Staging an art society exhibitions is like the old adages about water fowl – everything you can see on top of the water seems serene and easy, while all the busy paddling is happening out of sight, under the water. Staging a successful exhibition involves a lot of busy paddling – here is a peek under the surface.

Stage 1 – The Lead up

First the thinking and the planning:

Find an appropriate venue: 

  • Big enough to take at least 80 paintings (or more) 
  • Good footfall 
  • Easy access 
  • Professional standard 
  • Ability to help with promotion 

Negotiate a price with the venue and set dates 

  • Galleries get paid a fixed rental for the period, plus a commission. Typically, in order for the society to break even, the hanging fees paid by our artists should cover 60 – 80% of the gallery rental. The rest is covered by commission on sales.
  • The gallery rental must be affordable for the society, and the commission percentage must be at a level that ensures members don’t have to pay higher commission, and the SEAW can make enough to cover the marketing and remainder of gallery rental. As far as possible, we want everyone (artists, gallery and society) to gain from the art society exhibition.
  • As we never know how many artists are going to submit work or how many paintings will sell, this is not an exact science.

Staging an art society exhibition: Behind the scenes

Get the marketing material designed 

  • We produce a call for entries (on some exhibitions), a poster, a private viewing invitation, and sometimes also workshop posters and a painting day notice. That’s 5 pieces of marketing material, on average.
  • We try to use one of our member’s paintings from the previous exhibition as the image for the next exhibition. A short list is created and the member’s permission is asked for the chosen image to be used.
  • Dates, times and gallery address must be confirmed and then checked against the gallery contract.

Marketing and Promotion 

  • This is one of those jobs where you can’t do enough. We have a small team who work on social media promotion. And we an equally small team who maintain our growing mailing list.
  • The website exhibitions page is updated.
  • We post as regularly as possible to Instagram and Facebook.
  • Newsletters are written and sent to our members, Friends of the SEAW and our art society exhibition mailing list.
  • We ask our members to share the posts and the invitations we send out as much as possible to spread the word. In this area, collaboration is so important.  

For our annual selected exhibition and our winter exhibition, the selection portal must be set up 

  •  All the relevant information checked and verified to make sure it is current and correct.
  • Dates must be set and published for deadlines and the receipt of paintings.

Member painting submissions 

  • When members’ painting are not going through the selection process, separate submission forms must be put together and then the link is sent out by emails. 
  • Reminder emails are scheduled and sent. We know that our members are busy and many of them have multiple galleries to supply.


  • The society stewards all the exhibitions so we must ensure that at least 2 members are on duty every day that the gallery is open.
  • We are fortunate to have a wonderful group of artists who are Friends of the SEAW and who get actively involved – sometimes even doing stewarding sessions alongside us.

Workshop schedules 

  • If we are running workshops we have to find members who will volunteer to run a workshop. The tutors who travel to the exhibitions and run workshops get a small portion of the workshop fee – which is usually sufficient to cover their travel and other costs.
  • We try to price the workshops at a rate which will encourage watercolour artists or those who want to try their hand at watercolour to come and spend a day learning new skills.
  • A lot of work goes into marketing the workshops to ensure that as many people as possible know about them including setting up Eventbrite ticketing and updating the workshops page on the website.
  • Quite often SEAW members attend workshops tutored by other SEAW members. It’s a great way to support each other, enjoy a day with fellow members and learn something new.

Stage 2 – Setting up an Art Society Exhibition

The challenges of setting up an art society exhibition are different from those you deal with in a solo or a small group. It’s often a matter of scale:

carting the kitCarting the kit 

  • The SEAW has a couple of carloads of equipment that gets transported to and from each exhibition.
  • Card spinners, browsers, voting boxes and cards, payment equipment, posters and A-boards all have to be allocated to committee members to bring along with them – and don’t forget the paintings.
  • We have a regular team of members who work on exhibitions and help with storing and transporting kit.

Painting take-in 

  • Taking in 200 paintings involves a fair amount of organising.
  • Lists of paintings are compiled from the artist submissions and two lists are printed out – a take in and return register, and a sales list for recording painting sales.
  • When paintings are delivered each one has to be checked for title, medium and price.
  • The presentation of the painting is checked to ensure it complies with the society’s standards.
  • Occasionally, a minor repair might be done to save an artist from having to take their painting away.
  • Labels must be checked to ensure they are correct and then, finally, the paintings are put in place ready for the hanging team to work their magic.

Hanging day 

  • The SEAW has a dedicated team of members who take the lead on hanging the paintings for every exhibition.  
  • There is so much that goes into hanging an exhibition that this is a topic for a post all on its own. 

Despite this daunting list, there is an enormous sense of camaraderie and satisfaction when we step back and see the exhibition hung. If you fancy getting involved and helping with any particular aspect of our exhibitions, drop us an email.