Planning a successful exhibition

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Above: Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Tracey Cartledge, Vice Chair of the British Association for Modern Mosaic (BAMM), and Aleta Doran, Artist in Residence at Chester Cathedral, organised and curated the Constellations exhibition for BAMM, which took place last year. Rhona Duffy asks Tracey and Aleta what they learned along the way.

Following years of planning and preparation, the Constellations exhibition took place last year at Chester Cathedral, featuring new work by artists from the UK, Ireland, Europe and the United States. The thirty exhibition pieces featured a wide variety of forms, styles, materials and techniques. In addition, over 50 international artists contributed to Ethereal, a collaborative installation. Aleta and Tracey share some wisdom and advice for organising and curating an exhibition of your own.

Be clear on your aims.

Aleta: One of our main motivations was to bring contemporary mosaic to a wider audience. Holding the exhibition in Chester Cathedral meant that we reached an audience that we might otherwise have not in a small gallery. We had more than 25,000 visitors through the door – holding it over Easter also helped with that footfall.

Tracey: Another aim was to bring artists together and provide them with an opportunity to show work post Covid-19 and to reflect on the pandemic experience in a connected way. We wanted to create an ambitious opportunity for artists to exhibit their work following periods of lockdown. Including as many artists as possible was very important to us. And, by creating a collaborative installation of mosaic-filled bottle tops in Ethereal, we were able to give artists who didn’t have the time or confidence to submit a larger piece a chance to participate too.  


Start your planning early.

Aleta: I recommend starting planning at least two years in advance for a large event like this one. This gives you time to secure a grant, if applicable, and book the right venue. Lots of venues get booked out well in advance.

Tracey: We also asked artists to submit proposals for the work they’d like to create at the outset. We specifically wanted them to push themselves and do something ambitious that would help them in their practice, as well as creating brand new work that would be seen for the first time at the exhibition. This meant artists knew their proposal was accepted before they committed the time to creating the work. The artists appreciated that opportunity and the lead time they were able to devote to creating their pieces.

Team up with a partner you work well with.

Tracey: It was great to work with Aleta because we get on so well and have complementary skillsets. It was invaluable to bounce ideas off someone else who was as invested in the project as I was.

Aleta: It was a lot of work – more than we had anticipated at the outset. It needs at least two people to get through everything that needs to be done. But ideally you’d have more people than that involved to hold an event on this scale. Tracey and I worked on this event on a voluntary basis. With hindsight, I would recommend applying for a grant that could compensate the organisers for some or all of their time.

The Constellations exhibition

Make the most of tailored tools to help with the organisation.

Aleta: We used CuratorSpace to manage the applications and Squarespace to build the exhibition website. In addition, we used MailChimp to email artists with updates and EventBrite for the invitations for the private view event and post-event evaluations. 

Tracey: We also used social media to create a sense of excitement and community – we only showed glimpses of the artwork in the run up to the event. And social media was naturally great in promoting the event to potential visitors. All of these tools were easy to use and helped us communicate effectively.

Try to secure some sponsors.

Tracey: We created a range of sponsorship packages to interest potential sponsors. We used a designer to create the sponsorship document because we wanted it to be professional and give sponsors confidence that it was going to be a special event. 

Aleta: We made sure to approach potential sponsors who we thought would have an interest in the event, including local groups keen to attract new visitors to Chester and promote it as a cultural place to visit.