Approaching a gallery is like an old-fashioned courtship, where you get to know each other gradually before you commit. In this series I’ve described how to identify the galleries that are right for you, find ways to become visible to them, and then start a conversation. When all goes well you are ready to sign a contract.
Here’s how to prepare for that moment:
Know what matters most to you.
The best way to negotiate a contract is to know what’s important to you. As an emerging artist you won’t get everything you want, so think about your priorities. You might care most about your selling prices, or how the gallery promotes your work, or even how soon you’ll get paid. You’ll feel more confident when you are prepared to talk about what you want and why.
Take your time to read & understand the contract.
Sometimes artists feel pressured to sign a contract they haven’t read or understood. When an artist friend of mine was faxed a gallery’s “standard contract” she thought she had to sign and fax it back immediately, even though the contract was full of phrases that made no sense. Take your time, ask questions, look up words you don’t understand. Ask for help from legal sources like Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.
Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to say no.
In the gradual “getting to know you” process I’ve been describing, you already have a sense of how the gallery operates. How they treat you now is how they’ll treat you later. Do you feel respected? Are your questions answered promptly? Does the gallery staff seem professional? Since there are no credentials required to open a gallery or any regulatory agencies, a gallery stands on its own reputation. Ask other artists showing there if they are satisfied with their experience. If you begin to feel that the gallery is dishonest or unreliable, or their terms are unfavorable to you, don’t sign the contract.
You can create your own letter of agreement.
Sometimes a gallery says it doesn’t use contracts. Listen to their point of view but keep talking so that you reach verbal agreement about all the areas that are most important to you. Take notes. Then follow-up with a friendly email that summarizes what you’ve discussed. Ask if they have anything to add. You will have created a written letter of agreement.
In my next blog post I’ll describe the qualities of a good gallery contract. In the meantime, let me know if you have questions.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I am a Career & Life Coach for Artists. Visit www.coachingforartists.com to find out more or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to send a comment or ask a question.
*Please note: I recently published a longer version of this article in the May 2019 Newsletter for www.callforentries.com. This is a well-curated site which lists open calls for artists and photographers. Take a look, you can join for free!