Whether you're exhibiting your own artwork or someone else's, setting up an art exhibition can be a creative, fulfilling endeavor in and of itself. However, it does have its challenges and you'll need good planning to pull it off.
Choose a theme. The theme is what will tie all of the artwork together and determine the title of the exhibition.
Select a date. Give yourself plenty of time to pull everything together or else you might end up with a sloppy job and poor sales. It is always best to hold an art exhibition so that it includes a weekend. This will allow those working during weekdays to attend and often families will make an outing of the event.
Find artists with work to exhibit. Browse at local art clubs, street markets where you see artists with good work on sale, and ask anyone you know who is an artist in your community. If you have chosen a narrow theme, they might bring along existing artwork or they may have to paint or create new artworks. It is best to ask them first what they will have the time for and interest in doing. Consider more than just paintings - sculptures, models, artistic photos and glassworks are just some other possible ideas that can be blended well with painted artwork or stand alone.
Determine the location of your exhibition. You can rent a large hall, but many different kinds of spaces will do (such as a library or even someone's home, for example). Ensure that the space chosen is well-presented, clean and modern. Laminated flooring and white or pale walls with no pattern will look the best. Consider how many art pieces will be needed to fill the space and compare that with your estimate of what you will be exhibiting. Pay particular attention to available lighting. Large windows can be good, and track lighting can be especially useful in illuminating the work.
Frame the artwork (if applicable). People are more likely to buy artwork that has been carefully and tastefully framed, rather than just simply mounted. But, framing requires a deeper investment on your part--one that you need to be confident will pay off.
Set your prices. Consider all of your costs, including the fee for renting the space, the framing, advertising, the artist's share, your share, and any percentage donated to charity. Decide whether an admission fee will be necessary or appropriate.
Advertise the art exhibition. Make invitations and posters displaying the same theme as the paintings, sculptures and other artwork. Include the exhibition title, location, date, time, and admission fee. Put posters up on supermarket bulletin boards. Get in touch with local newspapers and tell them about the upcoming exhibition. Advertise at local art schools and universities.
Set up the exhibition space. Transport the artwork carefully. Remember that stacking heavy, framed pieces can result in shattered glass. Arrange the artwork in the space using your own judgment. Try to develop a flow, and imagine how a visitor will see the room upon entering. Which piece will they see first? Consider adding descriptions to any or all of the pieces. Always make the prices clearly visible. Ensure that artwork is hanging properly, roped off (if needed) and that signs are provided telling people not to touch (again, if needed). Or conversely, if people are allowed to touch something, let them know!
Entertain with food and drink. If you can afford it, offer beverages such as champagne, wine and non-alcoholic choices, along with finger food or a buffet. Or, reserve this just for the opening night or morning, to share among those who come to an invitation-only opening. If it is an elegant affair, serve finger foods like shrimp, falafel and mini-quiches. Provide a pleasant background atmosphere. Play good music (classical or soft electronic) at a low level, especially at the end when people start leaving.
Be sales savvy. In addition to selling the artwork, it can also be profitable to print cards with photos of the paintings or other artworks and sell in packs of five or so. If a percentage (or all) of the proceeds go to charity, there's a better chance people will come and buy the artwork.