Open submissions: the inside story
How do you run an open exhibition? Jo King, curator of the Ludlow Open, explains all, from sourcing funding and the reasons behind charging artists entry fees, to curating 60 artists work.
What is the Ludlow Open?
Ludlow Open is a national open art exhibition held in a clear and light gallery space in the centre of the historic town of Ludlow for 17 days each August.
The venue consists of three distinct exhibition spaces on one site; a medieval hall, a modernist sculpture courtyard, and a large glass and steel fronted interior. In addition all audio visual work is shown at Ludlow’s first film bar, The Sitting Room.
Our main aim is to showcase emerging talent, support artists’ practices, and introduce local audiences to high quality contemporary art from around the country. We take very seriously the curating and hanging of the art work, and can tap into a strong market of art buyers in the area.
How did it all start?
Five years ago Ludlow College chose to show off its new glass and steel gallery space by holding an open art exhibition, selling work on commission while showcasing both college and artists. A brilliant college director put together an impressive selection panel which included the Chairman of Jerwood, and The Ludlow Summer Exhibition (as it was then known) hit the ground running.
After the first show in 2008 we received spontaneous and unsolicited accolades from artists, buyers and visitors about the quality of the exhibition space and the hang of the work; it was very exciting and unexpected.
The show ran for three years from 2008 to 2010, but closed for 2011 because there were no back office resources to raise much needed advertising and sponsorship revenue.
Now re-launched as Ludlow Open, the show is growing into a major institution in this part of the world, bringing visitors to the region in summer, and promoting and supporting other art spaces in the town.
You charge a £16 entry fee. What does this cover?
There are many costs involved in setting up an open, but the Ludlow Open's primary aim is to support artists’ practices, not make a profit, so I try to keep this fee as low as possible.
My strategy in keeping the fee low is to set the amount as a final task in the budgeting process, once I have allocated money for all the fixed costs. For example, I pay for the catalogue through advertising revenue, and I pay for the private view through sponsorship.
The artists’ entry fee covers a small part of our admin costs, setting up selection day, and contributing toward the cost of artwork transport. Transporting work can be the real killer cost for artists, so we actively help with this where we can.
Do you receive funding from anywhere else?
Ludlow Open is primarily funded by Arts Council England. Ludlow College have donated the gallery space, representing in-kind funding. I am raising revenue through advertising and sponsorship, and we charge commission on artwork sales. When I get to the position of having any spare money from raising funds, this will be ploughed back into further artist opportunities.
The exhibition mixes high profile artists with lesser-known, local talent. Is this a key ingredient of its success?
Yes, it really is key, and we manage it both by tapping into this seam of local talent, and by having strong selectors prepared to encourage high profile artists to apply, while supporting emerging talent.
I advertise the Open all around the country, to graduate students, professional arts bodies, and professional artists. We also get applications from Europe and USA. The selection process is based on the art work not the artist, and I think artists from all backgrounds can appreciate this level playing field; I know it helps me when it comes to explaining final decisions!
The challenge for me in curating a mixed show of 60 or so artists is big, but it is great fun, and I think our commitment to hanging a cohesive show of mixed media and mixed experience is understood, and visitors respond to it.
Does education play an important part in the Ludlow Open?
It does now! Ironically, when the show was run by Ludlow College there was no education element, we just didn’t have the resources. Well I still don’t have the resources, but I am doing it anyway.
I am teaching Ludlow College art students how to curate, as part of their Professional Practice & Development module. I am also working with home educated children in Shropshire, discussing contemporary art, running workshops and showing them work they would normally have to travel to Birmingham or London to see.
Of course this all helps with funding, but it is part of my own working ambition, to enable audiences to confidently view, understand and appreciate visual art. Widening audience engagement through education is a key element of this.
What are your hopes for the future of the Ludlow Open?
In the short term I am working toward guaranteeing Ludlow Open a secure foundation, with prize money, advertising revenue and private sponsorship. Ultimately it is going to become a gateway for local people into the varied and exciting world of national and international contemporary art. I also want the Open to facilitate other contemporary art resources and events in the region throughout the year, benefiting local people and national artists alike.
To apply to the Ludlow Open 2012 (deadline 15 June) click here »
Jack Hutchinson is an artist, writer and educator. A specialist on the role of digital technology within the visual arts, he is Communications Officer for AIR: Artists Interaction and Representation through a-n The Artists Information Company. His writing has featured in a diverse range of publications, including Dazed and Confused, Garageland, Guardian Culture Professionals, Twin Magazine, a-n Magazine and Schweizer Kunst. Based in London at Bow Arts Trust, he is an active campaigner for artistic, legislative and economic measures that enhance artists' working lives and professional status. His drawings have featured in solo and group exhibitions across the UK.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2012
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