Make More Money from Your Exhibition

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre Museum. How does she do it?
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre Museum. How does she do it?


An exhibition for a visual artist is pretty much the same as a book for a writer. Things go even wilder when it is a solo exhibition.

However, one thing that also goes much higher — apart from the well deserved recognition — is expenses.



Everyone who has been through putting an event like this knows it! You have to take care of:

  • materials, 
  • framing, 
  • hospitality, 
  • venue, 
  • commission, 
  • catalogues, 
  • advertising the event,

…. and so on, and so on!


And, as much as we are creatives and we dislike considering this prosaic financial part of our calling, we must take it into account when we are aiming to be thriving but not starving. Simply because Real Artists Don’t Starve, as Jeff Goins nails it in his new book.


Learn from the Masters

So how do we compensate all the expenses and make extra profit that can at least cover our investment?

Regardless if you have sponsors or not, it is advisable to think of some other ways to leverage your performance in case your art doesn’t sell as much as you would like.

And what better way to achieve success than to learn from the Masters — those who really know how to make profit of their art?


Enter the National Art Gallery!

Or the British Museum. Or Tate Modern. Or the Getty Museum. Or MOMA. Or the Louvre. Or El Prado. Or any other major art gallery/ museum out there.


What do they all have — apart from stunning masterpieces?

No, it is not admission. Most major London galleries are admission free.

Think again!…


A shop!

That’s right! A shop!

Full of those fancy mugs, key-chains, books, catalogues, postcards, t-shirts, umbrellas, posters, Van Gogh soft dolls with a detachable ear, prints, and more! All art-branded! Damn, they even have chocolate bars with the portraits of Henry the Eigth’s wives! What did these unfortunate murdered ladies have to do with chocolate?!


The Psychology

So, why am I telling you this?

  • Because art at these places is not for sale, and yet — they are thriving.
  • Because people are willing to pay higher prices for art merchandise with the knowledge they are supporting the museum/ artist.
  • Because you might not get a painting but it is quite possible you get a print or another memorable gift with the art you liked so much.
  • Because all tangible objects remind of the artworks long after the event is over, spreading creativity to more people

The Imitation Game


With all this said, ask yourself a question:


What is the merchandise I am able to replicate effectively within a limited budget?


What you should be aiming at is:

  • Low production cost with high perceived value — you can get a T-shirt printed for £5.00 and sell it for £20.00!
  • Price per unit — how many items are you going to have? Are your providers willing to place small orders? Remember: a total order with smaller quantities is more expensive to produce per unit!
  • Short production times — time often is scarce when you are putting together an event like this. You have to consider what the production time is without having it reflect on your cost. Obviously if you are aiming for a printed catalogue, you won’t be able to complete it in 1 day.
  • Popularity — a T-shirt is obviously more popular than an umbrella. Not only in Spain but worldwide!

First-Hand Experience

Here are some examples from my practise:

  • Mugs — cheap, popular and quick to produce. Plus, they are collectable ;) When visiting a museum, I always check on the mugs :)
  • Postcards, posters, prints — even if you don’t have the contacts or the time to deal with printers, you can easily have them printed instantly at the local photo studio or copy centre! Plus, it costs pennies. This also increases your flexibility on designs — you can have a total of 100 cards with 10 different designs, while it is less likely for a printing company to agree on such an order without having the price skyrocket.
  • CD-s — WTF, you say :D Stay with me a bit longer and I am going to explain you! While having a catalogue printed is really fancy, both time and budget do not always allow it. SO what you CAN do is have your catalogue in a PDF format and burn it on a CD. You can also have the surface neatly printed with your artwork.
  • Tote bags — you can easily have them ordered on e-bay, they are cheap and practical — visitors can stuff all their purchases inside, thus instantly using them as a shopping bag (what the main purpose is) ;)
  • T-shirts — pretty much the same production advantages as tote bags, only they have higher perceived value.
  • Workshops — my artwork appealed very much to children, so we organized a related workshop. The resulted artwork was later featured in a children’s group exhibition. What is this special art skill which you can teach others?

This article was originally published on Medium.

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