As a curator, I have always seen my role as the messenger, the one who carries the artists' voices to a larger audience. From the very beginning of my career, I tried to put that message forth either by publishing articles, then later, creating Platforma through which I co-curated jewelry exhibitions, then as the director of a contemporary jewelry gallery in New York where, from 2014 to 2018, I organized 23 exhibitions. Now, finally, I have co-founded New York City Jewelry Week. Certainly my most ambitious project to date! If staging a city-wide festival dedicated to jewelry and flooding the city with 100 events doesn't create a large enough platform for artists to exhibit their work, doesn't spread my mission, then I am not sure what will.
Galleries Are Great, But You Need More
As a curator I pay attention to themes in the field, similarities or contrasts in practices, and strong voices who are louder and more innovative then their contemporaries. Each show is meant to cast a light on a body of work that is pushing us to reconsider a topic or simply dive deeper. My role is to invite artists to participate in these discussions, give them space, both physically and figuratively, to speak their truth.
However, as an artist, how do you make these opportunities for yourself? How do you find ways to exhibit your work so that you can advance your career? There are many different types of exhibitions and all of them are vital to an artist's livelihood. One thing is very clear, each jewelry exhibition is hard work, and a huge risk on the artist's part. There are juried craft fairs, like the American Crafts Council Shows, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, the Smithsonian Craft Show; fundraisers like LOOT! MAD About Jewelry at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, or BIJOUX! at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida; international jewelry fairs like JOYA in Barcelona or SIERAAD in Amsterdam, jewelry weeks in Paris, Athens, Munich, and now New York; and of course, galleries and museums.
However, with few galleries around the country, and most of them not keeping regular hours, artists need to figure out ways to sell their own work independently from these establishments, especially since there are more artists than there are galleries to represent them.
Look for New Jewelry Exhibition Options
Raleigh-based artist Tara Locklear travels extensively around the country participating in craft shows, museum fundraisers, and has built relationships with galleries like Pistachios in Chicago and Ombre gallery in Cincinnati. Locklear says that she is constantly searching for new exhibition opportunities. "It is part of my work schedule yearly planning. In particular, I look for new types of events in cities that the work has not been shown in before, to continually grow the audience for my work." She also uses websites, such as callforentry.org, zapplication.org, or artfaircalendar.com to find new projects. "I do find that doing craft shows also lead to other opportunities such as group exhibitions or possible museum collaborative work pop-ups. I believe that 'showing up' at all of my work events aide in multiple connections for growing my business in multiple facets beyond just sales."
Find Artist-Sponsored Events
Some artists have begun to create opportunities for other artists. Kat Cole and Laura Wood founded Jewelry Edition (JE) in 2012 out of a "desire to find new methods of sharing work without relying on preexisting template." Cole and Wood told me that "in the beginning our focus was to seek new opportunities for early career artists and it has evolved to provide support for artists in the various stages of an art practice." JE puts out an annual call for work, their last one for JE5, recently closed.
The project also pushes artists to think about their practice a bit differently, "Jewelry Edition has provided a challenge for some artists to build out a collection featuring limited edition production in addition to one-of-a-kind work and has also been a launching point for artists to see the impact of avant-garde work with unexpected clients." Cole and Wood wear many hats themselves but they have really carved out a much needed space for JE. "The feedback from JE participants has been exceptionally positive: increased interest in work from a larger audience, new gallery representation, and a sense of community."
Read Bella's in-depth interview with Jewelry Edition.
Branch Out From the Traditional Location
Finding venues for JE exhibitions is also a good lesson for other artist's who want to be more independent and needs ideas on how to do it. "We have secured venues in a variety of ways: through existing gallery relationships we both have from our individual practices, cold calls to spaces we see as exciting opportunities, and making relationships at conferences and large gatherings where these conversations happen naturally. We also include one or two experimental spaces each year. For example, we teamed up with a culinary artist in Atlanta to share clients lists and an event space for an evening of jewelry, music and hors d'oeuvres. We welcome any ideas or collaborative opportunities and we stay open-minded about how each year will develop. Jewelry Edition is an extension of our creative practices and so we are continually re-examining how it can evolve."
