What We Learnt From Hosting Our First Art Exhibition

By Anton Constantinou, Sumit Rehal and Rajen Patel

Changes

What a great year this has been for Highlight Nation. We really have gone the distance as a brand, and made some connections that will last us a lifetime.

Who would’ve guessed that a simple idea to do an event would gather momentum so quickly, but, in the space of eight months we went from writing about art and culture to putting on our very first exhibition. It required hard work, commitment, risk, and a steadfast desire to do something different.

As co-organisers of September’s 2Pac – Changes art expo, Sumit, Anton and Rajen came to discover that a lot can be achieved with little resources.

Here’s what they learned from the big day:

Anton

This was my first experience of co-hosting an art exhibition, and what a huge undertaking it was.

I wouldn’t say I approached it in an organised manner to begin with. I knew we needed artists, a venue, a date, and, more importantly, a concept, but I totally overlooked a lot of other things like sponsored advertising and networking via Instagram.

These aren’t really my expert areas. I only got my Instagram account up and running for the first time in July. From what you’ve told me, Sumit, I don’t think we’d have been able to draw nearly the same audience without sponsored advertising on Facebook, so that was a big eye opener.

In terms of sourcing artists, I learned that sending speculative emails really does work. Two of our biggest contributors Issay Issay and HAM the Illustrator were kind enough to respond to my messages, even though I didn’t expect them too.

Word of mouth was another important aspect of the process. It was HAM who put us in touch with Cainnabis, who then referred us on to Renee, Curtis and Alan. It’s refreshing to know that in this digital world of likes, shares and follows, good old fashioned communication still works.

Ham

Post-interview photo with Ham the Illustrator

 

One thing that helped a big deal was videography. Imagine if we didn’t have Nathan or Ivan on-board to put out the footage that they did. As good as our written articles might be, there’s no better way of telling a story these days than through video.

What I think we did well was take a mixed media approach to pushing the event, by combing video, copy and audio. The one podcast we did with Alan, Renee and Curtis, was nice, insofar as provided a breakaway from video interviews, but it could have been worked on better.

Podcast

Podcast day with Curtis (left), Renee (middle) and Alan (right).

 

Looking back, our event received a real boost from the listing sites it featured on. I still can’t believe it was picked up Ah Sh!t, or that a meetup group was spawned in its name.

AhSht

The next step would be to get our events in Time Out magazine or on the Londonist website (a man can dream).

I dunno about you, but the interviews we organised in the lead up to the event were a bit slapdash at times. Don’t get me wrong, they went well, but there was a fair bit of faffing about involved in sourcing venues for them – mainly because we were on a tight budget. At least now we’ve got a couple of places we can book, if need be.

In terms of the big day itself, I think it went brilliantly. All in all we had about 300 people attend (I think), and numerous prints and t-shirts were purchased on the day.

That said, the expo wasn’t without its teething problems. Need I remind of you of the pieces which fell off the wall, ha. Lighting was also a bit of an issue, as the back room was pretty gloomy, so certain pieces weren’t brought to life as best as they could have done.

The other issue was the lack of big print sales. Now, I know what you’re going say: it was our first event, it was one day, it was in Croydon. These are all great things to learn from, and, in the future, we should definitely look to source a more centrally-located venue with better transport links.

Learning how to draw established art buyers to future events, however, is going to take a lot of time and research, as well as trial and error. Do we go down the path of putting on a show that’s going to attract 40-50 something professionals, or do we stick to something small-scale and local.

What would be great to hold on to is main concept of taking one song and bringing it to life in an art space. The reason Changes worked so well is because there was plenty trending under 2Pac’s name in September: his birthday, the recent release of his new biopic, etc.

He was also an artist that spoke to people on a lot of different levels, whether young or old. There were visitors who came up to me and said they’d never attended an art exhibition before, but came because they’re into 2Pac. That says it all really!

The important thing now will be to find another artist and/or song that works well. What do you think?

Sumit

I can’t believe that it’s already been three months since our first exhibition! I’m still buzzing from it and am so motivated to build on what we’ve started.

There are countless things that I’ve learnt from the marketing side to the logistics of organising the space. But, at the end of the day, this has all stuck together thanks to the power of people and communication.

