Everyone’s Original: How Prague Unitarians put on an art exhibition to raise money for a good cause
By Gilly and David Wadmore
International Unitarian Church of Prague
photographs by Ondřej Svatoš
This year, for the third time, I contributed a couple of pieces of artwork to my friends at Gravelly Barn in the UK, who host an art exhibition, the profits from which go to several worthy charities. Over the years, my friends have raised tens of thousand of pounds and encouraged hundreds of people to take part.
The basic principal is that the organizers sell a canvas or two to the participants. The participants create something on the canvas which is returned to the organizers and sold anonymously, at a fixed price, as part of an exhibition held over several days.
It seemed a simple idea to take this concept to Prague and get our International Unitarian congregation to take part. It’s a great project to bring people into the Unitarian sphere and encourage our “regulars” to look outside their immediate environment. With encouragement from minister Mark Shiels, treasurer Simon O’Neill and most importantly my wife Gilly, it seemed a straightforward task.
On the whole this proved to be true, but if you are thinking of trying this yourselves, read on…
The first thing to do is find a name for the exhibition and decide on the charity you wish to support. “Everyone’s Original” worked for us on two levels, with a reference to the work being submitted and the way it reflected the caring approach of our chosen charity, Amelie, which provides psychosocial support to families coping with cancer. This includes not only the patient, but everyone connected to them as well. Thankfully, one of our members, Barbara Woodard, who looks after our social justice outreach, was able to put us in touch.
Next, recruit a team of dedicated volunteers who will see the project through. The mechanics of the event are fairly straightforward. Source your canvases. We chose 30 cm square canvases available quite cheaply from a gift shop chain. We paid 120 Kcs for two and sold them for 100 Kcs each, so a small profit was made.
In an ideal world, get an organization to sponsor the canvases. We tried but were not successful. It was decided that all finished canvases would be sold for 400 Kcs each, whatever the quality. This was to prove a problem—more on that later.
Make sure that you pitch the prices so that the art is affordable for all your members, and preferably make it low enough so that people may consider buying multiple canvases.
Next, set a date for the exhibition and begin selling the canvases. Choose a time when there is little risk of clashing with other events that will distract your members. Look out for sporting events, public celebrations or anything that might excuse people from coming to your event.
It is at this stage you really need to be organized. Set up a team of canvas sellers. Make sure that you use a two-part form, each with the artist’s contact details, one of which is stuck to the back of the canvas and one returned to the organizer straight after the sale. This way you can estimate the number of pieces of artwork that you will need to accommodate and also allow you to remind artists that they need to submit their masterpieces. Keep a spreadsheet with participants’ contact details, titles of artwork, etc. We can provide sample forms.
The more people that you can encourage to sell canvases to their contacts, the better the exhibition. We made sure that the artists knew they would be invited to the private viewing and that they could bring friends (or as we preferred to call them, “purchasers”)!
We provided Amelie with canvases to sell to their contacts, and they publicized the event to their email contacts and on their website, too. Gilly and I always “just happened” to have a few spare canvases and forms whenever we met friends…
Emphasize when selling a canvas that you don’t expect a Van Gogh, and that abstracts, knitted, collage, material-based or even three-dimensional works are welcome, provided that they keep to the 30 cm square format. One of our favorite pieces was a series of circular mirrors stuck to the canvas and was called “Self Portrait!”
In our case, we sold around 100 canvases, but a number of people provided their own, and we ended up with just under 150 canvases to display.
We were, however, exceptionally lucky to have a few professional and semi-professional artists join in. There was no way that we could let their works be sold very cheaply, so at the suggestion of team member Ron Ayers, we set up an online auction for seven of our pieces. We used www.biddingowl.com, a site that specializes in hosting charity auctions.
It worked well, but remember, you do have to communicate its existence to everyone you know in order to encourage bids.
Keep the newsletters and emails about the event fairly regular so that you can engage with artists and potential purchasers.
For the exhibition itself, we were fortunate to have the use of our own Unitarian meeting hall, and, importantly, the contacts via Amelie and one of our group helped us find sponsors for food and refreshments for the private viewing. Live music was supplied by members Lucie and Jim Carlson (Cricket and Snail, http://www.alembickmusic.com/cricketandsnail.html), and we had help from Galerie Kuskovu in Prague in finding a supplier of exhibition panels, among other essential things. Members Susan Loy and Ron Ayers already had great experience in putting on art shows and were invaluable when it came to hanging and organizing the submissions. When doing this, allow plenty of time to put up the exhibition. Don’t forget decorations, flowers, and signage.
Our lay minister Susan Goldberg made jewelry and set up a stand at the event. She generously gave a proportion of the takings to the charity. If we had bakers in our midst, a homemade cake stall would have been a good idea.
On our opening night we sold nearly half of the canvases on sale, with a long queue forming the moment the sales desk opened (you will need two people to record sales and a team of runners to put red dots on the artwork sold!)
The online auction raised over 1200 euros, and in total we were able to give Amelie 80,000 Kcs.
Once the exhibition is over, you will need the details of who submitted canvases and how to return them (if required). Amelie decided that they could put the unsold canvases to good use by decorating children’s wards and clinics. So every original went to a new home.
It was a lot of hard work. We launched the idea in May and held the exhibition in November, but, like Gravelly Barn, would only do it every two years.
If you would like more details of how to go about organizing a similar event, please email us at art@pragueunitarians and we will be happy to assist.
See the inspiration: www.gravellybarn.com
View our outcome: http://www.pragueunitarians.com/past-events/
This is the flyer that we sent out. We also sent out a Czech version