In the end, Cole and Wood agree that "the landscape of being an independent artist is challenging and working together and with our network of artists and collaborators has allowed us to be creative."
Try a Collective
A newer phenomenon in our field is the collective. Essentially this is a group of jewelers who either share a common workspace and exhibit together or all pitch-in financially to support a space where they can all exhibit their work. One such group is the JV Collective. Leslie Boyd, Emily Cobb, Marie Eife, Melanie Bilenker, and Mallory Weston, founded the collective and it has grown to include Sarah Rachel Brown and Luci Jockel. The collective originally formed due to economics, "several of us needed a studio space to make jewelry in, and we all happened to live in South Philadelphia at the time. We realized splitting the rent and putting all of our tools/resources together into one space would be more advantageous then trying to have individual spaces" says Cobb.
However, they have now curated three jewelry exhibitions together in Munich, Baltimore, and New York and, Jockel, says "there is strength in numbers." Speaking with some of the members separately they all agreed that it is important to apply to everything. "Earlier in my career, I sought out and applied for every "call for entries" that seemed to suit my work. I found it a very helpful way to jump start my career, gain exposure, have my work seen by the public as well as by jurors and curators (even if I didn't get selected)" says Bilenker.
Jockel has even been included in shows because jurors for one exhibition would approach her for other shows that she didn't even know about. "Galerie Handwerk in Munich actually saw my work from when I had applied to Talente and invited me to be a part of their exhibition " Bienengold/Bee-Gold (which was on view from September 7th- October 6th 2018). The more you put your work out there, the more opportunities will arise."
And finally, what if you are not part of a collective, or feel comfortable in the crafts landscape, like so many artists do. How do you get your work out in the world? Lauren Tickle-Tietje, a recent transplant to New Orleans exhibited her work during Munich Jewelry Week, agrees that you have to be open to new opportunities as they may lead to connections you would have never anticipated. "When you are first starting whether you are in a city with lots of opportunities or a smaller town, continue to surround yourself with other artists.
Whether it is taking a workshop somewhere or a residency, all of these things will enable you to make connections while not necessarily living in a big city. Since moving I continue to maintain and gain connections by never saying no to an opportunity. Partaking in the numerous jewelry weeks around the world is a great way to reconnect with old contacts while also making new ones. I was asked to be a part of the exhibition, Allotropic, because one of the curators, Johanna Zellmer has seen a piece of mine in the Dowse Art Museum, in New Zealand, last year."
There are also a growing number of Artist Residency programs out there. Sarah Rachel Brown, the originator of the Perceived Value podcast told me that "50% of my past exhibition opportunities were a result of me applying to do so and the other 50% were presented through positions I held such as an artist-in-residence or I was invited to participate."
Exposure is Key
Many of the artists I spoke with also said that even if sales at a show are not stellar, the exposure always makes up for all of the hard work that went into getting ready for an exhibition. And everyone agrees that, if participating in a jewelry exhibition or crafts show does not happen right away, do not rule out the power of social media. Having visibility on Facebook or Instagram is paramount for shows to notice and invite you for an exhibition. I can certainly vouch for that. As a curator, I spent many hours looking at work on social media before I contacted the artists and requested to see the work.
Perhaps the best advice came from Cobb, who tells her students at Humboldt State University, that it's not enough to just apply. You need to make sure your application is not missing anything, "Read all of the directions, three times. Check that you've followed them, two times. Submit everything correctly, one time."
About The Author
Bella Neyman is the co-founder of New York City Jewelry Week, an annual city-wide celebration of jewelry in November. She is also an independent curator and writer specializing in contemporary art jewelry. Exhibitions organized by Bella have been on view in the United States and Europe. She is currently working on an exhibition, 45 Stories in Jewelry, which will open at the Museum of Arts and Design in February 2020. Bella's articles on decorative arts, fashion and jewelry have appeared in the New York Times, MODERN Magazine, Metalsmith, American Craft and The Magazine Antiques amongst others. From 2014-2018, she was the director of the Gallery at Reinstein|Ross, a New York-based contemporary jewelry gallery. Bella has been on the Board of the Art Jewelry Forum since 2013. She lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, NY.