If it wasn’t for the mutual trust and love between all of the artists, venue managers, guests and partners involved, this event would not have been the unique experience it was. We were naturally attracting likeminded people as we had an idea and knew that we needed to run with it. Now we’ve built a relationship with creatives around the city that we’ll continue to grow with.

Sumit with girls

Sumit posing for a photo with two visitors.

 

We couldn’t predict how many people would turn up and I had set an estimate of around 150 but we had already reached that with a month to go. I then set the limit to 300 on Eventbrite but then after a week someone told me they couldn’t book a ticket as they were sold out!

I was hesitant to increase the ticket limit as the capacity of Matthews Yard was only 150 as it is, but I took the risk and set it to 500, in the hope that everyone wouldn’t turn up at once! On the day, we ended up with exactly 500 ticket orders.

Each one of those who attended were from totally different backgrounds, which goes to show how wide-reaching music and art are. It was a little hectic making sure everything was organised but we would have been totally lost if it wasn’t for all the artists, friends and family there helping with everything. Highlight Nation’s mission is to progress culture by highlighting talent – and that’s what we achieved.

Artists Gary Alford and Rishi Bakrania exchange at handshake.

Artists Gary Alford and Rishi Bakrania exchange a handshake.

 

A massive thank you to everyone involved! People have since been asking when the next one is going to be. We’ve been going through the options daily and have finally settled on the perfect person to highlight. We will reveal who it is soon but let’s just say that this person and the word art go hand-in-hand!

Fat Joe

Rajen

I never thought I would be sitting here at this point in my life, writing about my experience of co-hosting an art exhibition. Even then, an art exhibition is under-selling it a little bit as it was so much more than that.

I wasn’t heavily involved in the initial preparation stages, but, from just being in background advising when I could I felt like I was learning so much about events planning, the ‘insta art’ community and so much more. As someone who has always had a keen interest in art, I was naturally fascinated by and drawn to (no pun intended!) the concept of what Sumit and Anton were trying to bring to life.

Having unfortunately missed out on a lot of the pre-logistics, artist interviews and promotion, I was keen to get involved in another way. That’s when I decided I would dust off the old paintbrush and contribute to the exhibition itself.

Rajen's contribution to the exhibition.

Rajen’s contribution to the exhibition.

 

It felt good being able to contribute to an event that I believed in so much, and I was slowly coming into a role where I was helping with the organisation and promotion too. I feel like the push on social media was so important in spreading the word, whether it be through an interview, a video trailer, or a simple 2Pac post. Putting any type of money into these posts is such a vital factor that determines whether your event will be seen or not.

The event itself, as I mentioned earlier, was so much more than just an art exhibition. We had live music, old school games consoles, merchandise and food. Even the venue played a part in making the whole event a success.

We were cutting it fine with the actual set-up, but, thankfully we had two rooms to work with in the end. Important things to bear in mind for the next event are, knowing our space and how many pieces of artwork we’ll exhibit ahead of schedule, rather than winging it on the day. Having said that, I was really pleased with how the layout worked in the end. Not one piece was overlooked, or missed by anyone attending.

It was an incredible feeling to see everyone mingling on the day, as if they were a little community. What we delivered was a space for visitors to eat, drink, laugh and share common interests. You could see real friendships forming between people who may never have met if it wasn’t for our event. It’s things like this that motivate me to carry on and feel excited about our next project together!

Attendees mingling at the exhibition.

 

The documentation of the event was incredibly important. Capturing all that raw footage not only helps us with promotional material for the future, but also opened our eyes to the vibe and energy we created in that room.

Although slightly unorganised and out of the blue, having a group like Folocioffcial there to interview us was a brilliant idea, and something to think about for the future. That kind of footage will be extremely valuable to us in the future.

Moving forward, I’m excited to be involved in our next chapter right from the beginning. Strength in numbers. All three of us have very different backgrounds and expertise and molded with everything we’ve learnt from this event. I can only see us getting bigger and better at highlighting talent and progressing culture.

IMG_8413

Anton (left), Rajen (middle), Sumit (right).

 

Stay tuned for details of Highlight Nation’s next event.

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