Case Study: How to start up your own pop-up art space
March 25 2014 by Arts Development Team
Kollektiv Gallery’s Sophie Giblin on starting a pop-up art space
By Anneka Warburton 24/03/14
Fresh out of uni, Brighton-based illustrator Sophie Giblin founded Kollektiv Gallery, a pop-up space for emerging artists. She tells Anneka Warburton about the books, courses, mentors and tools that helped her do it…
Last summer, after completing a performance and visual arts degree, I came away buzzing with the ambition to start something.
I suggested to my friends that we put on an art exhibition. After an initial thumbs-up from everyone, we all started feeling resigned to the idea that making a living from art would be near impossible. I needed some business training. I took an intensive one-week course in Creative Entrepreneurship at Central St Martins. We learned about innovation, trend spotting, copyright and artist rights – things I hadn’t considered. I signed up to the AOI [The Association of Illustrators] and registered as self-employed.
I decided I wanted to set up a gallery in an empty shop so I bought Dan Thompson’s book Pop Up Business For Dummies and approached Dan on Twitter. He’s since become an invaluable mentor to me, proving that it’s always worth reaching out. Via Brighton Council I was introduced to Tom Nixon, co-founder of digital consultancy NixonMcinnes. When I told him I was looking to open my gallery in a year’s time he told me it would be possible in a matter of months. Tom quickly became another essential mentor, advising me to get stuck in by making my idea physical.
I took part in the Lab For The Recently Possible’s The Wild School project – a collaborative space where you learn and teach. I came up with a workshop called Fast Art: participants put £1 on the table and make an idea happen on a tiny budget, exhibiting it by the end of the day. It’s about problem solving as a group, with the aim of making quick and calm decisions. I took another entrepreneurship course called FuseBox where we had 25 mentors – including some from Google and YouTube. These courses and workshops armed me with the skills I needed to open a pop-up gallery.
Through word of mouth I got 21 artists on board. I named it Kollektiv Gallery as a tribute to my late German grandmother who died when my mother was very young. We opted to crowdfund through Kickstarter – it’s great for urgent projects. Amazingly, we made 50% of our £3,500 target within the first 24 hours before soon making up the rest. We Are Pop Up list prices for shop rentals on their website and I used this as a guide to come up with the £2,500 we needed for rent. The budget also covered materials, insurance, the first prints that would be displayed in the gallery, and the incentives offered in the Kickstarter campaign.
It can be difficult for new artists to price their work. They feel uncomfortable. We decided to make giclée prints to sell for £20-£25 for A4 pieces. If you’re unsure about pricing, a-n gives advice. For bigger pieces I let the artists decide but encouraged them to push their prices higher as I didn’t want them undercutting each other. It’s bad for the artistic economy and I feel it gives out the wrong message. I politely approached a local print company, who gave us a discount. It’s always worth asking when you’re running on such a low budget.
Despite everything else going smoothly, we were fast approaching the move-in date with no shop to occupy. Just by luck the last artist to join us put me in touch with the owner of a disused Butcher’s shop. We met up and quickly negotiated a price. After checking it over, I signed a simple six-week-and-one-day tenancy agreement. With this amount of time, the shop owner doesn’t have to pay business rates for the following three months.
We were nervous that no-one would come to the private view but happily it was heaving, with queues down the street. A couple of expenses cropped up such as hiring a bouncer and getting a 24-hour alcohol licence. But the private view was one of the highlights of Kollektiv Gallery so far and incredibly rewarding. I cried during my speech!
Image: The first Kollektiv Gallery in a disused Buthcher’s in Brighton
We did very little promotion apart from the Facebook page, a YouTube video and a colourful, quirky shop front. Another way we pulled the public in was by offering free creative workshops with the artists and guests. Even The AOI came along to give a talk. The only thing that I will do differently next time is to print a brochure with examples of the artwork and a workshop schedule.
After the exhibition closed we set up an online shop to continue selling the artwork. We decided to use the WP eStore plugin on WordPress. The rest of the Kollektiv website is WordPress so it kept things simple and allowed us to have payments made directly to our PayPal. Although it’s great to have sales ticking along online, we sold more in the gallery. I was passionate about learning the story behind each artwork and sharing this with visitors. Talking to the public in person gives a massive edge when it comes to selling artwork.
For the next Kollektiv gallery in spring, I’m taking what I’ve learned from the first exhibition and tweaking things slightly. The next one will have the theme and title Death By Gallery – asking what it takes to stay creative. A broad theme keeps everyone focused, while giving room for artistic interpretation. Keen to be more organised this time, we had a proper artist call-out with an online application form and deadline. We used a WordPress plugin called Gravity Forms to easily capture all the information and images artists provided.
An application form can only tell you so much about an artist. I picked out 35 whose work I liked but wanted to know more about and met them for coffee. Soon I’d whittled it down to 13, including me. With 21 artists, the first gallery felt a little crowded and looked more like a shop. This time I want each artist’s work to have space to breathe and to consider more carefully the space they would use. Also, managing a lot of people can be very stressful, even if everyone gets on well. I wanted the artwork to be varied so I selected a range of playful sculpture, naive illustrations and serious art photography. Artist contracts were drawn up with help from The AOI.
Although a pop-up is fairly simple, it takes an incredible amount of work. Have a good group of people around you that you trust and mentors to get advice from. If you have an idea – just begin.
Sophie Giblin was talking to Anneka Warburton
Sophie was recently nominated by her Local MP and won the title of Most Outstanding Entrepreneur Of The Year in the South East from vInspired.