Getting your art into a gallery can feel like an intimidating and overwhelming process. Galleries themselves can be alienating places for some and can put up a barrier between your art and the general public. Art fairs and festivals are other options, but competition can be stiff and it may feel like it’s all about who you know. In Glasgow, Scotland, a small group of people has come up with a creative way to display art without the need for galleries, fairs, and festivals, and to promote community engagement at the same time.
It’s called The Glasgow Open House Arts Festival and its genius is matched only by its simplicity. Here’s how it works. On a biennial basis, Glasgow Open House presents a multi-faceted arts festival throughout the neighborhoods of the city. Rather than setting up in public spaces, galleries, and theaters, the festival relies on residents willing to open their homes as temporary art and performance spaces. Absolutely anyone can apply to exhibit or host. The festival brings emerging and established artists, performers, and collectives to the public often providing a platform for those working outside the bounds of the mainstream art world.
Participating houses aren’t relegated to one part of the city, rather anyone, anywhere who might have the right sort of space can open their doors. The organization behind the festival facilitates various walking tours that bring together clusters of participating homes.
Establishing your own open house arts festival may not be as difficult as you think. The best way to start is with the people and homes in your immediate social circle. Maybe you have a cavernous living room or a bedroom with particularly interesting light. Really any space can be used with the right sort of preparation. You don’t have to span the entire city during your first year. Start small and do quality work to make your first effort memorable.
Once you have decided on your space or spaces, the next step is to prepare them. While this is a home, for the event it is also a public venue. That means you may want to do a little bit of alteration in order to get your spaces ready to host some crowds. Moving or removing furniture entirely helps with the flow of foot traffic so that no one finds themselves stuck in a corner between the sofa and a wall of other viewers. If the room is large enough, leave furniture in the center museum style so that visitors can take a seat and view the work. Breakables and valuables are best kept out of harm’s way, of course.
Promoting your event can be as simple or far-reaching as you choose. For the first year, you may want to keep things a little low key, advertising only through social media and friends. Or you may want to try your hand at a little further outreach right off the bat, leaving flyers at bookstores and cafes in the vicinity where you know there will be patrons interested in such an event.
Consider hosting an opening reception. Nothing fancy, but an event to mark the beginning of your festival just like every gallery does for a new opening. Provide refreshments, and have the artists on hand to discuss the work. For an event like this, it is best to keep things casual, not schedule any sort of talks or demonstrations. An open house format allows people to come and go as they please.
Schedule your event for a time of year when it is generally pleasant to wander outdoors. This saves your potential audience from having to battle harsh conditions and also saves your interiors from being a mess of snow or mud tracked in on every single shoe through the door. Little practical considerations like this can go a very long way toward making your event that much more pleasant.
At every open house venue during your festival, make sure there is someone from the organizational group on hand to field questions and deal with any potential issues. Not to mention to keep visitors out of areas of the house where they aren’t welcome.
Which brings us to another important point. When inviting the public into private spaces, it is important to draw clear boundaries. Managing traffic flow can mean the difference between a smooth event and one that finds strangers in all sorts of unexpected locations. Keep doors closed (and locked if possible) and make use of baby gates where you want to keep foot traffic out. By doing this you not only protect the spaces, you help streamline the process which is better for all.
Glasgow Open House Arts Festival is a thriving event. While yours may start small (just like theirs did) with some careful planning and a lot of outreach, you could find yourself with a solid biennial–or even annual–event that brings art to your community and brings your community together.