Questions from the public while volunteering at an artist-run centre

Sit here. Answer questions.

I am gallery sitting for a couple of afternoons at an artist centre I volunteer at. Ideally, I would be able to work on some web projects while enjoying the quiet ambiance of a beautiful group exhibit in a white cube space… except for the last three hours there has been non-stop visitors with questions and ideas.

Not unusual for an attendant in a gallery space to deal with a curious public and aspiring artists. Some of them are common “FAQ”s – I’ve listed them below for reference:

1) “Is there an admission fee for this show?” 


I think this is a sign of mainly attending large galleries and museums, who charge, and not the smaller independent galleries, who don’t charge.

Would attendance at galleries increase if people knew there were no admission fees? Maybe – but our society tends to not value things that are free.

2) “I want to know how to exhibit art in your art gallery.” This was exactly the question from a young man who came in and went directly to the reception desk. He claimed to be an artist who “had an art show before” but had no interest in looking at the current show, I guess. He also seemed confused and incredulous when informed that there is a submission call once a year and programming is two years in advance so we are booked till 2015.

This is typical of many people actually – they expect a magical opening to appear at a gallery after a brief conversation. Nope, sorry, you gotta wait in line like everybody else and hope for the best. Sometimes that answer is not good enough and thus I am asked…

3) “I have to wait that long? Talk to whoever is in charge and see what they say.” Gee, if all I had to do was badger any random gallery attendant to get an exhibit of my work, and within a month or two, then I would be a very famous artist right now. We all would.

The answer is still “no”.

4) “Do you know my friend, the artist [insert random name here]?” When I answer no, there is more incredulous looks. What kind of gallery is this that does not know of this wonderful painter / sculptor / illustrator / whatever?

I was left with the distinct feeling that I do not know as much about art as I was supposed to.

5) “How much do you take in commissions?” No, we don’t take commissions because we are a publicly funded gallery. “How do you stay in business?” Because we are a publicly funded gallery with a membership and donations. “So you don’t take a commission?” No, except for fund raising events… “Are your works for sale on the website?” *sigh* ….. no….

You see, Artist-Run Centres were invented by artists to provide a space for artwork that was not meant to be commercial or ever sold. That usually means, during regular programming, if someone wants to buy a work off the artist then that is between the artist and the interested party.  Sometimes, like most artist-run centres, we have a yearly exhibit or auction, usually of our members’ work, that is meant is to raise funds for the gallery to continue operating. Would you like to become a member and volunteer with us, to participate next year? No?…

I only actually ever got four or five words into the above before the inquiring party would completely lose interest, often interrupting my art history lecture with “so you don’t take commissions?”  


6) “Do you have a work in this exhibit?” Finally, a good question! “Do you want to see my artwork?” Oh god … no….. but I answer yes.

Needless to say, I got no work done at all this afternoon except for this post.

One comment

  1. ireneloughlin · December 31, 2011

    omg you are the best 🙂

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