters of what the gallery or funding body wants and stick to it!
  • Always send material in the format that they want.
  • Make it easy for people to understand what your idea is and make it simple!

Aim to impress

Draw a sketch or plan if you feel it is appropriate, especially when approaching galleries out of the blue – it would be impressive if you could sketch out how your work will look in the space. If you’ve taken the time to do this, they will be impressed.


Kerry Harker from Project Space Leeds offers her perspective as a gallery/exhibition space representative.

Harker’s perspective comes from ‘the other side of the fence’, which is very helpful in terms of knowing what spaces like PSL want from artists. The best proposals come form people who know what it means to be on the gallery side of the fence – think about how the gallery will see and think about your work/idea.

  • DO NOT send out blanket proposals to galleries.
  • If at all possible, do not send proposals to spaces the artist has never been to.
  • If you’re interested in a gallery, you should be visiting it as often as possible in order to get to know that space as best you can.

Ask yourself…

  • What kind of gallery is it?
  • Is it a commercial space?
  • Is it a not-for-profit space?
  • Who are the key people involved?
  • Why did they set up the space?
  • What other galleries have they been involved with before etc?
  • Does the gallery have a specific philosophy/remit?
  • Does the gallery state what kind of work it wants to show?
  • Does a gallery focus on work in a specific medium?
  • Where does the gallery’s funding come from?
  • Does the gallery actually accept proposals?? (PSL does!)

Much more important than simply writing a proposal – is meeting people and building your network.

Your proposal should allow room for gallery to help shape the project – most galleries want to be involved.

A final thought…

‘An artwork is an invitation to a conversation’ – Pavel Buchler



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