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Art and PR Render a Masterpiece

Sarah Moody Gallery, Coming Home Series
Sarah Moody Gallery, Coming Home Series

Posted At: May 30, 2013 10:15 A.M.
by Taylor Hodgkinson

The art industry can be lucrative in enriching one’s culture and imagination. Expressing one’s self through creative outlets provides participants with a channel of communication — a channel often more powerful than the exchange of words. Art evokes emotion and awakens new ideas. In every industry there is a necessity for communication as the foundation for relationship building, in this case, making PR practitioners become liaisons between artists, collectors and directors.

Vicki Rial, The University of Alabama’s Sarah Moody Gallery of Art exhibitions coordinator, Katie McAllister, UA’s Paul R. Jones Gallery director, and Thomas Wegrynowski, UA Department of Art and Art History instructor, illustrate how PR is a part of art.

Q: What do you find most challenging about your job when dealing with communications in the art industry?

Rial (exhibitions coordinator): “The most challenging aspect of the job is juggling the various responsibilities: being correspondent for the gallery, contacting the artists and helping to work through their concerns, booking transport for out-of-town fine arts shipping, keeping the gallery accounts and cataloging the permanent collection.”

McAllister (gallery director): “Keeping up the relationship between folks on the UA campus and our gallery has been a bit challenging since we are located off campus (downtown Tuscaloosa). We turn to social media, as well as our PR liaisons on campus, to keep the UA community and the general public informed on events and exhibits happening at the Paul R. Jones Gallery.”

Q: Have you had a positive experience working with art galleries’ PR practitioners?

Wegrynowski (artist and instructor): “Yes, I did a show at the Ferguson Center Art Gallery a few summers ago where PR [practitioners] had already made and disseminated postcards, and had contacted media promoting the exhibit. [Rial] was promoting my MFA show at The Sarah Moody Gallery when I was contacted by media outlets wanting to do a TV interview. [However,] there are also times when a gallery is incompetent and has no PR, and consequently you’ll only have three people show up. Promoting the exhibit, whether with postcards or brochures, is what brings people to your show.”

Q: How does UA find artists to showcase and what’s the best strategy when encouraging an artist to display their work at the university?

Rial: “We make contact with the artist through galleries or the Web or some personal source. We invite the artist to show their work.”

McAllister: “In the Paul R. Jones Gallery, we showcase work from the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art. The PRJCAA was donated in 2008 by Paul R. Jones himself, a collector of primarily African-American art. The collection holds over 1,700 pieces and we curate shows from those works of art. We also have some student shows peppered in throughout the year. These student shows are usually collaborations with Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art.”

Q: What has been the most gratifying experience working with UA’s art galleries?

Rial: “Meeting the artists whose work is on exhibition is many times the most gratifying, because you get a brief glimpse into the creative mind.”

McAllister: “Probably the Opening Reception of an exhibit. It is usually the first event in which many of our patrons are seeing a new exhibit for the first time. Many exhibitions are conceived months, sometimes years, in advance and to see the finished product up on the wall is really spectacular. All of the details of a show, such as choosing a theme, creating curatorial statements, designing show cards and hanging didactic labels, all come together in a tangible exhibition that was once a small idea.”

Q: What do you find is the difference between large galleries and small galleries when showing the artist’s work?

Wegrynowski: “The work the artist has to do. Certain galleries have different expectations. Where commercial and high-profiled galleries may provide all the materials to create the space according to the exhibit, more intimate, academic galleries may require the artist to construct their own space. An artist may have a preference when it comes to creating their own space, which is why many DYI spaces can prestigious and be a real advantage for the artist depending on what work you’re showing.”

Q: What do you think the difference is between large galleries and small galleries’ PR strategy?

Rial: “Certainly their PR budgets and personnel are a big difference, as well as the market is larger. Smaller galleries have to try harder to get the word out.”

McAllister: “Usually larger art galleries will have an entire department dedicated to marketing and public relations. You will find a group of designers working on show cards, brochures and text panels to complement an exhibit, marketing people handling social media and press releases, and an event department working on receptions and other events held in galleries. With smaller art galleries, such as the Paul R. Jones Gallery, you see one or two people doing everything so it really helps to be knowledgeable in all aspects of the art industry, as well as PR and marketing.”

Q: Do you see PR in the art industry as a growing career with all the available channels to help promote artists’ work?

Wegrynowski: “Yes, largely because of the role of the Internet. The Internet provides instant connection between artists and patrons, and the need for PR in established galleries will never go away.”

Q: What advice do you give to young professionals pursuing a PR career in the art industry?

McAllister: “To become successful at PR in the art industry I think you have to really know all aspects of the art industry. Academically, I think it helps to take a wide variety of classes such as marketing & PR courses, art history, graphic design, American studies and history. Professionally, it’s always beneficial to get your hands dirty. Intern for an art gallery and you will find that installing an exhibition is laborious, but rewarding.”

Q: Of your all accomplishments, professional or personal, which are you most proud of?

McAllister: “Making the leap to a career that I am truly passionate about. After four years working at an oil and gas investment firm, I had a change of heart and decided to put my B.A. in Art to good use. I have not looked back once.

When it comes to showcasing art, PR provides the art world an opportunity to share artists’ stories and inspire others to create a masterpiece.


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