How to organise your exhibition schedule

Preparing to exhibit your work is both exhilarating and a little scary. You’ve secured a show – fantastic! Now begins the work of organising yourself: there will be a lot of practical things you’ll need to think about.

I’ve talked before about preparing yourself for the process of exhibition. This week we’ll be talking about how to schedule the journey to make sure you’re primed and ready for the big day.

Preparing for exhibition is a project, and like any other project it needs to be managed effectively.

The three pillars are resources, schedule and budget

The three pillars of project management are resources, schedule and budget. I like to approach the process in this way because it breaks down everything you need to do into manageable chunks. It makes the prospect of a future event much less onerous.

Resources are what you have to help you achieve the project: experience, skills, facilities and people.

Schedule is the time you’ll need to do it, taking in all the stages from contract to installation.

Budget is about finance: working out how much everything is going to cost, and how you’re going to price your work to get a return.

Scheduling  is a fundamental part of preparing for a show because specific things will need to be done at certain times. For example, by X date you’ll need to have signed off on all the copy for your marketing. By X date all the work will need to be made and taken to be framed or finished. By X date you’ll need to pack everything up and have it ready to transport to the gallery or venue, and so forth.

Without a clear idea of exactly when those tasks need to happen, essential jobs can creep up on you unawares. You can find yourself having crisis moments when you realise you’ve not taken that last canvas to the framers, or missed a copy deadline to get materials to the printer.

I’m a big fan of wall planners rather than diaries to represent an exhibition timeline. The reason I don’t advocate using a diary is that important tasks can get lost between the pages. They can suddenly appear from nowhere if you haven’t checked your schedule, then plunge you into panic mode because you’re having to scrabble around at the last minute. Working in this way makes you reactive, rather than proactive.

Project managers use Gantt charts

Professional project managers use Gantt charts. These aren’t calendars in the traditional sense: what they do is to represent the stages of a project and its respective phases as linear blocks of time.

The advantage of this is that you can see at a glance exactly where you are in the process at any given time. It’s clear what needs to be done now, and what is coming up. It encourages you to be totally across your task list, and to get ahead on anything you’ll need to attend to over the coming days and weeks.

This way, you never end up overlooking anything that needs to be done. You stay in control of the process, rather than it taking control of you.

Gantt charts don’t have to be boring or stuffy – they can be fun too. Artists and creatives are visually led and love colour, so wall planners are an ideal way to manifest your schedule.

Since a planner will be on your wall for a whole year, I suggest choosing one that is attractive and appealing – if you like, you can even make one yourself!

What a planner does need to be is easy to write on and alter – laminated or wipe-clean is ideal. It also needs to be large enough so you can make notes and see everything easily: A2 is a good size.

Getting ready for a show can be stressful. Often there are a million things to think about, and a million more queuing up behind them. If you want to concentrate on making your best work and celebrating your achievement, organisation is key.

I particularly like this quote from Napoleon Hill:

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”

No one better than an artist understands this. Art comes from thought, and that thought is transformed into beautiful work for the world to appreciate and admire. The rest is all about the details.

Paying attention to those details, rather than ignoring them, will get you where you need to go.

Good luck, and enjoy your exhibition!

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