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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Be Ready When Opportunity Knocks

A few months ago, I was unexpectedly offered the opportunity to exhibit a selection of my photographs at a local museum. I only had 3 - 4 weeks to plan and prepare for the show, which included visiting the site prior to the exhibition (to view the space), selecting the images to display, arranging the layout of the show, ordering supplies and having the images printed, dry mounted, framed and properly labeled. I also had to submit documentation to the coordinators such as an image list with digital images of the artwork, as well as write an exhibition statement, post an exhibition description and advertise the exhibition on both social media and on my website to notify friends, family and followers about the upcoming show. (For more on this exhibition, see the events page and/or the blog post of the Left Behind: Forgotten Objects of the Past Exhibition Statement).

I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off if I had to prepare the exhibition from scratch, and I might have lost out on the opportunity altogether. With such a tight deadline, I was only able to succeed because I was prepared and I already had things in place ahead of time. My point here is that often opportunity will knock without any prior notice and you need to be ready if you want to benefit from the offers that come along, especially the unexpected ones. These opportunities are not just offers to have an art exhibition, it could be anything such as a job opportunity, a significant event, a lecture, conference or artist talk and other offers that might benefit you, to gain exposure or expand your network.

So how do you prepare for something that you don’t expect will happen? First of all, you should expect that it will happen, because that is your goal and it is what you want, regardless of whether it will actually happen or not. It’s what you want to achieve. If you want something, then you need to take measures in advance of it happening, that is how you prepare. Do all that you can to be ready before being approached. Think about all the steps that you need to take and make a plan of action. From this plan, see which of these steps can be done beforehand. This will give you a head start in being prepared. I know that in some cases you can do a lot to prepare and it might not happen or work out in the end, but it is always better to put in the extra work to be ready if there is a chance that it might happen, than to assume it won’t happen and risk appearing unprofessional and scrambling at the last minute if it does pan out.

For example, you wouldn’t wait until someone asks you for a business card before having them made. You have business cards made and have them with you to hand out BEFORE anyone asks you if you have a business card.

Below I have listed a few other scenarios to help you better understand how to prepare yourself for different types of opportunities that might arise. Most of these examples are art and artist related, but as I mentioned before this can be applied to any part of your life, private or professional, a career or a hobby, it makes no difference.

Your website is the place where people can visit day or night from anywhere in the world to learn more about you, your art practice, and what you do. An online presence is one of the best ways to showcase what you do, as it is the most popular way to advertise and it’s where people will often look first to find out more about you. This makes it so important that the information on your website is relevant, accurate and up to date. Make sure you have an events page that lists current and upcoming events so people can see what you are doing and they can attend your events. This can be any event that you are participating in or are featured in, such as an exhibit, lecture, fundraiser, art sale, etc. You should also keep other content on your website up to date such as an online portfolio of a current body of work. You should review your entire website every few months or so, to ensure that the material posted is still relevant like your artist bio, artist statement, contact info, etc. You want to keep posting new & current information on your site regularly, so people will continue to visit and revisit the website. This keeps them engaged with what you’re doing.

As a photographer, I have had several last minute photo opportunities pop up. Often you have to act quickly to get decent photos from these situations. To be prepared and avoid missing out on these occurrences, you should keep your gear organized and together, packed and ready to go. This includes having empty memory cards, fully charged batteries and camera settings already dialed in, to name a few.

A lecture or an artist talk is a great way to showcase your artwork, talk about your art practice and your life experiences as it relates to your art practice. Often at these artist talks you can expand your network, connect with others and meet new people that can lead to other offers and opportunities. To prepare for a talk you should already have a PowerPoint presentation assembled. Remember to review it on a regular basis and revise and add to it as needed. To further prepare for this type of opportunity you can also put together notes to accompany the presentation and to organize your thoughts. Yes, these notes will also need to be revised as needed to keep content relevant and up to date. Be prepared to answer questions at the end of the talk and to chat one-on one with audience members afterwards. Make sure to stick around for a while after the talk and don't leave right away.

An event could be any planned, public or social occasion. An art sale, exhibition opening, meet the artist evening, or fundraiser, to name a few. These events are usually extra activities, outside of your regular schedule. These opportunities are great for expanding your network and joining and building an artist community. Depending on the type of event, the way to prepare may vary, but in any case as mentioned before, you need to make a plan of action and from the plan, start making arrangements to prepare for the event. This includes posting the event on social media and on your website in advance. Invite people to attend the event and arrive early for the event, at least 10 -15 minutes before the event begins. This will indicate to others that you're a serious, professional artist and that you value and are interested in the occasion.

Teaching, art in particular, is something that many artists will do as a day job as well as have an ongoing art practice (this can be quite the balancing act for many in this profession). Teaching can be a very rewarding experience as you are working with students who also love art. As their teacher you offer guidance, become part of their support system and in turn, part of a greater art community. In order to be good at your job as a teacher, you will become an expert at preparing. Teachers need to plan lessons in advance, prepare supplies needed for the next class, do research and put together notes, assemble PowerPoint presentations and incorporate videos, music/sound clips, images, and more to make the presentation engaging and to help explain the lesson or the process of an assignment. This can also keep the class light, interesting, and fun. As a teacher you will learn quickly how to multitask, plan your time wisely, and be efficient.

Also, you need to know how best to teach your students. Artists are usually (but not always) visual learners, so to teach and explain the same thing in a few different ways, while including lots of visuals, will often help students to understand your lessons. This applies to teachers at any level from teaching 1 week long summer camps to full, semester-long courses at the university level. Often art teachers are required by the institution they work for, to maintain an art practice, which usually means regularly exhibiting your work and includes continuing to produce new artwork. Some employers may also require that you have gallery representation.

One of the most common things we all need to be prepared for is a job opportunity. At some point in all of our lives, we come across a job opportunity or we are presented with a job offer and there is usually very little time to apply or to prepare a response. This is why you need to prepare in advance. Otherwise, you risk losing a chance at what could be your dream job. Having an up to date CV (Curriculum Vitae) or resume prepared with a template cover letter that can easily be modified is ideal. Make sure to include in these documents any experience relevant to the position that you are being considered for. And again, if it is an art related position, make sure that you are still making art and exhibiting in your free time. This effort proves that you are passionate, driven and self-propelled to do it, because you genuinely enjoy and are interested in your art practice.

At the top of your resume and cover letter when listing your contact information, be sure to add a professional email address along with any other contact info, such as a home address, phone number, etc. If your email address does not sound professional, do not include it in your contact info or consider getting another email address that is more appropriate.

Once again as I have said before, have business cards with you to hand out in the interview, make sure your website has current and accurate information about you and your art practice (you can bet that a potential future employer will be doing their research to find out more about you, before they speak to you in an interview). In doing all this, you will help yourself to look professional and boost your chances at becoming a top candidate for the position.

I have personally tried all of the examples listed above in being prepared for the many different opportunities that may come along. In each instance I felt organized, better prepared and certainly much more confident, than if I had just winged it! I hope this is helpful to others looking for ways to better prepare for opportunities that might spring up.

Below I have included a small gallery of photos of the exhibition opportunity I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, Left Behind: Forgotten Objects of the Past, is on now at the Museum on the Boyne in Alliston, Ontario until the end of September, 2023.

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